Clark Quick Quote

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]

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21 Comments on “Clark Quick Quote”

  1. qeqesha Says:

    Hi Sean,
    “The persecutor Saul understood Christian doctrine better than those whom he persecuted.”
    Isn’t this a bit of a stretrch?
    Saul was steeped in rabbinic traditions(Midrash — or mid(rabbi)sh!!). There is definitely some understanding without belief but it is the one who believes who really understands. Augustine said, I believe in order to understand. So, I think people do not believe because they do not understand!

    Denson.

  2. Sean Gerety Says:

    I don’t think it is a stretch at all. Prior to coming to faith I hated Christianity and the more I understood of the faith the more I hated it. While not comparing myself to Paul, I think he had an excellent understanding of what Christians believed which is why he hated them so completely.

    As for Augustine, I think his famous saying had more to do with the right use of reason than the distinction Clark is raising between understanding and belief, which is a point you grant anyway. The whole quote is; “I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.”

  3. justbybelief Says:

    I remember someone asking me, out of the blue, “Do you actually believe Romans 9 when it states, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” Being a young Christian I remembered the passage vaguely and stated, “If that’s what the Bible states, I believe it.” To which this person replied, “You make me sick!” By the way, this was my first introduction to Calvinism and it was from a pagan.

    I’ve explained to this same person the fall of man and God’s free grace in Jesus Christ, to which, this person replied on several occasions, “I don’t believe that!”

    Another person replied after the same explanation, “I will pay for my own sins.”

    I also remember articulating the imputed righteousness to a lapsed Catholic to which he replied, “B.S.!”

    All of these people understood what the Bible was teaching and rejected it outright.

    Just a comment (corollary) on the belief of demons: One thing is for sure, demons believe that God is graceful, but they simply cannot believe that that grace applies to them, only to man. Two reasons come to my mind: 1) Jesus took on flesh to save flesh, 2) The Bible is clear when it gives account of their statements, they expect judgment and not mercy from God. Further, the Bible is clear , salvation is NOT for them and they know it–the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels, I will create enmity between her seed and your seed, etc…

    Eric

  4. Jason Says:

    Clark was combating this idea that God’s knowledge and our knowledge never intersect. That somehow, the very nature of logic/language is changed; like someone who can’t read Greek trying to read Greek.

    All that Clark is affirming here is that the rejection of truth is not because they are incapable of understanding it, in the sense that they can’t put two and two together, but that they deny it simply because they don’t like it. It is an authority/obedience issue. And an issue only God can cure.

    Nonbelievers who reject the Gospel because it doesn’t make sense are actually the ones, who by rejecting the axiom of God’s revelation, end up becoming the “foolish”ones because they are left with their empirical theories, involving induction and thus all their thinking is fallacious.

  5. Sean Gerety Says:

    Spot on Jason. As Clark would say, the problem with unbelievers is that they don’t believe. 😎


  6. This is a great piece, Sean. I am reminded of a lecture by the late Robbins where he took a moment to discuss the anatomy of the Greek word ‘pistis,’ translated ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ throughout the Bible. It would have been less confusing if the translators had used only one word – ‘belief’ (with it’s Greek roots) rather than two words – ‘belief’ & ‘faith’ (Latin roots) – when translating the one parent word ‘pistis’ into the receptor language of English. That (IMO) would serve to simplify things somewhat. I agree with Augustine/Clark/Robbins/Cheung that ‘belief’ consists of 2 components . . . understanding/knowledge and also assent/agreement. You can’t believe something that you do not understand, and you can’t believe something that you may understand but do not assent to. I understand Marx, but it cannot be rightly said that I believe Marx, precisely b/c I do not agree with his view(s). Similarly, the religious est. in Jesus’ day seemed to understand quite clearly the claims of Christ, so much so that the more they understood, the more opportunities they sought out to silence and/or destroy/kill Him. In fact, said Robbins, it seems that the disciples took a bit longer to catch on (the understanding portion). To answer the charge of some against what I have said that this understanding of faith would constitute an ‘easy believism,’ I would submit that the assent component is a gift of God, and that it is up to Him as to whom gets this gift and when. That, by definition, does not jive with notions of easy believism. No one can believe on his own power, and the only reason as to why some believe is b/c God has actively caused them to believe for His glory and their good as one of the elect of the Lord. When, however, belief in X or Y is indeed granted by God, there are necessary corollaries/extensions/fruits of that belief that conform to said belief in X or Y (cf. James 2:14-26). Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone. Works are not the root of salvation, but the fruit; not the cause, but the natural effect. Many show by their action patterns that they do not truly believe, though they might believe that they believe!?!


  7. As for the claim of many that faith/belief would also consist of a third component part . . . trust/confidence, folks need to grasp that ‘fide’ (faith) is right there in the middle of con-“fide”-nce, and that it (or, trust) is best understood as synonymous with faith, rather than 1/3rd of it. If I believe a man, I trust him . . . if I trust him, I believe what he says. When many come to understand that faith/belief is a gift from on high, they should have no problems admitting that faith is nothing more than a process that takes place in the mind whereby a proposition is both understood & assented to. Maybe the term/concept has been overused/abused in our day, and that is part of the hangup. Even so, we should strive to understand what the Bible says about this, and be prepared to offer the necessary qualifications and clarifications when appropriate.


  8. As far as the theory/practice connection, Robbins has correctly pointed out that practice is always the practice of some prior and more basic theory, whether the underpinnings of one’s practice originated in an ivory tower or the desert sands of the East. This underscores the need for right theory in our day (and more to the point, ‘believing’ right doctrine), for the erroneous practice of the modern Church has a lot to say about our theory. I am also reminded that when you consider the Apostle Paul’s epistles, for example, he always begins with the abstract and then throws skin on it. I think that unbelief is the primary problem. May we strive to understand and teach right doctrine and also pray that the Lord would grant us to be a believing people, and more & more so as we are further set apart unto His glory and good purposes.


  9. Question . . . b/c I’ve always struggled with what James was getting at in 2:19 . . . If there the point is that the demons really believe in one God (the monotheistic claim), then I’m assuming that the implication is that those of his audience who believed the same (i.e., that ‘God is one’ in essence – Dt. 6:4, the ‘Shema’) did well in what sense? I guess I’m thrown off in some sense since James is contrasting mere lip-service with a true and genuine faith that manifests in spiritual fruits. Help a brother out, Sean! ;~)

  10. qeqesha Says:

    Scott,
    James 2:19 (King James Version)

    19Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

    Believing that there is one god is simply theism. There are many theistic religions.
    Islam is a theistic relligion and so is Judaism and Roman Catholicism. James is saying to these people, theism is not good enough. All Christianity is theism but not all theism is christianity!(All cats are mamals but not all mamals are cats!)

    Denson

  11. Sean Gerety Says:

    those of his audience who believed the same (i.e., that ‘God is one’ in essence – Dt. 6:4, the ‘Shema’) did well in what sense?

    In the sense that it is true. The belief that God is one is unassailable, but believing that God is one saves no one. That’s James’ point and not that belief alone saves no one. Hell is filled with monotheists.


  12. Thanks, Denson (qeqesha), for the cat/mammal illustration! I see your point and appreciate it.


  13. Thanks, Sean, for the clarification.

    Why do you think many assign the ‘belief’ of the devils mentioned in v. 19 to the ‘mere’ intellectual assent of soteriological propositions ( . . . Christ died for our sins, was buried, & raised on the 3rd day according to the Scriptures, etc., etc.)? It is obvious that to do so is to do harm to the text in question by putting words in James’ mouth that never came out.

    Would you also agree that James’ likely audience are Jewish believers? I only speculate that this may be the case due to the following: (1) some 40 allusions to the OT; (2) the Greek word translated ‘assembly’ is the word translated synagogue elsewhere; & (3) it seems to have been written possibly between 44 – 49 A.D. If this speculation is true, then James’ reference to Dt. 6:4 in v. 19 of chapter 2 seems very directed at those of a Jewish mindset. Don’t know though . . .


  14. Correct me if I’m off, but it seems to me that the Bible uses head (or, mind) and heart synonymously in many places, such that the dichotomy that many would seek to put between them is without proper warrant and assumed without thinking. The anti-intellectual bias of the day only exacerbates this issue. If we would only begin asking those who divide the two . . . “What in the world do you mean by what you are claiming?”

    So much for the “16 Inches from Salvation” type sermons . . . full of loud rhetoric and shallow thinking! I also wonder what other biblical terms/concepts woould be synonymous with mind and heart? That would be a good study to embark on.


  15. [“So, I think people do not believe because they do not understand!” -Denson]

    Correct – you cannot assent or agree to what you do not have a prior and good understanding of. It cannot be rightly said of you that you believe the mathematical proposition ‘2+2=4’ if you do not understand what is in question. Put yet another way, if I were to ask you whether you believed that the phrase ‘comment allez vous’ means ‘How are you?’, you could not answer me if you weren’t familiar with this French phrase. So, while understanding (or, knowledge) is necessarily prior to assent, it does not constitute genuine belief if left to itself. When it is coupled with assent in proposition X, then it can be right said that belief is present in proposition X.


  16. [“As for Augustine, I think his famous saying had more to do with the right use of reason than the distinction Clark is raising between understanding and belief, which is a point you grant anyway. The whole quote is; ‘I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.'” -Sean Gerety]

    It looks to me as well, Sean, that Augustine was speaking in the context of axioms or first principles (or, how to appropriately reason), and not in a context where he was expounding on the anatomy of faith as such.


  17. [I remember someone asking me, out of the blue, “Do you actually believe Romans 9 when it states, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” Being a young Christian I remembered the passage vaguely and stated, “If that’s what the Bible states, I believe it.”]

    What faith there, Eric!

    [To which this person replied, “You make me sick!”]

    Right . . . God is a cosmic a**hole in their perception if truths such as found in Rom. 9 hold.

    [By the way, this was my first introduction to Calvinism and it was from a pagan.]

    Nice providence there! ;~)

    [All of these people understood what the Bible was teaching and rejected it outright.]

    Unbelief is primarily a moral problem . . . a sinfully rebellious & defiant issue on the part of the stiff-necked unbeliever, such that if God were to remove all sin from their minds, they would readily agree with everything He says at all times. I hope that makes sense, for it is – admittedly – roughly stated.

  18. Gus Gianello Says:

    Faith is very simple–so simple it misleads people. There are millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of professing Christians who are more Kierkegaardian than biblical. In their Schliermachian view faith is not pistis, it is passionate emotional authentication by the self, through self-perception and self-authorization of some kind of mysterium tremendum. They literally “feel” Christ. Hillary Clinton often speaks of the how the Holy Spirit has led her political life. This is said quite seriously by a daughter of Jezebel, that would put the ancient prophets of Baal to shame for her love of syncreticism of all kinds, especially religious. I have a “Reformed” father-in-law who does not believe what ALL the reformed confessions teach about the right of the innocent to remarry. I just read of a “Reformed” professor froma dutch conservative denomination lecturing on the Charismatic Movement. He refused to condemn it, and some of the excerpts from his lectures made it clear that he is blood brother to Bavinck in worshipping a mysterious God who cannot make sense.

    All of this works to obscure the simple truth that it is not the kind of faith (pistis) that you have that counts, it is the object of that pistis, that makes it saving belief. Faith is a fraud. Belief is justified true knowledge. It is justified because it is revealed propositions, it is true because it is revelation, and it is knowledge because we give assent to it. You must assent that it is revealed, and it is true, and therefore it is knowledge and therefore it is faith. I have learned never to use the word faith but always the noun form of “to believe”. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” should actually read “belief comes from understanding Christ’s message”. Any one who has studied the greek will have no problem with that translation.

    Scripturalists need to radically apply the insights of Clark and Robbins. The majority of professing Christians are not saved, or so compromised that their eternal status cannot be determined. The visible church in north America is almost without exception the whore of babylon. That “brother” you just met in the local OPC is a closet hypocrite, or open religious fascist. The Reformation is dead, and we need a Second Reformation, not another great awakening. For the great awakening began the great Slumber of the Reformation movement, which begat revivalism, Arminianism, Holiness teaching, Dispensationalism and all the other ills of the visible church. Luther was right, at the end of days, we have been reduced to house churches where two or three gather. Finally as a PCA teaching elder said to me, he knew it was the end of the road for him, when in presbytery he was rebuked for calling the pope Antichrist, and not showing respect for him. He should have been called brother.

    Gus

  19. Eric Says:

    Wow Gus! Have we been visiting the same churches? VERY similar experiences here and on the same doctrinal points you address in your post.

    An OPC pastor of late told me the gospel was in the stars.. :-O
    So much for propositions.

    Eric

  20. qeqesha Says:

    Scott,
    Thanks. I think I got it!! —> You cannot believe what you do not understand — but you can disbelieve(refuse to believe) what you understand!

    Denson


  21. [Scott,
    Thanks. I think I got it!! —> You cannot believe what you do not understand — but you can disbelieve(refuse to believe) what you understand!

    Denson]

    Yes, that’s right! I do not assent to communism, though I ‘understand’ or have a good knowledge of that theory; therefore, I don’t believe in communism.


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