Ink Marks on a Page

lord-god-of-truth

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:

The substantial question is how do we know the contents of the Bible. If Louis XIV or my wife could be replaced with an imposter twin, then maybe the Bible in my hand is a cunningly devised substitute. Mavrodes lays this on rather heavily, and I am glad that he does. So few people are willing to give the point any serious attention. He also mentions, and I wish he had discussed, solipsism; there are also the skeptical arguments of Carneades and Aenesidemus; and as well Descartes’ omnipotent deceptive demon. In fact, until these arguments are successfully circumvented, no one has a firm basis on which to object to my general position… I must point out that he has not met the issue when he says, “Sense experience is required for the derivation of such [Biblical] beliefs,” and “every consistent epistemology which assigns a role to the Bible…must assign a role of equal scope and in precisely the same area to sense perception.” To make such assertions presupposes satisfactory answers to Aenesidemus and Descartes’ demon. Can it be shown that an imposter twin is impossible? Can we be sure that we have not overlooked a “not” in the sentence? There are even greater empirical scandals than these. How can one prove the reliability of memory? Any test designed to show which memory is true and which is mistaken presupposes that a previous memory is true – and this is the point in question. In large measure the psychological force of my position derives from the impossibility of empiricism.

No one in the history of philosophy has made a more determined effort than Aristotle to build knowledge on sensation. Surely Locke is no better; and contemporary phenomenalism with its experience that is neither mental nor physical is as meaningless and unverifiable as Spinoza’s substance that is both. It was for this reason that the first Wheaton lecture used Aristotle as the exponent of empiricism. Therefore until my destructive analysis of Aristotle (in the first Wheaton Lecture and in Thales to Dewey) is overturned, an appeal to sensation is a petitio principii.

For Clark, the acquisition of knowledge is not a sensory process and those who insist on a role for sensation are just begging the question.  He argued that it is the Divine Logos “which lighteth every man” and that Christ alone is the sin qua non of knowledge, not sensation.  In his book, Lord God of Truth, and after an examination of some sizable citations from French philosopher, Nicholas Malebranche, in support of his view, Clark writes:

With less literary flourish than Malebranche’s peroration one may summarize by saying that truth concerns Ideas, Ideas are in God, and the mind can perceive them only there.  These Ideas are alone the objects of thought.  Nor can sensory images in any way be transformed into truth.  In the language of antiquity and of modernity, abstract concepts can never be derived from sensory images.  Though different human beings may and must have different sensations — for your pain is not mine — there is only one set or world of Ideas.  It is the system of God’s mind, and we can see them only there.

Following Malebranche, Clark also quotes at length from Edward’s sermon, A Divine and Supernatural Light Immediately Imparted to the Soul, specifically section III, in support of his theory.  According to Edwards, “light and knowledge is always spoken of [in Scripture] as immediately given of God,” and if immediately given, then it follows that “light and knowledge” cannot be mediated through the senses.

Another way to think of Clark’s view, and one I think most Christians can easily grasp,  is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith which states that belief in the truth of Scripture rests ultimately on  “the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.”  In addition, it should be noted that Lord God of Truth also includes Augustine’s dialogue, De Magistro, where Augustine demonstrates that Christ alone, the Divine Logos,  is our teacher, again supporting Clark’s theory of divine illumination.

As Clark would repeat over and over,  the Scriptures are not black ink marks on white pages in a black book.  They are the eternal thoughts of God.  Ink marks may provide an occasion by which we might come to know  some of God’s thoughts, even to the saving of our souls, but the ink marks themselves reveal nothing.  Unlike the vast majority of Christian thinkers, Clark was never content with ever merely begging the question.

Dr. W. Gary Crampton in his book, The Scripturalism of Gordon Clark, defends Clark’s  position this way:

God’s Word is eternal; the printed pages of the Bible are not.  The letters or words on the printed page are signs or symbols which signify the eternal truth which is the mind of God, and which is communicated by God directly and immediately to the minds of men. Dr. Clark, of course, did not demean the physical aspect of mankind.  He recognized that God created both the mind of man and his body, including the senses.  But neither the mind nor the senses are the sources of knowledge…. Since all knowledge is propositional, and since the senses interacting with creation yield no propositions, knowledge cannot originate, be conveyed by, or be derived from sensation.

To put it another way, the source of knowledge isn’t the Bible in your hand or ink marks on a page, but rather knowledge is found in the very thoughts of God revealed in Scripture alone and impressed on our minds by God’s unmerited grace and mercy alone.  As Dr. Robbins notes in his Introduction to Gordon Clark:

Rather than accepting the secular view that man discovers truth and knowledge on his own power using his own resources [something most Christians accept as well – SG], Clark asserted that truth is a gift of God, who graciously reveals it to men. Clark’s epistemology is consistent with his soteriology: Just as men do not attain salvation themselves, on their own power, but are saved by divine grace, so men do not gain knowledge on their own power, but receive knowledge as a gift from God. Knowledge of the truth is a gift from God. Man can do nothing apart from the will of God, and man can know nothing part from the revelation of God.

Knowledge is as much a gift as is salvation, which is, after all, often referred to as coming to a knowledge of the truth.  Only propositions are either true or false and the axiom of the Christian faith consists of the sum total of the propositions found in Scripture.  But, as mentioned above,  propositions are the meanings of  declarative sentences,  not black ink marks on white pages.

Consider 1Cor 2:14: “‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Man’s problem is not that his senses don’t function properly. The natural man can certainly read (in the sense of correctly deciphering and even understanding ink marks on a page) the Scriptures,  and even on occasion understand them better than many Christians, but knowledge, which  is true belief with an account of its truth, or, simply, justified true belief (belief being the operative word), is the  gift of God.  Propositions cannot be touched, tasted or sensed.  They are, as Paul said, spiritually discerned.  No one comes to the truth of the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ alone, or justification by belief alone apart from works, or any biblical truth, or, more precisely, any truth at all, by correctly deciphering arbitrary ink marks.  It is God who impresses His truth (as if there were any other kind) — the very truths  found in Scripture alone — on our minds when we read the Bible.  Meanwhile, the natural man “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” not because he needs glasses or his hearing malfunctions, but because his mind is at enmity with God (Romans 8:7).

Man’s problem is spiritual and his stumbling block to knowledge is sin. Again, Paul said the truth revealed in Scripture is spiritually, not physically, discerned. The natural man considers the truths of Scripture  “foolishness,” and, because of sin, he will not, and, more importantly, cannot believe them.  As Clark would say, the problem with unbelievers is that they don’t believe.

Consider also Peter’s answer to Jesus when asked who he thought Jesus was  in Matthew 16.  When Peter answered Jesus’ question correctly by confessing that He was the Christ and the Son of the living God, besides being blessed, Jesus said that “flesh and blood” did not reveal this truth to Peter, but rather it was the Father who is in Heaven who revealed this information directly to Peter’s mind.  I dare say those who answered Jesus’ question incorrectly could see, hear, touch, taste, and smell just as good as Peter, perhaps in some cases even better, yet their sensations provided them no knowledge of Christ at all.

In his book, Language and Theology, Clark quotes Abraham Kuyper approvingly:

That which we call Holy Scripture is not paper with black impressions. Those letters are but tokens of recognition; those words are only clicks of the telegraph key signaling thoughts to our spirits along the lines of our visual and auditory nerves. And the thoughts so signaled are not isolated and incoherent, but parts of a complete system that is directly antagonistic to man’s thought, yet enters their sphere [The Work of the Holy Spirit].

Clark did add one caveat that Kuyper’s analogy was “too behavioristic,” yet he stressed that “the main thought was sound.”   Yet, even with these arguments Clark’s critics still insist that sensation must play a role in epistemology.  In response to such challenges Clark continued to put the onus for proof on those who assert a role for sensation in the acquisition of knowledge:

Philosophers who insist on giving a role to sensation in the acquisition of knowledge should first define sensation, then show how sensation can become perception, and presumably how memory images can produce universal concepts by abstraction. If this is not their scheme, and it might not be, then they should describe in detail what their scheme is. It is not enough to speak vaguely about some role or other. [Language and Theology;  p.144]

Ink marks, various pitched sounds, Braille, Morse code, sinographs, and whatever else that might be used to communicate are arbitrary conventions, and, in and of themselves, are meaningless signs signifying nothing.  Black marks are neither true or false and cannot be properly the objects of knowledge for the simple reason that only propositions can be either true or false.  Ink marks have meaning only insofar as rational minds assign them meaning.  Clark argued that if someone thinks there are truths embedded in ink scratches or which can somehow be derived by sensing them should provide some sort of argument to show how, starting with any number of black marks, they can arrive at any universal truth such as, “all men are sinners.”  Yet, not one of Clark’s critics even tried to overcome his challenge and to this day Clark’s critics merely beg the question when insisting on a role for sensation in the acquisition of knowledge.

Clark concludes Language and Theology with the following summary of his position:

First, language is a bearer of meaning because words are arbitrary signs the mind uses to tag thoughts. Second, communication is possible because all minds have at least some thoughts in common. This is so because God created man a rational spirit, a mind capable of thinking, worshipping, and talking to God. God operates through his Logos, the wisdom that enlightens every man in the world. Third, language is logical because it expresses logical thoughts. Not to deny the noetic effects of sin, examples of which are incorrect additions and various fallacies in reasoning, man is still a rational or logical creature and hence he cannot think three is four or that two contradictories can both be true. Language therefore is built upon the laws of logic.

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24 Comments on “Ink Marks on a Page”

  1. TurretinFan Says:

    Clark is certainly under-appreciated in contemporary Reformed thought – more than any other major Reformed theologian of the 20th century. During his lifetime his genius in philosophy was something that I did not see rivaled except, perhaps, among one or two others. I am very glad to see that there are still those who have not forgotten him!

    -TurretinFan

  2. speigel Says:

    Thanks for the great summary on Clark. I”m not a philosopher, but even I see (that is, understand) and am tired of reading critics of Clark when they fail to provide a comprehensive yet alone understandable theory of epistemology based on sensation. And unlike Clark, who generously answered his critics, these critics of Clark’s become mean and foolish when they are criticized. Its seriously a sad state of affairs. They try so hard to be right in their eyes instead of being held up by the standard of the Bible.

    Let me know of other authors to read that are biblical in their philosophy like Clark. I’ve been trying to expand my readings outside of Clark, but many authors are just plain bad.

  3. Paijo Says:

    Recently I translated couple of pages of Clark’s “God’s Hammer” (67 – 71) – where he critiques Thomas Aquinas argument – and post it on Facebook and some other blogs. I even put it at the comment section of a catholic blog. There are some who got interested in Clark’s work and have purchased some of his books. But there is not ye any criticism that I see. Hope more Christians in Indonesia will be familiar with Clark’s work.

  4. Monty L. Collier Says:

    Here are some other Calvinistic writers who have rejected empirical ways of learning. Enjoy:

    Calvin writes:

    The majesty of God is so lofty, that the senses of men cannot reach him…For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free…Christ reminds them that he has something greater and higher than human appearance, which is hidden from the senses of the flesh, and is perceived only by the eyes of faith.
    (Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XVII, pages 259, 342, 362)

    Gilbert Beebe (Primitive Baptist) writes:

    While we look not on the things which are seen, but on the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. The trials, afflictions, losses and bereavements that we encounter in these vile bodies, are seen, they are visible to the natural sensibilities of the flesh, and therefore our carnal nature writhes under them; and while we look at them, like Peter when he looked on the heaving billows of the sea, we begin to sink; but when our faith looks up to Jesus, and we see his hand outstretched for our deliverance, we glory in that tribulation which afforded opportunity for the cheering revelation. The raging billows on which we are tossed are seen, but faith that looks to Christ is the evidence of things that are not seen. This is the blessed privilege of all the sons of God, to look on things which are not temporal, but eternal. Our fleshly powers, including all the powers, mental and physical, which are born of the flesh, and all that we can have without a new birth, are totally blind to all the things of the Spirit of God, and only able to look on things which are temporal; but that life which is born of God, can discern the things of the Spirit of God. How essential it is then to our happiness that we heed the admonition of the apostle, to crucify the old man with his affections and lusts, and that we sow to the Spirit, that of the Spirit we may reap life everlasting.
    (Editorials Of Gilbert Beebe, Volume 3, pages 289-290)

  5. qeqesha Says:

    Hi Sean,
    “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.”

    Well, there are “many” who “know” Augustine or have been taught that he is the founder of Roman Catholicism, that his errors lead to the excesses of the reformers as well as Roman Catholic persecution!

    First of all, the Roman Catholic State Church was founded by Constantine, not Augustine! Persecution of those who hold dessenting views follows logically, since they are violating the laws of the state.

    Secondly, Roman Catholicism is NOT Augustinian, but Thomistic! (Think about it! The implications are enormous!)

    Thirdly, the Reformers were persecuted by the Pope obviously for not being Roman Catholic precisely because the reformers were following Augustine! Being Augustinian was not considered by the Pope as being Roman Catholic!

    Fourthly, the errors Augustine believed were already widely believed in the church, having been passed on from the early church fathers.

    Of course, without a doubt, Augustine is personally responsible for holding these errors. But which of those did the Reformers follow? The exception is probably their failure to see earlier on that Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world … which should lead to seperation of state and church! The result was Calvin’s Geneva police state and persecution of baptists, burning of witches, and persecution of other christian groups. But which of these errors do any of us who are reformed follow today?

    Many modern theological college graduates actually flaunt their detailed knowledge of Calvin’s “Mujahadin” at Geneva etc etc… Of course they get it from their liberal proffessors whose sole motivation is to discredit the gospel and the reformed faith in particular . The ignorant poor student is rattled by these “revelations” and cannot get rid of the doubts that these accounts are calculated to engender in his mind. From then on he is fair game for all kinds of nonsense!!

    But I digress!!!

    Excellent post Sean!

    Denson

  6. Jason Bradfield Says:

    excellent post…speaking of facebook, i have started a “scripturalism” group there. Just a place to post things like what Sean has provided above.

    This issue solves so much for me…i wish to push it as much as i can. ( :

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=50672876750

  7. qeqesha Says:

    Hi,
    Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Mathew 24:35

    “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” 2 Peter 3:10

    God is truth and his word is truth. Truth is eternal. If heaven and earth pass away(they are not eternal), then they are not truth. Therefore, sensations which interface with the physical universe cannot/do not give truth. And so sensations were never meant to give us truth. Further, science, the study of the universe(heaven and earth) is then, not truth.
    Of course some do not think these verses refer to the literal passing away of the physical universe, but merely to the judgement of the wickked and their works. But Peter explicitly refers to “the elements”, the physical universe and ‘fervent heat’.

    Denson

  8. Gus Gianello Says:

    This is the downfall of modern putative evangelical Christianity. Including the so-called Reformed or “Truly Reformed” churches. It is their downfall because as a result of their epistemology they have failed to maintain Reformation forms of thought. They follow Thomas not Augustine and so must yield to continuum thinking. The Reformers at their best taught us that their is no continuum between the heavenly and the earthly. Belief in Christ and the authority of the Bible is a gift, and all knowledge is revealed. Aquinas instead, represents those who look up from earth, and by their own powers comprehends the secret things of God. Nature and grace are addendums to each other and complementary. The result is that in all churches that adhere to Thomism, nature, swallows up grace. Continuum thinking overwhelms epistemological separation from the world. When I no longer believe that I think differently from the world, why should I believe that I should act differently from the world.

    Empirical Christianity is a reductio ad absurdum. It is a prima facie argument for the failure of Empiricism. In a world that idolizes the visible, whether the apparent successes of science as a truth finding enterprise, or the hagiography surrounding a President, Scripture and the true Christianity it represents is judged a failure. After all, it has not succeeded in promoting the most good for the most people.

  9. Darrin Says:

    Hi Sean,

    I couldn’t find your email address and wanted to make sure you saw this: http://www.garynorth.com/public/3883.cfm

    Feel free to delete this comment once you got the link.

    Blessings,
    Darrin

  10. Sean Gerety Says:

    Thanks Darrin. I had seen it. It was a nice remembrance. Maybe others will enjoy it. If you ever get the chance, if you haven’t already, you should check out John’s lectures on economics. Trinity has the mp3s. I had always hoped he would put out a volume based on his lectures, but it was not to be.

    FYI, my email address is on my “about” page.

  11. Bob S Says:

    Would Turretinfan or anybody else care to comment on 1:11 in Turretin’s Institutes:

    “Is there any use of the testimony of the senses in mysteries of the faith; or ought it to be entirely rejected? We affirm the former and deny the latter (I:34-37).”

    Does Clark agree?

    Thanks
    Bob Suden

  12. qeqesha Says:

    Hi Bob,
    The mysteries of the faith are given by revelation directly/immediately to the mind by the Spirit of God. No one can arrive at any of the doctrines of the faith through their senses. None can be sensed. The mysteries of the faith are from God’s mind and it is there that our minds see them.

    Denson

  13. Gus Gianello Says:

    Gus Responds to
    ____________________________________________________________
    Bob S Says:

    February 1, 2009 at 9:41 pm
    Would Turretinfan or anybody else care to comment on 1:11 in Turretin’s Institutes:

    “Is there any use of the testimony of the senses in mysteries of the faith; or ought it to be entirely rejected? We affirm the former and deny the latter (I:34-37).”

    Does Clark agree?

    Thanks
    Bob Suden
    _____________________________________________________________

    Sadly the Reformation was incomplete in its work–or at the very least inconsistent. Remember Luther began his career by espousing separation of church and state, but ended it by approving of the bloody suppression of the Peasants Revolt, by Lutheran German princes. This inconsistency is reflected in all the reformed confessions, which approve of the political suppression of all heresies. That is why I adherre ONLY to the American version of the Westminster Standards.

    This is a cogent example of the Reformers not seeing the dangers of their own positions. In the area of epistemology as well, they were wrong. Many continued down the road of Thomism. In the 19th century the end result was Paley, and Natural Theology. The end result was that in the CRC in 1929 common grace ate and digested redemptive or special grace. To be blunt, Turretin (a good italian boy like me) was dead wrong. Read Hodge and you’ll see the result in his common sense Scottish philosophy.

    After years of reflection, I have come to the conclusion, that the achilles heel of modern Reformed theology and practice is the continued espousal of empiricism (thomism) and the continued rejection of an Augustinian epistemology. Even Augustine, was not Augustinian enough. You will find contradictions in his philosophy. To my knowledge the only major philosopher to be consistently Augustinian, and therefore consistently biblical, is Gordon clark. You can also see the works of Victor Cheung. Google him on the internet.

  14. speigel Says:

    I would also like to add Robbins to the list of Clark and Cheung. Robbins was very consistent. He filled in areas of study in greater detail that Clark only touched upon (at least to my knowledge) such as Economics and Politics.

    Cheung has also stated that he was different than Clark in his epistemology though he stated that he nowhere contradicts Clark on any major point. Can anyone specifically state how Cheung is different from Clark (not theologically but epistemologically)? Does he simply add to Clark’s philosophy? If so, what does he add? Thanks.

  15. Gus Gianello Says:

    I did not mean to exclude John Robbins. Obviously I consider him very highly. As to Cheung, I know there is somewhat of an intersection with Clark, but I dont know exactly what, so I am incompetent to evaluate him. I find Clark and Robbin demanding enough, that I really dont read much else. For me the order of importance at present is the bible, Clark/Robbins/Gerety, the Reformers–Calvin/puritans in particular. I am not up on the latest and greatest and have no time for wannabees.

    Gus

  16. speigel Says:

    I hope you don’t consider Cheung one of the “wannabees.” I do not think you are saying he is, though I am unsure. But he is very much the “real thing.” He fills in certain aspects of Clark’s philosophy that Clark didn’t make explicit, such as the mechanics knowledge acquisition. Clark and Cheung compliment each other very well and believe that Cheung is worth the time as much as Clark is.

    Outside of Clark and Cheung, I would again recommend Robbins very much. They did more than write little snippets, expanding on several areas of thought. Besides those three I do not know who else to read though I’ve read much of Reymond. I have also read some books about certain topics recommended by Clark, Robbins, and Cheung. But it’s hard to find a thoroughly consistent thinker in multiple areas of thought besides the Clark, Cheung, and Robbins. Hopefully others have recommendations.

  17. Sean Gerety Says:

    I have not read much by Cheung, but what I have read I’ve appreciated very much. Where he differs with Clark, I have no idea. Perhaps someone could just ask him?

  18. Tim Harris Says:

    Sean — I do appreciate that you and John have slowly been filling in the gaps in Clark’s theory. It seems like he was rather coy at times, and was more content to attack his opponent (especially the empiricist whipping-boy) rather than presenting and defending his own theory. At this point I am straining to understand, not argue with. Something seems “obviously” deficient, but I’m willing to say the problem may be a misconstrual on my part. Would you say the following paragraph correctly summarizes Clark’s view:

    The human mind contains propositions, some of which, for Christians, are identical with the propositions contained in the mind of God. Only those propositions that are found in Scripture or deduced therefrom can be known to be true (and thus identical with God’s). However, the ground for belief that a particular proposition is in Scripture is not, looking up a verse in a material Bible, but rather, the immediate inward testimony of the Holy Spirit (ITHS).

    If so, then here are just a couple questions that spring to mind:

    1. Is the claim by someone to know a proposition based on ITHS, but without ever having studied the Bible (and thus completely free of empiricism), a valid claim? Say, to make the point sharp, the person asserts a proposition that happens to be biblical, like “all have sinned.” Is it on an equal footing with someone who rests his claim on a detailed study of the Bible?

    2. In arguing with a Pelagian who said, “Rom 3:23 says ‘all men have NOT sinned’,” would Clark NOT go to a text and point to it, but instead simply say, “you say you have the ITHS but I say you don’t.”

  19. Sean Gerety Says:

    Hi Tim – I think your summation is pretty good since it addresses the biblical idea and role of the apriori in man and the work of the Holy Spirit in the acquisition of knowledge. How else could someone know God is speaking in Scripture apart from the work of the Spirit?

    If so, then here are just a couple questions that spring to mind:

    1. Is the claim by someone to know a proposition based on ITHS, but without ever having studied the Bible (and thus completely free of empiricism), a valid claim? Say, to make the point sharp, the person asserts a proposition that happens to be biblical, like “all have sinned.” Is it on an equal footing with someone who rests his claim on a detailed study of the Bible?

    The problem is how to account for the things we say we know? While we would both agree that “all have sinned” is a true proposition, the problem is how do you account for it apart from Scripture? It seems to me that knowledge, if we’re going to call it that, requires an account.

    2. In arguing with a Pelagian who said, “Rom 3:23 says ‘all men have NOT sinned’,” would Clark NOT go to a text and point to it, but instead simply say, “you say you have the ITHS but I say you don’t.”

    ITHS would not even enter the debate. And, yes, Clark would go to the text, that doesn’t mean that the Pelagian will agree. He might say Paul was speaking hyperbolically. Consequently, Clark might muster any number of other parts of Scripture to his defense and to expose the Pelagian’s error, but then Augustine already did the heavy lifting. Just because words on a page are intended to communicate a specific meaning, it doesn’t follow that men always receive what the author intended. The question is, how does someone receive what the author of Scripture intended? The Westminister principle is that despite all the other evidences that attest to the truth of Scripture (the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole, etc.), the ITHS is essential. I think it’s important not to confuse the how of knowledge with the what of knowledge.

  20. Tim Harris Says:

    Sean, I agree with your answer to #1 which is why it seems like an appeal at some point to “ink marks on a page” is going to have to take place. Unless the discussion is going to go something like this: “I know that the Holy Spirit has revealed that ‘all have sinned’ because the Holy spirit has also revealed that this is taught by Scripture.”

    Likewise, in #2, you address the spiritual problem many have in accepting a biblical truth, but I want to highlight the method that would be followed if someone claimed that literally the text says “for not all have sinned.” It would go something like: “you agree there is an ink mark that says “for” right? Point to that. Now move slowly to the right and tell me the next letter you see.” At the end of the day, would you not write the person off as either blind or a liar? But how does one avoid saying that something empirical is going on in making that judgment?

    In short, it seems to many of us that Clark refutes the possibility of empirical knowledge, then goes on to use various empirical and inductive methods without ever explaining how he avoids the refutation. If the Holy Spirit is going to be appealed to at every step, then why not say that the empirical method is valid, but only because the Holy Spirit vouchsafes it?

  21. Sean Gerety Says:

    If the Holy Spirit is going to be appealed to at every step, then why not say that the empirical method is valid, but only because the Holy Spirit vouchsafes it?

    Many do say, or rather, assert that the empirical method is valid because the Holy Spirit, in essence, guarantees it. Some even assert that science, whose method is demonstrably fallacious, arrives at truth if done by Christians and when operating from Christian presuppositions. I think I’ve heard it all. But if it can be shown that the empirical method is invalid, as Clark has done countless times and in almost all of his works, then it seems to me the assertion being made is that the Holy Spirit makes an invalid method valid. Aside from what amounts to an appeal to mysticism, you’re still just asserting the very thing you need to prove. And, I suppose in the process, suggesting that the Holy Spirit is guilty of begging the question and not you. I don’t know Tim, but I don’t find this to be a satisfactory solution.

    FWIW this discussion reminds me of a TR piece by Marla Bevin, Linguistics and the Bible, where she points out that “the proposition is the basic unit of rational thought; its components, such as words, phrases, and sounds, are not.” It would seem to me that you are confusing what might be an occasion for knowledge with the source of knowledge itself, or, rather Himself 🙂

  22. Tim Harris Says:

    So… what is Clark or a Clarkian doing when arguing with a textual critic over what the text should be? It must come down to “The Holy Spirit testifies P1 to me, and you claim the Holy Spirit testifies P2 which is contradictory, therefore I can only think that the HS is NOT testifying to you, though you claim it is.”

    But instead, we observe something going on that looks to an outsider like induction, empirical evidence, weighing of probabilities, etc. Despite the inductive fallacy, would you grant that a Clarkian is using empirical data as EVIDENCE (even though not proof) for resolving whether the HS testifies P1 or P2?

  23. Sean Gerety Says:

    … what is Clark or a Clarkian doing when arguing with a textual critic over what the text should be? It must come down to “The Holy Spirit testifies P1 to me, and you claim the Holy Spirit testifies P2 which is contradictory, therefore I can only think that the HS is NOT testifying to you, though you claim it is.”

    Clark had a very low view of textual criticism and the problems involved run considerably deeper than the textual critic claiming that the Holy Spirit testifies to P2. I would recommend his entire treatise, Logical Criticism of Textual Criticism, however the selection reprinted in TR might suffice since he once faced a very similar objection:

    Once when I quoted a verse from John’s Gospel to a modernist, she quickly replied, “But how do you know that he actually said that?” By the grace of God, I was able immediately to shoot back, “How do you know Jesus said anything?” The other faculty members at the lunch table gave vocal evidence of a point scored. The modernist woman professor and missionary to India wanted to use some verses, but not others. But she saw then that if she insisted on her verses, she could not object to mine. At any rate the attempt to destroy Christian faith by an appeal to the difficulties of textual criticism has been based on considerable exaggeration.

    …we conclude that the type of criticism underlying the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard, and other versions is inconsistent with its own stated criteria, inconsistent in its results, and inconsistent with the objective evidence. Its method is that of unsupported aesthetic speculation. If we want to get closer to the very words of God, we must pay attention to Hodges, Farstad, Pickering, and The New King James Version.

    FWIW I have read Pickering’s The Identity of the New Testament Text (which might still be available free online) and highly recommend it. You can also check out the piece by Gary Crampton, Original Manuscripts, the Majority Text, and Translations, for more of what a Scripturalist would say.

  24. Sean Gerety Says:

    One other thing Tim, why make it complicated by bringing in the illogic of the textual critic? Why not something a whole lot easier like a Romanist or Federal Visionist exegeting (butchering) James 2:24? Both will claim the Holy Spirit in their errant reading of this verse. The Romanist being the more consummate student of Aristotle will even point to the Holy Spirit he can see with the eyes in his head in Rome for authority (the FVer’s haven’t worked their empirical & sensate system out to it’s ncessary conclusion yet – although some have).

    So, what would a Scripturalist say to such a man? He would of course offer his counter arguments and appeal to the analogy of faith, but at the end of the day he can no more change the mind of the Romanist or the Federal Visionist than he can restore sight to the blind. Believing the truth is the gift of God, and, sadly, many people believe many demonstrably false things.


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