Archive for December 2009

The Theological and Historical Revisionism of John Frame

December 31, 2009

At the urging of Dr. R. Scott Clark I recently purchased the festschrift for Robert Strimple; The Pattern of Sound Doctrine. While my main reason for purchasing the book was to read Clark’s contribution and his defense of the so-called “well-meant” offer of the Gospel (I hope to have a review of Clark’s article published in the future), I came across the following in John Frame’s contribution to the festschrift dealing with the Clark/Van Til controversy:

On the question of analogy, [John] Murray makes another distinction. Our knowledge of God is analogical, in the sense that our knowledge is ”after the likeness of” God’s own knowledge of himself.   But what we know, the object of our knowledge, according to Murray, is not an analogy, but the truth: “Our knowledge of the truth is analogical, but what we know is not analogical; e.g., our knowledge of that Truth is analogical, but it is not an analogy of the truth that we know.  What we know is the Truth.”  Murray says that if what we know, the object of our knowledge, is a mere analogy, then we do not know the truth at all.

These statements address issues that were raised in the 1940’s controversy between Van Til and Gordon H. Clark. Van Til emphasized that our knowledge of God was analogous to God’s own, but not identical with it, seeking to protect the Creator/creature distinction.  Clark emphasized that our knowledge was the same as God’s own, seeking to prevent skepticism.  Murray’s formulation adds a valuable clarification to this debate: our method of knowing is different from God’s, though “analogous” to it; but the object of our knowledge, what we know, is not an analogy, but truth itself.

The Clark party was willing to say that our way of knowing (they called it the “mode”) is different from God’s. But they wanted to insist that God and human beings could know the same propositions (such as “Jesus rose from the dead”).  Van Til too was willing to say that God and man know the same propositions. In his Introduction to Systematic Theology, he says, “That two times two are four is a well-known fact.  God knows it. Man knows it.” But he wanted to insist that our way of knowing is different form God’s.  On these matters, the most heatedly debated of the controversy, Van Til and Clark actually agreed.  One imagines that if John Murray had urged his distinction on the parties during the debate, and if the parties had listened to him with a teachable spirit, much of the battle could have been avoided [80,81].

At first blush it would seem if Frame is correct the entire controversy which has caused such a deep and lasting division between the respective supporters of Van Til and Clark was much ado about nothing.  Had only John Murray been able to mediate the division between these two men, provided both Clark and Van Til maintained a “teachable spirit,” the watershed that subsequently split the Reformed world in two could have been avoided.

There are a number of problems with Frame’s story, not least of which is Murray’s own argument as Frame presents it and which he culled from the mimeographed notes of one of Murray’s  former and unknown students, is as incoherent and irrational as any of those made by Van Til.  According to Frame, Murray maintains that our knowledge of the truth is analogical, but what we know is not an analogy; i.e., “Our knowledge of the truth is analogical, but what we know is not analogical.”  Not only is Murray’s argument self-contradictory, since our knowledge cannot both be and not be analogical, his conclusion that the object of our knowledge “is truth itself” begs the question.  How Murray arrives at “truth itself” which is “not an analogy” from the idea that our knowledge of the truth is analogical is indeed mysterious.  I don’t know how anyone could be “teachable” enough to embrace such an argument?  Drunk perhaps.

Which brings us to Cornelius Van Til.  According to Frame, Van Til believed in the identity of content between God’s thoughts and man’s thoughts, and, in fact, agreed with Clark.  In Frame’s retelling of things, the real cause of the controversy was Van Til’s insistence “that our way of knowing is different from God’s” and his desire to protect the Creator/creature distinction.  Now, Frame admits that Clark too insists that “our way of knowing is different from God’s,” so what exactly was Van Til protecting?  And, even if Frame is confused by the word “mode,” the Answer to the complaint filed against Clark states that  “Dr. Clark in the transcript [of his ordination examination] says God’s knowledge of a given object is not the same as man’s knowledge of the same object” [emphasis added].  The complaint simply ignored this little piece of information and instead wrongly claimed that “Dr. Clark holds that man’s knowledge of a proposition . . . is identical with God’s knowledge of the same proposition.”

In addition, the position of Van Til and the undersigned in the complaint was that the “how” of God’s knowing does not even relate to the doctrine of incomprehensibility.  In The Answer we read: (more…)

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Tis’ the Reason for the Season

December 19, 2009

Quite a few years ago while lamenting about the loss of Christ in Christmas and complaining about the crass commercialism of this time of year, my boss at the time turned to me and said, “Well, Christ has never been in Christmas.”  I suspected that my boss, who was not  particularly religious,  was just being a tad bit cynical.  So I said,  “Of course Christ is in Christmas.  What are you talking about?”  Was my boss one of those closet Liberal atheists out to ban creches from public squares, keep kids in public schools from singing Christmas carols, ban the words “Merry Christmas” from the public square and replace it with the secular “Happy Holidays,” or remove the words “In God We Trust” from dollar bills?  Well, not only did he assure me that Christ had nothing to do with Christmas and that the holiday was a fabrication created by the minds of men,  he challenged me to look it up for myself, which I did.   Needless to say,  I have never looked at Christmas quite the same way.

So, for those still harboring sugar plum fairies in their thoughts and dreams, not to mention in their candle lit services,  PCA Pastor Andy Webb has provided a very timely and informative  historical sketch of the practice of celebrating Christmas in Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

Here is a sample:

In the Puritan Settlements of New England, the celebration of Holidays simply did not occur outside of the few Anglican enclaves. The pilgrims who emigrated to Plymouth spent their first Christmas in America working in the fields. By spending the days on which holy days were observed in a cycle of routine work these Puritan settlers showed their utter contempt for what were to them symbols of the corruption from which they had fled. Attempts by non-Puritans visiting the colony at Plymouth to observe Christmas were initially tolerated, but when it was discovered that they were actively engaged in games and revelry on this day they were angrily told by Governor William Bradford: “Your Conscience may not let you work on Christmas but my conscience cannot let you play while everybody else is out working”

After this, attempts to celebrate Christmas in the English way were punished, and Bradford noted years later that “no one had tried to celebrate Christmas since that second year.” Other American Colonies such as Massachusetts and Connecticut also outlawed the observance of Christmas and after the laws abolishing holy days were passed in England, the Colonies gladly followed with their own. Even after the Restoration monarchy forced the repeal of these laws in the Colonies in the 1680s, the practice of not observing holy days remained. While it may no longer have been strictly illegal, socially and ecclesiastically holy days were anathema. The Puritan Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and the other Dissenters of New England were all unified in their belief that holy days were an abomination, and no proper part of the worship of the people of God. This common belief was to remain in place well into the 1800s.

Samuel Miller appears to be largely correct then when he declared that “Presbyterians do not observe Holy Days.” This was certainly the understanding of the first Presbyterians, it had been codified in their creedal documents, and it had been their practice both in Scotland and America for over 200 years. What then happened in the 19th and 20th centuries to change the practice of Presbyterians?

So, cozy up to the fireplace with a nice cup of eggnog and your favorite laptop and read the rest of Andy’s ode to Christmas here.

PCA Pastor Peter Leithart to be Charged

December 11, 2009

A panel of commissioners from the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) made up of Fred Greco, Samuel Duncan, Dewey Roberts, Bill Lyle, and Jeff Owen has investigated a complaint filed against the Pacific Northwest Presbytery (PNW) for theological delinquency in their exoneration of PCA pastor and Federal Visionist, Peter Leithart.   You can read their preliminary decision in the case here.   Keep in mind their decision is just a recommendation and still has to be upheld by the entire SJC meeting in March, but I think it is safe to say their decision will be sustained.

While one might be excused for believing that this might be an occasion where a PCA pastor will finally be tried for heresy, you have to remember this is the PCA.

According to the decision it seems Leithart will not be charged with teaching heresy or for advancing what is without question — and as the report clearly demonstrates — a false gospel, but rather something more akin to favoring worldly recreations on the Lord’s day.

The panel’s argument is that the PNW”s failure to find a strong presumption of guilt in the case of Leithart is akin to affirming that Anglicans or  Reformed Baptists are within PCA confessional boundaries simply because they affirm some of the “central tenets of the Standards.”  The panel reasons, “This does not mean that Anglicans or  Baptists are within the Standards.  In the same way, Leithart appears to hold some views that place him outside the fundamentals of the Standards, as adopted by the Presbyterian Church in America.”  Of course, this is true.  However, last I checked an Anglican (unless he happens to be N.T. Wright or some other neo-liberal) or a Reformed Baptist isn’t necessarily a Christ denying heretic.  Leithart is.

I also found this particularly disturbing:

The only conclusion that a [PNW] court should reach…would be that there is a strong presumption of guilt that some of the views of Leithart are out of accord with some of the fundamentals of the system of doctrine taught in the Standards. This does not mean Leithart is a heretic. He is not. This does not mean that Leithart is not or whether he is a Christian. He is. This does not necessarily mean that Leithart is outside of the broader reformed community. The sole question to be determined is whether Leithart’s views place him outside of the Standards, as adopted by the Presbyterian Church in America.

Here again we have the PCA’s highest court referring to a man who boldly denies the Gospel, considers the doctrine of imputation “redundant,” and maintains that sinners are brought into union with Christ through the magic waters of baptism as their “brother.”  As I’ve said elsewhere, the Judaizers in Paul’s day never had it so good.

Even if  this tepid first step may one day end in the actual adjudication of an actual Federal Visionist within the PCA, it still might be another colossal waste of time, ink, paper, and prayer.  That’s because Leithart has plenty of time between now and March to decide whether he wants to stay and fight for the corrupt and phony gospel he believes or simply skedattle like that other FV queen and coward, Steve Wilkins, for the safe FV confines of the  Confederation of Make Believe Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC).  The ball is in his court.

Besides, one of the PCA Pastors in the minority who filed the complaint against the PNW, Jason Stellman, wrote on R. Scott Clark’s Heidelblog:

I for one would actually prefer he spare the church the time, energy, and money it will cost to try him. I have no desire to prosecute a case against Peter (though I will if need be). His case is unique in that he already ministers in a CREC in Moscow, so he has little to lose by just joining the denomination that best fits his theology. I mean, what good would it do for him personally or professionally to be deposed from a NAPARC church? He has to know that that’s what will happen if he insists on staying.

Leaving the issue of time, energy, and money aside (does the defense of the Gospel really have price?), Stellman does have a point.  What possible incentive can there be for Leithart to wait around to be charged even for some lesser offense than the one he deserves?  He could still end up getting defrocked and can no longer dishonestly claim to be a pastor in good standing.  That could be potentially embarrassing to Doug Wilson, the defacto pope of the Confederation of Make Believe Reformed Evangelical Churches.  I mean, allowing a defrocked former PCA pastor to continue to preach in their phony churches and teach in their phony Christian schools would go a long way in damaging the illusion that they’re really a Reformed Evangelical denomination.

On the other hand, I do get the sense from reading Leithart, and from the fact that he immediately and openly challenged his Presbytery by firing off a letter expressing his opposition to the PCA’s FV/NPP report only days after the report was adopted, that he is a proud and arrogant man.  He might even think he is clever  enough to outsmart the men on the SJC.   And, given what we see so far from the SJC’s preliminary decision, he might be right.

In a telling note, I did find it interesting that the PNW report exonerating Leithart reached its conclusion in light of “The dialectical character of biblical teaching famously produces tensions that remain difficult, if not impossible to resolve.”  Now where have I heard that before?  Hmmm?

Crampton Refutes Anderson

December 3, 2009

Denson was nice enough to point out in the combox to another post that Dr. W. Gary Crampton’s devastating refutation and review of Vantilian James Anderson’s Paradox in Christian Theology is now available at the Trinity Foundation website.

One of my criticisms of the review, if you want to call it that, is that I only wish Dr. Crampton spent more time examining Anderson’s use of Alvin Plantigna’s epistemology of warrant to justify his belief in the (imagined) logical paradoxes of Scripture, that are, or so we are told, irreconcilable at the bar of human reason. It struck me when reading Anderson’s book that his use of Plantinga’s epistemological method (and I don’t think he was abusing Plantinga here) that magically makes believing in a logically incoherent revelation “rational,” points to the utter uselessness of Planting’s entire epistemic endeavor. I would think a critique along those lines would also go along way in providing the death-knell for the entire misnamed “Reformed Epistemology” movement.  If Plantinga’s scheme can provide warrant for believing contradictory nonsense while still being rational for doing so, then it can provide the epistemological justification for believing all sorts of anti-Christian nonsense.

Another (minor) criticism is that I wish Dr. Crampton spent some time discussing Anderson’s contention that the so-called “paradoxes of Scripture” result from what Anderson anagrammatically calls “MACRUEs” or “merely apparent contradiction resulting from unarticulated equivocation.”

With those minor asides, I very much appreciated Crampton’s review along with his succinct encapsulation of Robert Reymond’s arguments exposing the dangers of holding to the false belief that there are logical paradoxes in Scripture (play close attention to Reymond’s second point).   Crampton writes:

The fact is, however, that a logical paradox (even an apparent contradiction) cannot be “rationally” believed, because one would not know what to believe. If one statement even “apparently” contradicts another, how would one know which to believe? What could be more obvious than this? It is not “rationally” possible to believe such paradoxes. Robert Reymond posed three insuperable obstacles to the notion that the Bible contains logical paradox.

First, as noted above, the issue of what is and what is not a logical paradox is totally subjective. Therefore, to claim universally that such and such a teaching is a paradox would require omniscience. How could anyone know that this teaching had not been reconciled before the bar of someone’s human reason?

Second, even when one claims that the seeming contradiction is merely “apparent,” he raises serious problems. “If actually non-contradictory truths can appear as contradictories, and if no amount of study or reflection can remove the contradiction, there is no available means to distinguish between this ‘apparent’ contradiction and a real contradiction.” How then would man know whether he is embracing an actual contradiction, which if actually found in the Bible (an impossibility, according to 1 Corinthians 14:33 and 2 Corinthians 1:18-20), would reduce the Scriptures to the same level as the contradictory Koran of Islam or a seeming contradiction? If Reymond’s analysis here is sound (and it is), then Anderson’s RAPT “warrant” for holding to the concept of logical paradox is “unwarranted.” The reason being that one cannot “rationally” believe “a set of theological claims even when those claims give the appearance of inconsistency” (262). The acronym RAPT (Rational Affirmation of Paradoxical Theology) itself is oxymoronic. There is no “rational affirmation” possible of a logical paradox.

And third, once one asserts (as with Neo-orthodoxy) that truth may come in the form of irreconcilable contradictions, “he has given up all possibility of ever detecting a real falsehood. Every time he rejects a proposition as false because it ‘contradicts’ the teaching of Scripture or because it is in some other way illogical, the proposition’s sponsor only needs to contend that it only appears to contradict Scripture or to be illogical, and that his proposition is one of the terms…of one or more of those paradoxes which we have acknowledged have a legitimate place in our ‘little systems.’” This being so, Christianity’s uniqueness as the only true revealed religion, will die the death of a thousand qualifications.(22)

In all, Dr. Crampton provides another devastating critique of those Vantilians, like Anderson, who  hold up the Scriptures as presenting to the mind of man an impenetrable morass of apparent contradictions, something they wrongly call “mysteries,” to which we are to bow in submission all in a sick perversion of Christian piety. These men, while pretending to be Reformed, are really the Reformed faith’s greatest enemies. Their thinly veiled affirmation of biblical contradictions (insofar as they appear and must remain to the human existent at least without some further revelation which is neither forthcoming nor to be expected) are hostile to true religion and are nothing more than religious fetishes fashioned in their own minds as they provide  a caricature of the true biblical Creator/creature distinction so badly mutilated by Van Til and his many followers.  As Dr. Crampton observes:

In the words of Gordon Clark, the Westminster theologians and the Reformers before them “believed that God’s revelation can be formulated accurately. They were not enamored of ambiguity [as is found in logical paradox]; they did not identify piety with a confused mind [which is the result of logical paradox]. They wanted to proclaim the truth with the greatest possible clarity. And so ought we.”

Crampton’s review also provides a warning to anyone who might be looking at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina where Anderson teaches to further their theological studies.  With professors like Anderson your money would be better spent elsewhere.  Although finding a seminary that doesn’t already adhere to Anderson’s deeply held conviction in a paradoxical and contradictory faith is getting increasingly harder to find, that is, if possible at all in these dark days.


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