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…)