Archive for July 2011

Buswell vs Clark

July 27, 2011


Wayne Sparkman, director of the PCA Historical Center, has posted an interesting exchange from 1947 between J. Oliver Buswell and Gordon Clark.  Buswell, who was a former president of Wheaton College and Dean of Covenant Seminary, was also a proponent of the “classical” or the “natural theological” approach to apologetics and favors many of the arguments defended by Michael Sudduth, Paul Manata and others.  The Buswell/Clark exchange is helpful for those who seem to have difficulty distinguishing the presuppostional apologetics from the NT approach.  For example, concerning the so-called “proofs” of God’s existence Clark writes:

… Dr. Buswell said, “Dr. Clark persists in challenging the traditional evidences for the Christian view of God on the ground that they do not give geometrical demonstration.” This sentence is inaccurate. Nowhere in A Christian Philosophy of Education did I disparage Christian evidences. Chapter two attempted to forewarn some over enthusiastic Christians against pressing evidences too far and falling into a trap. If anything, my view shows how evidences are possible. They are not possible when viewed as furnishing strict demonstration. Dr. Buswell continues, “But he does not answer the fact that geometry never can demonstrate the existence of anything.” Of course geometry cannot demonstrate the existence of anything physical. It does demonstrate in its construction theorems the existence of certain figures. And these, I should hold, are just as “real” as any physical object. But all this is beside the point. My purpose in referring to geometry was not to discuss the reality of ideal figures, but to indicate examples of rigorous logical proof. The theorems of geometry are demonstrated. There is no fallacy in the argument. Given the premises there is not any theoretical possibility that the conclusion might not follow. Dr. Buswell also writes, “I deny that the traditional proofs for the existence of God ‘were supposed to start from neutral facts . . .’ . . . No competent theologian claims that any inductive argument, or any argument for any existing thing affords a ‘demonstration’ in this impossible sense.” But I believe that Dr. Buswell is mistaken on this point. I apprehend that this is exactly the Thomist or Roman Catholic position. The Roman Catholic theologians claim that it is possible to begin with the fact of motion and, without any theological assumptions, prove by strict logic that God exists. Their whole system proceeds on the assumption that all knowledge is based on sensation, that the mind has no form of its own, and is actually nothing before it thinks. Then by a process of abstraction from sensory material, theological conclusions can be obtained with syllogistic certainty. But the closer I examine the Thomistic arguments for the existence of God, the more I am convinced that the syllogisms are invalid. The more too I am convinced that the sensory epistemology underlying them is false. And the more I prefer to stress presupposition and innate knowledge rather than induction and “unprejudiced,” neutral experience.

There is also an interesting discussion of Clark’s distinction between individuals and systems.  I think this might be of particular interest to those who have had the distinct displeasure of wasting their time discussing anything with Marc Carpenter or his one “Outside the Trailer Park” follower.   To this point which was completely lost on Carpenter many years ago as I’m sure will be today, Clark writes:

In order further to elucidate, I must ask agreement to the proposition that all men are more or less inconsistent. The fact that you and I are born again Christians does not mean that everything we think is Christian truth. This should be obvious because we sometimes contradict each other. If you are right, I am wrong; and in this case what I believe is not a part of the Christian system. Hence clarity requires a sharp distinction between what a given person thinks and what the system really is. If there were no such distinction, the beliefs of anyone who called himself a Christian could be taken for Christianity. Indeed, this is the point of view that Modernism with its anti-intellectualism actually adopts. To define Christianity the modernist does not determine the exact meaning of what the Bible says; he simply notes what ideas happen to be popular in his ecclesiastical fraternity. Accordingly the point must be emphasized that a Christian, even a true Christian, and Christianity are two different things. The Christian is inconsistent. Christianity is the whole consistent truth. Similarly an atheist and atheism are two different things. Atheism, a system, is as consistent as any false system can be. But an individual atheist not only may, but does believe propositions inconsistent with his professed atheism.

For the complete exchange see:

Buswell Reviews Clark (1947)   

Clark’s Reply

Buswell’s Surrejoinder

Clark Elaborates His Approach

Buswell Sees Progress!

Clark Gets the Last Word

John Robbins Not So Quick Quote

July 26, 2011

In light of Covenant Seminary professor of Old Testament Dr. “Jack” Collins’ reply to a review by Rachel Miller that I linked below, and some of the subsequent discussion to the blog where his reply was reprinted, I thought the following not-so-quick quote from John Robbins was in order. I think it is also pertinent to some of the discussion following my post below; “Van Til and Natural Theology.”

There are two basic forms of Christian apologetics: evidentialism and presuppositionalism. The evidentialist form holds that Christians ought to try to prove the existence of God and the veracity of the Bible on the basis of premises that all men will accept, such as the reliability of sense perception. The presuppositionalist method holds that the existence of God and the inerrancy of Scripture are to be assumed as indemonstrable axioms; they cannot be proved, and it is both impious and stupid to try.

Involved in the evidentialist method, although the evidentialists may be reluctant to admit it, is the necessity of redefining key terms. We have seen how the scientific creationists have attempted to  redefine “academic freedom” and “creation,” emptying the latter of almost all Biblical content. But this redefinition of terms may also be clearly seen in the best evidentialist apologete of them all, the thirteenth-century Roman Catholic Thomas Aquinas. Thomas held that one could prove the existence of God in five ways, and the first and more manifest way was the way of motion: “It is certain, and evident to our senses,” Thomas wrote, “that in the world some things are in motion.” From this axiom that he considered indubitable, Thomas at tempted to deduce an Unmoved Mover. He concluded his proof by saying, “And this everyone understands to be God.” But Thomas’s unmoved mover is the unmoved mover of the pagan Aristotle. It is no more the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it is no more Jesus Christ, than scientific creationism is the Genesis account of creation. Writing in Latin, Thomas referred to his unmoved mover and his first cause as neuters. They are “It.” God is not neuter. God is not an “It.”

The reason that both philosophical giants like Thomas Aquinas and lesser men like the scientific creationists must redefine their terms is their common method of apologetics evidentialism. One cannot deduce the God of the Bible from any secular axioms, whether those axioms be common sense, scientific evidence, or simply sense perception. It is logically impossible. One of the first rules of logic is that terms must not appear in the conclusion of an argument that did not first appear in its premises. If the terms are not in the premises, they logically cannot show up in the conclusion. Even Thomas Aquinas admitted that he believed in creation only because God revealed it. But the scientific creationists are not quite so wise as Thomas.

… It has taken only a decade for Biblical creationism to turn into scientific creationism. Many Christians are not yet aware of the change. The scientific creationists have a pecuniary interest in keeping them uninformed of the change. But the ramifications of the change are extensive, and its implications are lethal. Once the axiomatic acceptance of Scripture as inerrant is abandoned, the surrender to paganism is sure and swift. The Bible and the Bible alone is the source of truth. It is in the Bible alone that we read about creation. Neither science nor Aristotle has anything to say about it. Science is ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of truth. [Read the rest of The Hoax of Scientific Creationism]

Clark Quick Quote

July 22, 2011

I had reason this morning to post a section of Gordon Clark’s commentary on Colossians 1:24 on another blog so I thought I would share it here as well. The verse is a particularly difficult one:

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church….”

As many already know Roman Catholics claim this verse, among other things, supports the idea of purgatory and the practice of indulgences.  As one website calling itself “Catholics Untied for the Faith” explains:

Justification is the process by which we are reconciled to God (Titus 3:3-8), partake of God’s nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and become “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17). Scripture attests that justification not only involves the redemptive act of Christ’s death, but also the continued sacrifices of the People of God, the Church (Jas. 2:14-24).[5] As St. Paul puts it, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church” (Col. 1:24). This is not because the objective redemption that Christ merited for us is insufficient, but because we must all personally participate in that redemption here and now, in our own lifetimes. The Catholic teachings on justification, the communion of saints, indulgences, and purgatory help explain Colossians 1:24.

One Catholic blogger wrote concerning this passage, which is pretty typical:

Christ did His part, perfectly. And we must do our part. We must be holy as He is holy in order to be in the presence of God. We can seek this holiness diligently in this life and what ever is still impure at our death will be purified by Christ until we are completely HOLY. We say this purification takes place in Purgatory.

Another writes:

Christ’s sufferings, although fully satisfactory for obtaining forgiveness for our sins, leave us under a debt of honor to make right for our personal sins as we are able.  Without the infinite Sacrifice of the Spotless Lamb of God, we are all lost, for we as finite beings who have insulted the infinite God have no way to make amends to Him.  And so God Himself, in Christ, has paid the infinite price beyond our means, yet we, like Paul, are required to “fill up” what we are capable of.  To insist otherwise is to ultimately suggest an “easy” Christianity with no crosses to bear that is not compatible with Scripture.

In response, here is Clark’s take minus some preparatory argumentation:

Paul therefore did not suffer vicariously in propitiating the Father for the sins of the elect. Christ’s vicarious sufferings were complete, adequate, and indefectible. More was neither needed nor possible. Paul suffered, not instead of the church, but on behalf of the church, enduring the persecution entailed by preaching the gospel.

There is another point. A few paragraphs back exception was taken to the phrase “on the cross” as used by Moule. There is indeed a sense in which Christ’s sufferings are “shared” by Christians. We are, shall I say, disturbed by the realization that Christ had to suffer agony for us. References are found in 1 Peter 4:13, Matthew 20:23, and Hebrews 13:13, where Christians are “partakers” of Christ’s sufferings (partaker — to have in common), or where they drink the same cup and are baptized with the same baptism, or even the milder “bearing his reproach.” But in no way do our tribulations fill up or add to Christ’s propitiatory merits. We do, however, suffer on behalf of the church, and in this sense complete the sufferings Christ left uncompleted.

The point of the passage, however, is not that we share in Christ’s sufferings, but that our sufferings are his. As Alford again so well remarks, “All the tribulations of Christ’s body are Christ’s tribulations … and the tribulations of Christ will not be complete till the last pangs shall have passed.”

Thus we can accept Moule’s notion, without his inconsistent distaste for its presuppositions, that there is a predestined amount of suffering yet to be endured before the culmination. In this way we gladly “hasten” the return of our Lord. (61)

Important New Post

July 18, 2011

Rachel Miller writing on Wes White’s Johannes Weslianus blog has written a scathing review of Dr. C. John (Jack) Collins latest attack on the Christian faith, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?  Dr. Collins, if you can believe it, is a professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary and attempts to harmonize theistic evolution and the biblical account of the historic Adam.  Miller does an excellent job explaining how Collins attempts this feat and why he fails.  Along the way she demonstrates that Collins is even at odds with the already deeply flawed PCA Creation Study Report.   Not only that but Collins was even on the committee that produced the Creation report.   Perhaps Collins just represents the next logical step for the PCA?   My guess is many of his students now making their way into administration positions and pulpits in the PCA might agree.

Van Til and Natural Theology

July 18, 2011

A number of years ago I posted on an old Van Til discussion group a number of quotes from Van Til where he denounces Natural Theology (NT) as anti-Christian.  At the time I found it particularly entertaining watching Michael Sudduth (a man who has made a career out of trying to resurrect NT), James Anderson and others on the list dance around the quotes in order to justify their own flirtations with NT.  Of course, Sudduth, Anderson, et al., had some support from some of Van Til other writings, particularly his endorsement of the so-called “classical” proofs for God’s existence.  For example in The Defense of the Faith Van Til asserts:

The argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity is objectively valid. We should not tone down the validity of this argument to the probability level. The argument may be poorly stated, and may never be adequately stated. But in itself the argument is absolutely sound. (197)

Well this past week I downloaded a free little e-book from Van Til now available from Monergism books, Defending the Faith.  Monergism describes the book as: “A six-part series on which appeared in Torch and Trumpet in 1951 and 1952. In this series of articles our concern will be to discover some of the main features of the Reformed approach in Christian Apologetics.”  In these articles Van Til again denounces NT as anti-Christian and being completely at odds with Reformed apologetics.  According to Van Til what men like Michael Sudduth are doing is trying to build Christian theism with the “the clay of paganism.”  I couldn’t agree more (although I’m still waiting for my review copy of Sudduth’s  The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology).   If only Van Til remained consistent and faithful to what he says here:

First, the Reformed apologist cannot cooperate with the Romanist in the establishment of the existence of God. The theism of the Roman Catholic theology is not “theism come to its own”; it is a vague, general sort of theism. It is a theism in which the God of Christianity and the God of Greek philosophy, particularly the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle, are ground together into a common mixture. The theism of Romanist theology is a theism heavily freighted with pagan elements of thought. If such a theism were proved to be true, then the Christian theism of the Reformed Christian would be proved to be untrue. If with the Romanist we “prove” the existence of a god, then we have disproved the existence of the God of Christianity. It is only a perverted type of Christianity, such as constitutes Romanism, that fits onto the perverted type of theism which is “proved” by Romanist theologians.

The second major negative conclusion to be drawn from the remarks of Hepp and Warfield is that the Reformed apologist cannot co-operate with the “evangelical” in providing the truth of evangelicalism. By evangelicalism we mean what Warfield meant when he spoke of it as identical with the general non-Reformed Protestantism.

This second negative conclusion follows directly from the first. The evangelical does want to co-operate with the Romanist in proving the truth of theism. He argues that Protestants have many doctrines in common with Romanists, and that the existence of God is the most basic of them. Why then he asks in amazement, cannot Protestants co-operate with Romanists in proving the truth of theism? Why not have the Romanist help us build the first story of the house of Christian theism? After they have helped us build the first story of our house we can dismiss them with thanks for their services and proceed to build the second story, the story of Protestantism, ourselves.

The answer to this is that if Romanists have helped us in building the first story of our house, then the whole house will tumble into ruins. It has already been noted that when they build the first story of their house the Romanists mix a great deal of the clay of paganism with the iron of Christianity. The concrete blocks may be those of Christianity, but the cement is nothing other than the sand of paganism. Woe to the Protestant who seeks to build his Protestantism as a second story upon a supposedly theistic foundation, and a first story built by Romanism or by Protestants in conjunction with Romanists. Only a defective Protestantism can be built upon the perverted theism of the Romanist type. For, as Warfield puts it, the precise characterization of evangelicalism is that which describes it as a defective Protestantism. Warfield’s point is that evangelicalism is inconsistent Protestantism. It has carried into its system certain foreign elements ultimately derived by way of Romanism from paganism.

Assurance of Salvation

July 7, 2011

Last night while skimming through Against the Churches: The Trinity Review, 1989-1998, I had occasion to reread an April ‘94 Trinity Review that featured a selection from Horatius Bonar’s (1808-1889) book, The Everlasting Righteousness,* entitled “Assurance of Salvation.”  I enjoyed reading it so much I decided to reprint it here below.  What struck me is Bonar’s insistence that assurance of salvation does not and cannot rest on anything found in us.  According to Bonar a Christian’s assurance is not result of good works, our progress in sanctification, any imagined feeling of God’s favor, private revelation, our faithfulness to some imagined “demands of the covenant,” our obedience to ecclesiastical authorities,  or even faith in our own belief.   That’s because as Bonar argues echoing Luther; “All the works of men, even the most sanctified, are sin.”  Assurance for the Christian can only be found in the objective truths of the Gospel and in the doctrine, as opposed to the fruits of, election.  While Bonar takes aim at the Roman Catholic church stating, “If assurance be the right of every man who believes, then the priest’s occupation is at an end; his craft is not only in danger, but gone,” he also takes aim at ersatz-Protestants who likewise have abandoned the biblical doctrine of assurance.  While he focuses on the Arminian the same can be said of the false Christians and teachers of the Federal Vision now disturbing Presbyterian and Reformed churches.  Bonar concludes:

To an Arminian, who denies election and the perseverance of the saints, the knowledge of our present reconciliation to God might bring with it no assurance of final salvation; for, according to him, we may be in reconciliation today, and out of it tomorrow; but to a Calvinist there can be no such separation. He who is once reconciled is reconciled forever; and the knowledge of filial relationship just now is the assurance of eternal salvation. Indeed, apart from God’s electing love, there can be no such thing as assurance. It becomes an impossibility. Assurance does not save us; and they have erred who have spoken of assurance as indispensable to salvation. For we are not saved by believing in our own salvation, nor by believing anything whatsoever about ourselves. We are saved by what we believe about the Son of God and his righteousness. The Gospel believed saves; not the believing in our own faith.

*Bonar’s Everlasting Rightousness is now included in the volume Not What My Hands Have Done  which also includes Justification by Faith Alone by Charles Hodge.

Assurance of Salvation

Horatius Bonar

Editor’s Note: This essay is taken from Chapter 9 of Horatius Bonar’s The Everlasting Righteousness, originally published in 1874. The Trinity Foundation is now publishing a revised edition of the book.

“Christ for us,” the obedient in the place of the disobedient, is the first part of our message. His assumption of the legal claims, which otherwise would have been made good against us, is the security for our deliverance. That deliverance becomes an actual thing to us immediately upon our consenting to allow him to undertake our case.

”Christ in us” is the second part of our Gospel. This second is of mighty moment, and yet is not to be confounded with the first. That which is done for us is not the same as that which is done in us. By the former we are constituted righteous, by the latter we are made holy. The one is properly the Gospel, in the belief of which we are saved; the other, the carrying out of that Gospel in the soul. Christ “for us” is our justification. “Christ in us, and we in Christ,” is our holiness. The former is the external substitution; the latter, the internal energy or operation, taking its rise from the former, yet not to be confounded with it, or substituted for it. Christ the substitute, giving his life for ours upon the cross, is specially the object of faith. The message concerning this sacrificial work is the Gospel, the belief which brings pardon to the guilty. God has given us this Gospel not merely for the purpose of securing to us life hereafter, but of making us sure of this life even now. It is a true and sure Gospel; so that he who believes it is made sure of being saved. If it could not make us sure, it would make us miserable; for to be told of such a salvation and such a glory, yet kept in doubt as to whether they are to be ours or not, must render us truly wretched. What a poor Gospel it must be, which leaves the man who believes it still in doubt as to whether he is a child of God, an unpardoned or a pardoned sinner! Till we have found forgiveness, we cannot be happy; we cannot serve God gladly or lovingly; but must be in sore bondage and gloom. This is the view of the matter which Scripture sets before us; telling us that salvation is a free, a sure, and a present gift. “He that believes is justified” (Acts 13:39). “He that believes has everlasting life” (John 3:36). The Bible gives no quarter to unbelief or doubting. It does not call it humility. It does not teach us to think better of ourselves for doubting. It does not countenance uncertainty or darkness. (more…)

Uncelebrating the Fourth – by Harry Browne

July 1, 2011

I heard this on the radio this morning and thought it was excellent.  Browne passed away in 2006 from Lou Gehrig’s disease.  I voted for him for president in 1996 and again in 2000.  Some votes you never regret.

July 4, 2003

Unfortunately, July 4th has become a day of deceit.

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress formally declared its independence from Great Britain. Thirteen years later, after a difficult war to secure that independence, the new country was open for business.

It was truly unique — the first nation in all of history in which the individual was considered more important than the government, and the government was tied down by a written Constitution.

It was the one nation where you could live your life secure in the knowledge that no one would ask for your papers, where you weren’t identified by a number, and where the government wouldn’t extort a percentage of your income as the price of holding a job.

And so each year July 4th has been a commemoration of the freest country in history.

False Celebration

But the America that’s celebrated no longer exists.

The holiday oratory deceitfully describes America as though it were the unique land of liberty that once was. Politicians thank the Almighty for conferring the blessings of liberty on a country that no longer enjoys those blessings. The original freedom and security have disappeared — even though the oratory lingers on.

What made America unique is now gone, and we are much the same as Germany, France, England, or Spain, with: confiscatory taxes,a Constitution and Bill of Rights that are symbolic only — merely documents used to justify governmental actions that are in fact prohibited by those documents, business regulated by the state in the most minute detail, no limits on what Congress or the President might decide to do.

Yes, there are some freedoms left, but nothing like the America that was — and nothing that you can’t find in a few dozen other countries.   (more…)

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