Archive for July 2018

Douma on Clark, Barth, and Van Til

July 14, 2018

Here is a link to Doug Douma’s Gordon “Clark and Other Reformed Critics of Karl Barth.”  The piece is a sweeping and excellent review and analysis of Gordon Clark’s, Karl Barth’s Theological Method.  I say sweeping because in the review Douma doesn’t limit himself to Clark’s book or even other Reformed critics of Barth. Douma explains:

barthIn comparing Clark’s critique of Barth with those made by other Reformed theologians, especially Cornelius Van Til, I intend to demonstrate (1) that Clark’s critique can be differentiated from the others in the importance he places on proper logic, (2) that despite Van Til’s opposition to Barth’s theology, Clark had good reasons to contend that Van Til, in fact, fell into some of the same errors, and (3) that the Westminster Confession of Faith, which Clark subscribed to as an ordained Presbyterian minister, has proven to be a considerable bulwark against Barthianism.

I think the most important paragraph in the whole piece is this:

The problems here, as much for Van Til’s view as for Barth’s, include (1) the inability to distinguish between apparent contradictions caused by exegetical mistakes and apparent contradictions supposedly inherent in the Scriptures, (2) the destruction of any claim of Christianity’s superiority to other systems based on its demonstrated consistency, and (3) the destruction of the central biblical hermeneutical principle of comparing Scripture passages with other Scripture passages based on the assumption of non-contradiction. Van Til’s doctrine of paradox, like Barth’s, is destructive to the entire enterprise of exegesis and Christian doctrine.

Point 2 above is a particularly damning implication of Van Til’s apologetic that most people miss, yet a point that Vantilian James Anderson explicitly concedes in his Paradox in Christian Theology. Christianity has nothing to say in response to the inconsistencies of competing non-Christian systems. This is a major blow to Van Til’s presuppositionalism.

Another point Douma examines is that while Reformed confessionalism is a bulwark against Barthianism, Vantilianism fails because it is at odds with the WCF particularly WCF 1. Not sure why Van Til’s followers have trouble even identifying this since it is so painfully black and white.

Finally, I also appreciate this review because of how well Douma deals with and explains Clark’s criticisms and even his approval in places of Barth. I confess I found Clark’s book when I read it probably the most difficult one for me to get my mind around. I’m sure that part of the reason for my difficulty was due to my unfamiliarity with Barth and the other reason because I read it while on vacation in the Outer Banks (I’ve since learned to stick to crime novels and other light fiction while on vacation).

I should point out that Douma is currently looking to have his article published and warns that it may not be available on his blog for too long.  I hope he succeeds because it deserves a wider audience.

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