Archive for the ‘Gordon Clark’ category

Faith Alive

June 18, 2016

faith aliveLuther rightly maintained that justification by faith alone is the linchpin upon which the church stands or falls.  If this doctrine is lost or even muddied, the semblance of religion remains, but the church fades into nonexistence. That is why a clear and unambiguous definition of faith is essential. If you don’t know exactly what the alone instrument in justification consists of how can it be defended? Further, and in order to avoid equivocation, any definition faith has to apply to all forms of faith whether saving or not.  Seems simple, right?  The problem is that in the minds of the vast majority of pastors and teachers any time the word “saving” precedes the word “faith” it’s the latter that takes on an entirely new meaning. To that end the traditional threefold definition of faith has been shown to be ambiguous at best and outright dangerous at worst providing an open doorway for pernicious and deadly heresies that snake their way into the Church unabated.

While a source of irritation to many modern Reformed pastors, it was Gordon Clark who first identified this gaping crack in the Church’s foundation and correctly argued that the difference between faith and saving faith are the propositions believed.  In contrast, a majority of Reformed pastors and churchmen, who are blindly wed to tradition seemingly for tradition’s sake, maintain that the difference lies not in the propositions believed at  all, but in some nebulous psychological state that when mixed with simple faith makes ordinary faith saving.

Like the secret recipe for KFC or McDonald’s special sauce, today’s Reformed leaders and apologists differ wildly when it comes to explaining what exactly in addition to simple faith in the Gospel is needed to save a sinner. PCA pastor Andy Webb says the secret ingredient is a Harry Potter potion mingling “the emotion of love with trust, inclination, and agreement.”  The self-proclaimed “Reformed Apologist,” Ron DiGiacomo, claims the magic happens when “a disposition of commitment,” whatever that might entail, is added to simple belief.  Alan Strange, who is an OPC minister and professor of church history at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, says the alchemy that makes simple belief alone in Christ alone saving is a “mystery.”  Strange warns that any attempt to define what it is that makes ordinary belief saving is like peering into the doctrine of Christ’s Incarnation and is “not amenable to rationalistic reduction.”  For Strange what makes ordinary belief saving is beyond human understanding or definition.  According to Strange even the words faith and belief differ, despite being translations of the exact same Greek word in Scripture, and that “justifying faith is something more than merely belief: not something less, but something more.”  The central error in all this is that faith is belief. Nothing more, nothing less. Consequently, and when you come right down to it, none of these men really believe in justification by faith alone.  They just pay it lip service.  No wonder the FV continues to spread unabated and the PCA is now a safe haven for the FV.  Such is the state of the Reformed and Presbyterian church today.

So, Sean, are you saying that the vast majority of Reformed churchmen don’t believe in justification by faith alone? Well, yes and no.  Yes, because they add to saving faith that which is absent from faith simpliciter and end up equivocating, even contradicting themselves, when explaining what exactly the alone instrument of justification is. No, because while confused and mired in meaningless religious jargon, metaphors and word pictures, they don’t add works as that which completes faith making it somehow “saving.”  They at least attempt to draw a distinction between God’s once and for all declaration of righteousness the moment a person first believes with works done as the result of this faith in sanctification.  They differ, albeit ever so slightly, with the FV men who profess  “the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as … a living, active, and personally loyal faith” (admittedly very similar to DiGiacomo’s “disposition of commitment”).

Concerning this idea of “a living, active, and personally loyal faith,” perhaps the best example demonstrating the inability of the defenders of the traditional threefold definition of faith to safeguard against the deadly errors of heretics like those in the Federal Vision (but you can think of the ever encroaching tentacles of Romanism as well), came during the final days of year long debate between Lane Keister and Federal Vision bigmouth, Doug Wilson.  At that point the discussion turned to the nature of saving faith and the questions concerning the “aliveness” of faith in justification.  Keister wrote:

Contrary to the criticisms of FV proponents … I know of NO Reformed scholar who says that we are justified by a dead faith. I know of no Reformed scholar who even hints at this. I know of dozens of Reformed scholars who say the aliveness of faith is not what justifies us. The best way I can put this is to say that the aliveness of faith is a sine qua non, but is not part of the inherent structure of justification. Of course the person who stretches out his arm to catch a ball has to be alive to do that. But his being alive is not an action inherent in stretching out his arm. Maybe I can put it this way: states of being are distinct from actions, just like verbs of being are distinct from verbs of action. We must distinguish then between the state of being alive and the verb of action of what faith does in laying hold of Christ’s righteousness. To put it another way, our aliveness can have no object. It is inherently reflexive. But faith’s action in justification takes a direct object: the righteousness of Christ. I really think this is as clear as I can be. I don’t see any reason why Doug should disagree with this, either.  I suppose I will have to enact a qualification of this, nevertheless, lest people think I am making faith active. When I am referring to “faith’s action” I do not mean that we are doing a work. I mean only that faith is doing something in justification. And this is what it is doing: it is “accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification” (WCF 14.2).

Before unpacking this tragically confused paragraph, the central thing to recognize is that both Keister and Wilson are operating from the exact same definition of saving faith. Both believe that faith can be either “alive” or “dead,” which means, when stripped of its metaphorical trappings, that a person can believe the truth of the Gospel, assent to it, yet still be lost.  In order to be saved and for faith to be effectual, something in addition to belief is needed.  I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve had Reformed pastors tell me that simply believing the Gospel and Christ’s finished work on the cross on account of sin is not enough to save anyone. So much for the idea that the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation.” But, then, almost in the same breath, they identify Christians as “believers” blissfully unaware of the contradiction right under their nose.  This is also why Reformed Christians who refuse to accept contradictions or so-called “paradoxes” in Scripture are routinely attacked and routinely banned from blogs and discussion groups by men for maintaining that sinners are justified by belief alone.

Keister begins by saying that he knows of “NO Reformed scholar who says that we are justified by a dead faith.”  But, then he says the aliveness of faith is “not part of the inherent structure of justification.”   So, which is it?  If we are not justified by dead faith, wouldn’t it follow that we’re saved by a faith that is “alive” whatever that might mean?  He then adds this “aliveness” is a “sine qua non,” that which is indispensable or essential to something, just not to justification.  Again, how can that be?  If faith is the alone instrument in justification than it would seem it is very much “inherent to the structure of justification.” If it’s not, by what means can a sinner be justified?

The tragedy is that Keister is far from alone and his confusion is endemic to virtually all Reformed pastors today who cannot clearly define the difference between faith and saving faith without equivocating or just speaking nonsense.  This is why they identify faith as something that can be either “alive” or “dead.”  In fact, Keister takes a pointed jab at the late John Robbins writing:

…Robbins and his crowd seem to me to be in danger of denying that justifying faith is alive, which is what the confession says. Now, they may say that assent is alive.

First, as one who identifies with “Robbins and his crowd” I do deny that saving faith is “alive” simply because it is a metaphor that is misapplied to saving faith.  Besides, in order for any metaphor to make sense it has to be first explained in literal language.  Now, it could be said that saving faith is evidence that a person has already been translated from death to life in regeneration, but beyond that it is a completely irrelevant to the question of the role faith plays in justification.  This is an important point because as Dewey Robert’s observers, Federal Visionists like Wilson deny God’s grace in regeneration (see “The Federal Vision and Grace“).  Second, the Westminster Confession nowhere says that “justifying faith is alive.”  Concerning faith in justification the Confession states; “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.” Keister is mistaken simply because that which accompanies something, in this case saving faith, is not part of the essence of saving faith, but rather results from it. That should have been obvious to Keister and the clue is the phrase “works by love,” but more on that later.


Gordon Clark Primer

January 22, 2016

The following is a very good lecture on the epistemology of Gordon Clark by Dr. Cal Beisner.  He also has a few comments on the Clark/Van Til controversy.  A couple of people posted it on the Facebook Clark discussion page, but I thought I’d share it here too.  The actual lecture begins at 12:17 and that’s where I have it starting. But if you want to go back to the beginning you can learn all about Cal’s “Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.”

Whitefield Follies

January 16, 2016


Something is rotten at Whitefield Seminary.  There are a number of current and former students all claiming that the views expressed in Gordon Clark’s monograph, Faith and Saving Faith (re-released along with The Johannine Logos as What Is Saving Faith?)  are not Clark’s views of faith and saving faith, but rather are the views of the late John Robbins.  Jason Peterson, who I believe is a current student at Whitefield (he booted me from his Facebook group so fast as to make my nose bleed so I didn’t get the chance to confirm if he’s currently enrolled) posted the following:

I had a question earlier concerning a comment that I made about the trinity foundation:
“Which of the Trinity Foundation’s resources should we avoid?”


First, Gordon Clark’s book, Saving Faith, was edited to express Robbins’ view that faith is merely intellectual assent rather than Calvin’s view (which Clark agreed with).

Second, John Robbins’ misrepresented Bahnsen on theonomy and was rather rude during their dialogue.

Third, John Robbins’ book on Ayn Rand is a rather uncharitable representation of Objectivism.

Most of what I have read on the Trinity Foundation website is good stuff. Hopefully the Trinity Foundation will release the original manuscripts of Clark’s works one day. The Gordon Clark Foundation, however has quite a bit of his works. I’d say that if you see something that looks strange, to cross reference the article on the Trinity Foundation with a related article on the Gordon Clark Foundation. One other consideration that must be kept in mind however, concerning the Gordon Clark Foundation’s unpublished works of Clark is that Clark might have changed his mind on some topics at a later date. Interpreting Clark’s thought is going to be really tricky unless the unedited version of Clark’s published works are released.

Leaving aside Petersen’s other comments regarding the imagined “rude” behavior of John Robbins in his “dialog” with Greg Bahnsen and his supposed “uncharitable representation of Objectivism” (is there a charitable representation of Rand’s Objectivism?), Petersen’s charge regarding F&SF is without merit as demonstrated in my previous post. But the question is, where is Petersen getting these ideas?

Recently I have been contacted by a number of current and former Whitefield students all telling me that Ken Talbot, the president of Whitefield, told them that Clark held to the traditional threefold definition of faith (that mystical stew of notitia, assensus and fiducia) and that it was John Robbins’ view of faith, not Clark’s, that we find in the book published under Clark’s name.

Make no mistake, that is a serious charge. I have tried contacting Talbot asking him to either confirm or deny the claims made by his students, but I have yet to hear back from him.  Suffice it to say anyone making that claim, whether it is Talbot or another professors at Whitefield, is just being silly to the point of absurdity. Clark unambiguously rejected the traditional threefold definition of saving faith and instead properly defined faith as understanding with assent.  Consider the following reply Clark gave in a lecture cited in my last post:

This student correctly saw what I was saying: that faith was a matter of assent. And not understanding by itself, but understanding plus assent….

… And I prefer John Calvin who talks about assent itself being pious. It is not something else added to the assent that is pious, the assent itself is pious. And so believing, and I really prefer the word believing, because the word faith is Latin, and I don’t like Latin, I like the Greek pistueo. And belief is assent. It is assent to an understood proposition … Now, the trouble, I think in contemporary civilization is, at least for the last couple centuries, is that some people have begun to think that assent is merely something verbal that you say out loud but perhaps you don’t mean. Of course, that is not assent, that is hypocrisy. But assent in its theological meaning is simply the fact that to believe you accept this proposition. As the Scripture says, you believe that Christ is Lord, you believe that he rose from the dead, and if you believe those things you are saved. That’s it. Now, I’ll repeat it, now the reason I don’t like that threefold analysis of faith is that the third part of it is just the word that you asked the definition for. And hence the addition of the word fiducia doesn’t add anything to your understanding of it.

What is particularly bizarre is that the transcript of this lecture is available at Ken Talbot’s own website, The Clark Foundation. Further, the date and place listed on that the transcript is;  “Believer’s Chapel Tape Ministry, 1977.” Assuming the date is correct, Clark was defending his view of faith as the intellectual assent to an understood proposition for nearly a decade prior to the publication of F&SF. Even if the date is not correct, it should be obvious to everyone except the most intellectually handicapped that Clark unequivocally rejected the traditional threefold definition of saving faith. A man is justified by belief alone.

In addition, the first edition of F&SF, the one that I own, was published by John Robbins and the Trinity Foundation in 1983 two years prior to Clark’s passing, which is more than enough time for Clark to have publicly protested and demanded Robbins correct any editorial altering of his views.  It’s not like Clark had become some dotty old invalid drooling in the corner in 1983.  Clark was hard at work up until the time Lord took him home when he had virtually completed a far more controversial work, his theologically earth shattering; The Incarnation.

There is more, but since some others have already picked up the gauntlet, and frankly have done an even better job than I have exposing some of the errors emanating from Whitefield, I thought I would share them here.

The first is a piece by Carlos Montijo and Tim Shaughnessy titled: “The Marks of a ‘True’ Clarkian.” The piece deals with both the absurd claim that Clark didn’t actually write F&SF and that Clark didn’t differentiate knowledge from opinion or true belief.  To put it another way, some at Whitefiled argue that Clark did not require an account for knowledge. That’s almost as silly and misguided as saying that Clark didn’t write F&SF. Haven’t the students at Whitefield, or at least their professors, read Clark’s Introduction to Christian Philosophy?

The second piece is by Luke Miner at titled; “Clark on Saving Faith in 1961.”  This second piece is important in continuing to establish a timeline because it demonstrates that throughout his long career, Clark consistently defended the idea that faith is understanding with assent and that saving faith is assent to the understood propositions of the Gospel.

Faith Is Understanding With Assent

January 10, 2016

clark01As someone who has shed considerable spiritual blood defending and advocating for Gordon Clark’s simple and biblical definition of faith as an assent to an understood proposition (for example see here, here, here, here and here for starters), I was shocked this past week to learn that there are people coming out of Whitefield Seminary who are under the impression that John Robbins altered Clark’s understanding of faith in his monograph, Faith  And Saving Faith (later reissued as part of What Is Saving Faith).   For example, one Whitefield student, Jason Petersen, posted on a Whitefield Facebook page that calls itself, “Clarkian Apologetics: Institute for Philosophical Thought”:

Gordon Clark’s book, [Faith and] Saving Faith, was edited to express Robbins’ view that faith is merely intellectual assent rather than Calvin’s view (which Clark agreed with).”

Jason Petersen is one of the list moderators and as soon as I asked Petersen to support his charge, while at the same time showing him why he was wrong, I was booted from the group. While I’m no stranger to the left foot of fellowship, normally it’s from blog sites and discussion boards run by Van Tillians who are more interested in protecting Van Til’s anti-Confessional P&R hegemony. However, these were self-professed Clarkians.  I guess with friends like these….

To be fair, evidently the group has a rule against disagreeing with, much less challenging, any one of the moderators. For what it’s worth, I don’t think I ever actually joined the group and I suspect my friend, Hugh McCann (who has a habit putting me on FB lists I had no intention of joining), signed me up. Regardless, I would never be a part of any discussion group that doesn’t allow discussion.  Besides, I think FB is generally a horrible forum for theological discussions of any kind and is much better suited for cute puppy videos … and who doesn’t love cute puppy videos.

While I plan to get more into this odd bit of funny business coming out of this little Whitefield sponsored group, I thought I would share part of a transcript from a Clark audio lecture that can be found at John Robbin’s Trinity Foundation website: A Defense of Christian Presuppositions in the Light of Non­-Christian Presuppositions. Interestingly, the transcript of that lecture can be found at The Gordon Clark Foundation website run by Ken Talbot and Whitefield Seminary. Don’t get me wrong, I was initially thrilled to learn about The Gordon Clark Foundation.  I was also thrilled to learn of the Scripturalism site run by C.Jay Engel and Luke Miner out of California. The more the merrier. I was also thrilled to learn over the years that Whitefield uses some of Clark’s works as source material.  Every seminary should. After all, Gary Crampton (a long time contribution to the Trinity Foundation) is on their Administrative Board and from what I can tell from their promotional materials, teaches New Testament, Theology, and Apologetics at the seminary.

Moreover, I don’t care if Crampton or Talbot disagree with Clark and hold to the irrational and nonsensical traditional threefold definition, most do, but for anyone to suggest that Clark shared their view and that Robbins somehow altered the text of F&SF as to change Clark’s simple and unambiguous definition of saving faith reflects very badly on the character of those making that charge. I can’t really blame Jason Petersen however, but I’m happy to blame his teachers at Whitfield if they are in any way responsible for this nasty bit of misinformation.

So, to correct any misunderstanding of what Clark actually taught regarding the nature of faith and saving faith, the following is the Q & A portion from the above mentioned lecture.  It should be more than enough to demonstrate that the view of faith expressed in Faith And Saving Faith is very much that of Gordon Clark:


Questioner 4: Yes sir. What is the barrier between this intellectual understanding and assent. Is it a barrier to man’s mind? Is it an inherent defect in man’s mind, is it a suppression of righteousness or a combination of both?

The question is what is the difference between understanding and assent.

Questioner 4: What is the barrier that prevents a man from moving from understanding to assent?

Oh, What is the barrier that prevents a man from moving from understanding to assent? Well, of course, it is sin.

Questioner 4: But in what respect does sin affect the mind of man? Does man inherently defective or does he simply not like what he is told, or both?

Sin affects people in various ways. To different degrees. And there isn’t any general statements you can make. But I’ll give you some. For example, not everybody commits murder. Even worse criminals don’t do it except on Saturday night. There are, you know. they have different ways of doing this. But one of the effects of sin, is the inability to correctly add up your columns on your income tax blanks. You make a mistake in arithmetic. That’s due to original sin. It might not be the worst sin in the world, but it is a common one. And we have this effect of sin in our lives. And so we make mistakes in arithmetic. Now when it comes to the gospel, men have very good opinions of themselves. They don’t think they need salvation. They have, well some people think they’re all going to go to heaven anyhow. And so they’re not much interested in what you have to say. But this differs from person to person. Of course, the basic effect of sin is to make a person at enmity with the gospel, with God. But it manifests itself in various ways. It is not necessarily a defect, not a defect in human nature as such. And it certainly not a defect in arithmetic. We may make mistakes in arithmetic but that doesn’t mean arithmetic is mistaken. The effect of sin in various human lives differs from person to person. But there is a general reluctance to accept grace. And to admit that you need to be saved. Does that answer your question or doesn’t it? Not quite. Well, ask it over again.

Questioner 4: Well, I understand perfectly as far as sin does affect the mind. My question is simply is how does it affect the mind? Is unregenerate man able to reason up to brink of faith, to understand cognitively all the aspects of the gospel in its fullest sense and the problem is he doesn’t come to faith simply because he doesn’t like the implications of what he sees? Or does he not really have a full cognitive awareness of what the gospel is? Does he have a 98% understanding of it?

Did everybody hear all this long question? I don’t mind you asking a second time and making it long, I just want everybody to hear the question. I can hardly repeat it. But you’re again asking why a man doesn’t accept the gospel. Doesn’t he understand it, or so on. Again, it varies from person to person. I think the person in the first century of our era after the death and resurrection of Christ, the one person who understood the doctrines of Christianity better than anybody else was the persecutor Saul. He had a better Christian theology in his understanding than any of the Christians had. That’s why he was so mad, that is why he wanted to persecute them. There was no defect in his understanding. If you want defects in understanding why you better look to the apostles. Or some of that at any rate. Or the other Christians. But Paul understood the implications of the gospel. He hated it. Then Christ met him on the road to Damascus and changed his mind. That’s change of mind, metanoia, that’s repentance. But not everybody is as brilliant as the apostle Paul and they have various difficulties. Does someone else wish to. Yes sir.

Questioner 5: Yes sir, you ordered faith, and I think Sam’s question was in the same area, if you define faith as notitia, assentia, and fiducia. I think you’re saying the essence of faith is assentia, assent, agreement with fact.

Yes I am.

Questioner 5. Ok. How about fiducia? How does that enter into your definition of faith?

It doesn’t. And I’ll tell you why. The word fiducia is the same root as the word faith, fides. Repeat the question I thought everybody heard.

Moderator: Pronounce the Latin word correctly. It is assensus and not assentia.

Yes, its assensus. The gentleman’s question was if you define faith as notitia, assensus, fiducia quae, et fiducia or something like that, what do you do with fiducia? This student correctly saw what I was saying: that faith was a matter of assent. And not understanding by itself, but understanding plus assent. Then he wants to know about fiducia. Now fiducia is the same root as fides, and what has happened is this. A person has asked you to define faith, and you say faith is understanding, assent, and faith. Well, that doesn’t add anything at all. You’re simply repeating the word for which you previous asked for the definition. And I prefer John Calvin who talks about assent itself being pious. It is not something else added to the assent that is pious, the assent itself is pious. And so believing, and I really prefer the word believing, because the word faith is Latin, and I don’t like Latin, I like the Greek pistueo. And belief is assent. It is assent to an understood proposition. And it is a voluntary assent to something you understand and being voluntary and the nature of assent it is nothing hypocritical. It must be sincere, that is what assent is. Now, the trouble, I think in contemporary civilization is, at least for the last couple centuries, is that some people have begun to think that assent is merely something verbal that you say out loud but perhaps you don’t mean. Of course, that is not assent, that is hypocrisy. But assent in its theological meaning is simply the fact that to believe you accept this proposition. As the Scripture says, you believe that Christ is Lord, you believe that he rose from the dead, and if you believe those things you are saved. That’s it. Now, I’ll repeat it, now the reason I don’t like that threefold analysis of faith is that the third part of it is just the word that you asked the definition for. And hence the addition of the word fiducia doesn’t add anything to your understanding of it. You want to make some rejoinder to that? Oh, I don’t mind, you know, I love a brawl. 


Clark Quick Quote

August 24, 2015

Doug Douma posted this Clark quote on FB and I thought I’d post it here too:

“I would recommend that you read Augustine’s treatise called De Magistro. This is the original refutation of logical positivism and the language philosophies that are common today. Now, the first part of De Magistro is a little tedious. It is so elementary that most of you wouldn’t be interested. But by the time you get through you will see that ink marks on a paper, or sounds in the air, the noise I’m making, never teach anybody anything. This is good Augustinianism. And Protestantism is supposed to be Augustinian, and least it was in its initiation. And it was the most unfortunate event that Thomas Aquinas came in and replaced Augustinianism with Aristotelianism and empiricism which has been an affliction ever since. But the point is that ink marks on a paper, and the sound of a voice, this sort of thing never generates any idea at all. And Augustine’s solution of it is that the Magister is Christ. Christ is the light that lighteth every man that comes into the world. This is not a matter of regeneration. This is a matter of knowledge. And Christ enlightens the unregenerate in this sense just as well as the regenerate. If an unregenerate man learns anything at all, he learns it from Jesus Christ and not from ink marks on a paper.”

Clark Quick Quote

April 29, 2015

The following is from a recently discovered lecture Gordon Clark gave in 1974 on Augustine’s City of God.  A few years ago I picked up City of God and made it about one quarter of the way through.  I found it tedious, although I’m assured the later sections are worth the effort.  I can’t say Clark’s lecture has inspired me to take up the tome again, but his review at least was not at all tedious.

One of the most widely known opinions is that space and time are infinite. There are some exceptions. The Stoics and Friedrich Nietzsche held that time was infinite but space is finite. So did Aristotle. Democritus and Plato, however much they contradicted each other in everything else, agreed that space and time are both infinite. This is also the common view of scientists today. But for Augustine, time has no infinite past. Aristotle held time to be infinite because motion can neither begin nor end, and time is a function of motion. But for Augustine time began because it is a function, not of physical bodies to be sure, but of created minds. Hence there was no time before God created. God is eternal, he is not temporal. Therefore, the original question, namely “what was God doing before he did anything” or “why did He not created sooner are inapplicable questions for the simple reason that this is no before or sooner. Augustine also mildly puts the pagans for not asking, “why did God create the here rather than there.” One question is as appropriate as the other. And Augustine’s answer is the same. There was no here or there before creation. Space, like time, is a function of created being. But while Augustine carefully worked out these philosophic, one might even say scientific, analyses of space and time he puts equals on the moral implications on repeated cycles in infinite time.

You can find the full review here.

Clark Not-So-Quick Quote

December 25, 2014

The following passage is from the section on assurance taken from Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? (reprinted in What is the Christian Life)  and transcribe in part by James (I just filled in a few blanks).  Since so many people seem very confused regarding the relationship between knowledge and assurance, often confusing the one for the other, the following should help sort things out.     _________________________________________________________________

The Gospel promises the possibility of assurance. It does not quite promise every Christian actual assurance. It is strange that some preachers, some evangelists, even those and especially those already described, talk as if one cannot have faith without having assurance. They give the impression that you must know you are saved, if you are saved. But this is not what the Bible says. The verse from 1 John [5:13], quoted just above, said that John wrote the epistle in order that those who read it might be assured. But if regeneration ipso facto guaranteed assurance, it would not be necessary to write an epistle encouraging assurance and giving direction on how assurance can be obtained.

…II Peter1:5 does not explicitly mention assurance, but the section has to do with God’s “exceeding great and precious promises” with which he “called us to glory and virtue,” so that the remainder of the section describes how we may be assured of profiting by those promises.  Verse five then says, “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to your virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance … for if these things be in you, and abound, they shall make you that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Without minimizing the other items in this list, it is well to emphasize knowledge. If one wishes assurance, he will try to increase his knowledge.   Knowledge is mentioned twice in the section.  Therefore, if one wishes assurance that he is regenerated, let him ask himself, Do I study the Scriptures?  How much of it do I know?  Some people know so very little; some people believe so very little; some evangelists must have so very little assurance.

… The Westminster Confession puts the matter very strongly. “this certainty is not a bar conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidences of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God: which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”

Though the wording is very clear, it may be necessary in this age to point out two places where misunderstanding may arise.  First, the infallibility mentioned is not ours, as if we are infallible. The infallibility belongs to the promises of God. There is no hint here that we rise to the level of the inspired authors of the Bible. This would be a reversal to the Romish position that a supernatural revelation is necessary.  All that is necessary is the Scripture. The second point at which a misunderstanding may occur is the reference to the Spirit witnessing with our spirits. Here too, the same idea is involved. The Spirit witnesses with our spirits as we study the Bible. He does not witness to our spirits, as if giving an additional revelation.  Aside from these two matters, the Westminster Confession is clear.

The fourth and last point with reference to assurance is that, although salvation can never be lost, assurance can. That this is so, and that in addition assurance can be restored, is all seen in a very fine passage in Micah 7:7-9: “Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause and execute judgment for me.  He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.” When David was thus bearing the indignation of the Lord, he prayed, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation…. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O Lord, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.”

Van Til – The FV Connection Pt. 2

August 18, 2014
Cornelius Van Til

Cornelius Van Til

In my last post, and with help from Dr. Robbins, I tried to again flesh out the connection between the philosophy of Van Til and Federal Vision.  Van Til’s denial of any point of contact between the system of theology taught in Scripture and theology as it exists in God’s mind, completely undermines the authority of Scripture and robs Christians of any “objective and absolute word from God.”   What this mean is that when elders steeped in Van Til’s philosophy vow to “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” it must be remembered that they are not claiming that the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures and outlined in the Confession is the one that exists in God’s mind.   For the Vantillian, the latter is unknowable.

In recent years some of Van Til’s defenders, perhaps realizing that Van Til’s insistence on a complete break between God’s knowledge and knowledge possible for man ends in skepticism, have tried to blunt the force of Van Til’s analogical doctrine of Scripture by suggesting that man can indeed know the truth as God knows it, only that how God knows some particular truth and how man knows the same truth is different.   For example,  John Frame claims that Van Til “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.”  Of course, if all that Van Til wanted to do was to insist that God’s way of knowing is different from ours, then his point is trivial and his attack against Clark and his supporters was even more reprehensible.  Unfortunately, and as  anyone who has read the Complaint filed against Clark’s ordination along with Clark’s Answer already knows, this was never a point of contention concerning the doctrine of incomprehensibility.  It wasn’t “the most heatedly debated” point of the controversy, as it wasn’t even debated at all. Both sides understood each other completely and accurately. Consider this from the Answer:

 The complainants in attacking Dr. Clark’s position are not concerned with knowledge in the sense of the manner of knowing.  They distinguish and they admit Dr. Clark distinguishes between intuition and discursion, but they claim that the manner of God’s knowing is no part of the doctrine of incomprehensibility. The proposition, Two times two are four, apart from anything it implies, means just what it says.  It is difficult, in fact it is impossible to express the meaning of this proposition in any terms simpler than the words, Two times two are four. It is in this sense that the Compliant asserts that such a proposition has two different meanings . . . .

What Dr. Clark said was that though God’s knowledge of a truth is different from man’s knowledge of the same truth, it is none the less the same truth they both know, if indeed man knows anything.  The Complaint avers that it is a prerequisite of ministerial good standing to believe that God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge do not “coincide at any single point” (P.5, 3; O. 21). It tries to set up as a test of orthodoxy the denial that man knows even one truth God knows . . . Far from being a test of orthodoxy, this test imposed by the Complaint is nothing else than skepticism and irrationalism. [The Answer, 20,21].

To confirm Clark’s conclusion and that for Van Til “the manner of God’s knowing is no part of the doctrine of incomprehensibility,” and to confirm that men like Frame are being disingenuous, if not flatly dishonest, one only has to look to Van Til’s Introduction to Systematic Theology, which is material taken directly from what Van Til taught his students for 45 years at WTS.  The following quotes are from the digital version of Van Til’s complete works and are referenced by John Robbins in his lecture,“The Theology of Richard Gaffin and Norman Shepherd”:

The “system” thus produced as, e.g., it finds expression in the Reformed confessions of faith, pretends to be an analogical system. At no point does such a system pretend to state, point for point, the identical content of the original system of the mind of God. If there were any point at which such a Christian system would claim to be exhaustively reproductive of the mind of God it would have to claim to be reproductive of the whole mind of God. To claim for the Christian system identity with the divine system at any point is to break the relationship of dependence of human knowledge on the divine will.

Notice the force of this.  According to Van Til the Reformed system of doctrine is “at no point” identical to the system of theology as it exists in the mind of God. But that is exactly what the confessions do claim.  Consider WCF 1.4: “The authority of the holy scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, (who is truth itself,) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.” The Confession doesn’t “pretend” to state the system of doctrine as it exists in the mind of God, it states the system of doctrine as it exists in God’s mind and as God, “who is truth itself,” knows it and has revealed it to us in the propositions of Scripture; “the word of God.”  The Confession makes no distinction whatsoever between what is in God’s mind and what is taught in Scripture.  They are one and the same.  To say otherwise is pure fiction manufactured in the mind of Van Til.

Here are some more:

 But even this enrichment does not imply that there is any coincidence, that is, identity of content between what God has in his mind and what man has in his mind. If there is no identity of content in the first proposition that God gives to man there can be no identity of content attained by means of any number of additional propositions of revelation that God gives to man.

I try to make a “system” of my own, my system will be at no point a direct replica of the divine system, but will at every point be analogical of the system of God. It can at no point be a direct replica….He [man] never has and never can expect to have in his mind exactly the same thought content that God has in his mind.

Affirming the primacy of the Creator-creature relationship, the Christian position, consistently expressed in the Reformed faith, maintains that man does not at any point have in his mind exactly the same thought content that God has in his mind… If God had made all the revelations propositions that he will ever make to man about himself, even then man could not have the same thought content in his mind that God has in his mind unless he were himself divine. Man can never experience the experience of God. An endless number of added propositions does not change the matter in the least.

Concerning Van Til’s construction (or, better, deconstruction) of the Creator/creature distinction, Dr. Robbins said:

Somehow [Van Til] thinks that if God knows a truth and man knows the same truth that destroys the Creator/creature distinction.  That’s nonsense. The whole point of revelation is for God to communicate truth to men.  That’s the whole purpose of revelation.  If revelation doesn’t achieve that, it’s not revelation.  The purpose of revelation is that there be the same content in the mind of men as there is in the mind of God.  To be sure, we will never know everything God knows. We’ll only know what God reveals. But, what He reveals we do know.

Van Til’s Creator/creature distinction is a bastardization, a weak caricature, of the Creator/creature distinction taught in Scripture and affirmed in the Reformed confessions. His theory of Scripture and truth has done irreparable damage to the Reformed faith and has allowed distortions and deadly novelties from biblical theology to theonomy to the Federal Vision to the New Perspectives on Paul (Gaffin’s or Wright’s or someone else’s altogether, take your pick) to take root simply because Christians are left with competing systems all lacking any direct, unambiguous, or univocal relationship to the truth as God knows it.  By denying that the Reformed confessions mirror the system of doctrine as God knows it “at any point,” any seemingly coherent system of doctrine is as valid and as acceptable as any other. Anyone can claim to defend “the true Reformed faith” simply because the true Reformed faith has no direct relationship to the truth as God knows it and has revealed it to man.

Van Til — The Federal Vision Connection

August 9, 2014

portalesWhile driving from Portales to Amarillo this past week for meetings, and with a little over two hours to kill, I had forgotten that I had put a John Robbins lecture on my Sansa Clip (the anti-iPod) dealing with the justification controversy.  This particular lecture, and one I hadn’t heard before, zeroes in on the aberrant and deadly theologies of Richard Gaffin and Norman Shepherd.  Of particular interest was John’s discussion of Gaffin’s, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology. John admits having to reread particularly difficult passages four or five times in order to understand exactly what the Gaffin is saying. More than anyone I’ve known, John had a habit, to the chagrin of many, of doggedly sticking with an oblique and difficult passage until he can distill the author’s meaning clearly and unambiguously.  Robbins exemplified the old Puritan ideal of making difficult ideas “plain.”  So while Shepherd’s heresy is easy to see, Gaffin’s is much more difficult to uncover, but Robbins exposes Gaffin completely.

Interesting too, Robbins has some very nice things to say about Westminster West, even referring to Scott Clark as “one their best theologians.” He also speaks glowingly about WSC president, Robert Godfrey.  He recounts a story seeing Godfrey perform “admirably” when he was forced to defend justification by faith alone against J.I. Packer and some unnamed papal representative at a national gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society in Florida.  Robbins said it was a “set up” and that the way supposedly “Reformed” men in the audience attacked Godfrey over the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “horrible.”

However, the overarching message of Dr. Robbins’ lecture is the influence the philosophy of Cornelius Van Til has had on Gaffin and Shepherd and how it has contributed directly to the current justification crisis in Presbyterian and Reformed churches.  Failure to understand the relationship between Van Til and the Federal Vision is the failure to understand that fruit trees need good soil in order to produce good fruit.  Interesting too, while Robbins places the justification controversy squarely at Van Til’s feet, he does see the rise of Biblical Theology (which is anything but biblical) as a contributing factor that has lead to this perfect theological storm.

By denying any point of identity between God’s thoughts and man’s thoughts, even in the propositional revelation of Scripture, Van Til has robbed Christians of any authoritative word from God.  While Van Til was fond of saying that the Christian is to “think God’s thoughts after him,” the irony lost on Vantillians like Scott Clark, Lane Keister, Gary Johnson and others, is that according to Van Til, the Christian possesses none of God’s thoughts to think. Now, while the connection between Van Til and the FV should be perfectly obvious, there are still those who still can’t see the connection, including at least one of those in attendance at John’s lecture.  Here’s that exchange:

Question: Dr. Robbins, with reference to what you’ve just said, I’m unable, or I guess I just didn’t pick it up, the connection between Van Til and his thought and these errors directly.  Could you make that a little more clear for me or restate what you already said?

Robbins: Well, I can try to briefly, but I urge you to read some of the books as well. The connection is in Van Til’s thought we cannot know what God knows. There can be no identity of content. All the Reformed confessions are the Christian system, but they’re not the divine system of theology. And, if that’s the case, that leaves theologians, or whoever, open to interpreting Scripture in various ways. If we have no objective and absolute word from God, then theologians can run off in all directions, and they have run off in all directions from Westminster.  You find some sound men who have graduated from the seminary, and you find people who have run off in various directions.  And, it’s all because we have no clear word from God.  Once you’ve undermined the doctrine of propositional revelation by saying there is no identity of content between the Reformed confessions and the divine system of theology . . . then you have open season on the Reformed confessions.

If any of this is still unclear in anyone’s mind, then I strongly urge you to listen to the entirety of Dr. Robbins’ lecture where he completely fleshes out the connection between Van Til and current justification controversy. You can access the lecture here. Maybe even put it on your Sansa Clip for your next long drive.

* To download the mp3, just RIGHT CLICK over the above link and choose SAVE LINK AS from the drop down menu.

The Clark/Van Til Controversy

August 5, 2014

Benjamin Wong did an outstanding job transcribing the Text of the Complaint leveled against Gordon Clark by C. Van Til and other professors at Westminster Theological Seminary in the 1940’s along with the Answer to this complaint by Clark and some of his supporters.  You can find the transcripts online at Benjamin’s site: The Complaint, The Answer.  I have also provided Word copies in the sidebar on this blog.

For those even with a passing interest in either Clark or Van Til and has ever wondered what the whole hubbub is about, it’s time to get up to speed.

%d bloggers like this: