Archive for the ‘Van Til’ category

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.”

Revenge of the Magic Lizard People

December 27, 2015

revenge of the magic lizard people

Steve “Shapeshifter” Hays has responded in much the way I knew he would, which makes him a pretty predictable shapeshifter.  Like all Van Tillians, especially those who are perpetually impressed with their own cleverness, even one who tells us there is “extrabiblical evidence” for the possible existence of shapeshifters (can Big Foot be far behind), Hays spends the bulk of his reply venting his infected spleen on all things even remotely related to the late Gordon Clark.  He begins by citing the opening lines of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable…

Notice that that’s an appeal to natural revelation, including empirical evidence for God’s existence. So it’s actually a Clarkian like Sean who rejects WCF 1. But Sean is too dim to realize that he just contradicted himself.

Hays starts out his reply by simply lying.  This makes sense since he believes in the probable existence of shapeshifters.  One lying spirit deserves another.  But, perhaps lying is too strong and I want to be charitable.  I could say he’s just ignorant of Clark’s thoroughly biblical philosophy, but that would suggest Steve isn’t as smart as he thinks he is and I don’t want to insult him.  First, neither Clark nor Robbins nor any Scripturalist I’ve ever met has any problems with the opening words of WCF 1; they simply refuse to impose empirical presuppositions on the text as Hays so foolishly has done.  Instead, Clark writes in the opening pages of What Do Presbyterians Believe (which evidently would exclude Hays):

Is it not possible that knowledge of God is innate? May we not have been born with an intuition of God, and with this *a priori* equipment we see the glory of God upon the heavens? In this way we would not be forced to the peculiar position that the Apostle Paul was giving his advance approval to the Aristotelian intricacies of Thomas Aquinas.

… In the act of creation God implanted in man knowledge of His existence.  Romans 1:32 and 2:15 seem to indicate that God also implanted some knowledge of morality. We are born with this knowledge; it is not manufactured out of sensory experience.

Not even Romans 1:14-20, the main prooftext to the WCF’s opening clause, supports Hays’ belief in the “empirical evidence for God’s existence.”  The passage instead supports Clark’s view of the natural endowment in man created in God’s image.  As Paul explains, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”  First, Hays errs by not including man as one of the things that “have been made” and thinks he can see with the eyes in his head what Paul tells us is invisible. Second, this innate intuition of God is something God shows man and is not something man infers from observing the “empirical evidence.”  Like most things, Hays has it precisely backwards.

The point conveniently ignored by Hays is that the Confession doesn’t begin with the “empirical evidence for God’s existence” at all.  In fact, the “empirical evidence for God’s existence” is completely absent from the entire Confession.  Rather, the Confession begins, in good Clarkian fashion, by positing the truth of the Holy Scriptures and then inferring God from them; along with the entire system of doctrine outlined in the Confession.  More importantly, the evidence for the truth of Scripture highlighted in the first chapter of the Confession has nothing to do with what can be inferred by the so-called “empirical evidence,” rather the Divines assert the complete logical harmony of all that the Scriptures teach.  As Clark explains:

If, nonetheless, it can be shown that the Bible — in spite of having been written by more than thirty-five authors over a period of fifteen hundred years — is logically consistent, then the unbeliever would have to regard it as a most remarkable accident . . . Logical consistency, therefore, is evidence of inspiration.  — God’s Hammer, 16.

Since Van Tillians reject the logical consent of all the parts and maintain instead that all Scripture ends in a morass of “apparent contradictions” to which men must bow, they logically reject the WCF 1 and are non-Confessional from the get go.  Or, to put it another way, their belief in biblical paradox, which are very real contradictions for us even if, or so we’re told, for God not so much, is the complete rejection of one of central evidences the Confession sites to support belief in the truth of God’s inerrant and non-contradictory Word.  Starting from their faulty and destructive view of Scripture the Van Tillian ends up with any number of contradictory doctrines from God being both One Person and Three Persons (a heterodox belief advanced by Van Til and most recently defended by paradox monger James Anderson)  to a contradictory understanding of the Gospel call where God simultaneously desires and does not desire the salvation of all men.  For the Van Tillian beginning with their defective paradoxical view of Scripture the irretraceable web of what R. Scott Clark calls the “mystery of paradox” is all encompassing.  It is the root of their faith and piety.

In the comment section of Hays’ post, one of his regular and most loyal defenders, a man who goes by the name “Annoyed Pinoy” wrote; “I don’t see why God couldn’t use apparent paradoxes to sift the elect and non-elect. Where does Scripture teach that there are no apparent contradictions in the teaching of Scripture?”  Notice, according to this confused soul,  the categorical and Confessional rejection of biblical paradoxes that are impervious to logical harmonization at the bar of human reason makes one a reprobate; one of the non-elect.  Of course, the Scriptures do teach there are no “apparent contradictions in the teachings of Scripture,” for our Lord said; “The Scriptures cannot be broken” and the Confession similarly asserts the meaning of God’s word is not manifold, but one.  If the Van Tillians were actually faithful to the Confession they would affirm that that all claims to “apparent contradictions” in Scripture falls squarely in the lap of interpreter who has failed to rightly divide God’s Word. They would recognize biblical paradoxes as red flags demanding they recheck their premises as they continue to study the Scriptures.  But, instead these proud Van Tillians place the responsibility for their intellectual and exegetical failures squarely at God’s feet while piously claiming that “a paradox remains for us, though by faith we are confident that there is no paradox for God.”  In their arrogance Van Tillians like Pinoy (who describes himself on his website as a “Filipino … Baptistic … Charismatic … Van Tillian”) think that acceptance of irresolvable paradoxes in Scripture is what separates “the elect and the non-elect.”

Further, too, the Confession rejects the Van Tillian theory of analogy and their denial of any univocal point of contact between God’s thoughts and man’s even in the propositions of Scripture.  As Paul said concerning revelation of Scripture “we have the mind of Christ.”  Besides, can anyone seriously imagine the Divines at Westminster contemplating the possible existence of the magic lizard people and using WCF 1 to justify their lunacy? Hays can, because he continues:

I assume “magic lizard people” is an allusion to M. Scott Peck’s report about two of his demonically possessed patients who manifested a serpentine or reptilian appearance during exorcism.

Actually, I was informed that the magic lizard people, which is not original to me, is an allusion to the old TV series, V.  I never watched V and am more familiar with the flying monkey man tormenting William Shatner in the Twilight Zone.

From there Hays switches to defending his favorably citing of Michael “Hare Krisha” Sudduth and his lifelong fascination with the occult even while still pretending to be a Christian.  But, even here, Hays uses this as an attempt to attack Gordon Clark (Hays may actually be a shapeshifter as he seems to be a one trick pony):

How does a Clarkian like Sean distinguish real belief in Jesus from feigned belief in Jesus? Didn’t Sean’s idol, Gordon Clark say “Assent can never be hypocritical, for it is the voluntary act of according belief to a given proposition” (Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine?), 69.

That one is easy and the question itself belies Hays rejection of the Reformed doctrine of perseverance of the saints and a proper understanding of the Confessional doctrine of saving faith. Whether someone holds to the traditional and tautological threefold definition of saving faith, or Clark’s biblical two-fold alternative, it’s not always easy to tell the true believer from the feigned variety.  So this question has really nothing to do with Clark at all. However, we do know that Jesus said of those given to Him by the Father; “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” That includes Sudduth’s demonic Lord Krishna.  Or, as John would say; “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

It’s not always easy to tell those “who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit” from God’s real children for whom Christ died.  Hypocrites are everywhere, which is why the Confession makes the distinction between those who not only assent to the truth of the promise of the gospel with those who also assent to the imputation of Christ and his righteousness for the pardon of sin and by which we are accounted as righteousness.  So, while hindsight might be 20/20, the signs of Sudduth’s sure apostasy have been a long time coming.  I started suspecting it many years ago when he first took a job at a Roman Catholic university.  John Robbins was understandably critical of Sudduth’s decision and from what I understand privately counseled Sudduth against taking the job.  Something Sudduth didn’t receive very well.  I remember Suddth publicly flying off the handle years ago on a Yahoo Clark discussion group at Robbins. It was like watching an insolent teenager lashing out at his father who had taken away his car keys.  I just thought it was bizarre for someone who was even published in Trinity Review and who had won the Clark Prize in Apologetics to take such offense at the suggestion that he shouldn’t use his talents in the service of the pope and the Roman church/state.

Interestingly, Hays claims to have seen the writing on the wall too after Sudduth’s public rejection of the one true Lord Jesus Christ.  Hays writes:

To my knowledge, Michael has never been biblically oriented. His Christian faith has always been more philosophically oriented. Now, there’s nothing wrong with philosophical theology. But Christianity is ultimately based on historic revelation. Unless your faith is moored in Scripture, you’re adrift.

Hays also suspects that one reason for Sudduth’s defection from the good things of God in favor of his new found love for some Hindu demon stems from his lifelong fascination with the occult.  Hays explains; “I think he’s been under some degree of occultic bondage for most of his life. Never able to shake free of that.”  Sudduth, despite his religiosity and feigned belief in Jesus Christ, even once identifying himself as a Protestant and a “Reformed” Epistemologist, was never a really a Christian; never really born again.  No one can be in Christ and freed by the power of the Holy Spirit yet remain in bondage to the occult.  Either Sudduth was a liar when he claimed to be a Christian, or Jesus was a liar and Sudduth’s demonic Lord Krishna did in fact snatch him from Christ’s hand.  You can’t have it both ways.

So, yes, I am critical of Hays favorably quoting Sudduth, a man who subjected the name of Jesus Christ to public ridicule and shame.  Hays’ defense: “I quote Sudduth’s experience of living in a haunted house.”  Oh, brother.  It also seems Hays does think the Amityville Horror is real too, writing:

There’s a difference between the horror film and the alleged experience on which it was loosely based. I haven’t studied that in-depth. But why does Sean react to reports of occult entities with the same knee-jerk derision and disbelief as an atheist? Evil spirits are part of the biblical worldview. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising if some people encounter evil spirits. Sean is a functional atheist.

I have to laugh at this one.  My friend who first pointed me to Hays’ examination of the reality of the magic lizard people said; “If you want to troll him, tell him you think the Amityville Horror was fake and see if he calls you an atheist.”  There you have it.  When I shared Hays’ remarks with my friend he said; “If denial of magic lizards is functional atheism, is belief in lizards a necessary proposition of orthodoxy?”  It seems for Hays it is.

Now, it’s not all complete lunacy and lizard people.  Hays did provide some clarification regarding his favorably quoting Sudduth:

No, I wouldn’t say Sudduth’s experience provides evidence of shapeshifters. Rather, that provides evidence for the existence of occult entities (of which shapeshifters might be a subset).

Of course, Sudduth’s experience provides no evidence at all.  According to Sudduth the “paranormal occurrences” he claims to have experienced are traced back to 1969 “the year resident Walter Callahan Sr. committed suicide in the home.”   This poor delusional soul believes Walther was coming back to spook him and his former wife.  Now, I have no problem saying that Sudduth has a long history of flirting with demons and demonic forces, he does, but the dead do not roam the earth and what Sudduth experienced, and evidently continues to experience, supplies no evidence whatsoever for “postmortem survival.”  With the possible exception of the transfiguration, Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus should have been enough to settle that question even for someone who once pretended to be a Christian.  What Sudduth claims to be valid evidence for life after death, Jesus said is impossible (Luke 16:26). As for the magic lizard people, Hays needs to keep on trying. Who knows, maybe one day I will see Hays and Suddth both dressed in orange playing bells and banging drums while begging for change in the San Francisco airport. Happy hunting.

Van Tillian Monkey Men

December 23, 2015

twilight zone


I confess I thought the Van Tillian belief in biblical paradox and their systematic rejection of WCF 1 was about as destructive and as bad as it gets.  I was wrong.  As someone recently observed on Facebook:

“Van Tillians can’t get weirder than this. John Frame’s fanboy and ex-TA, Steve Hays, discusses the evidence for shapeshifters. Magic lizard people.”

You can read Hays’ musings on the existence of the magic lizard people here and here.

Now, I don’t read Hays’ Triablogue very often and I seriously thought his musings about the existence of shapeshifters was a joke.  I was sure after reading his posts I was going to feel like an idiot for not getting it.  Yet, according to the person who pointed me to Hays’ defense of the magic lizard people; “He’s not kidding. Hays believes that all paranormal claims must be accepted at face value unless proven otherwise. Anything else undermines belief in Biblical miracles. This includes charismatic gifts, but goes far beyond that. In other words, he’s gone off the deep end.”

One would think Hays and the other contributors to Triablogue (are there any others left?) would have learned their lesson after Michael Sudduth renounced his once feigned belief in Jesus Christ for his new found faith in his demonic Lord Krishna.  Now we see Hays favorably quoting Sudduth’s fascination with the occult and his belief in poltergeists and haunted houses.  I  suspect Hays thinks the Amityville Horror is real too.  But the weirdness doesn’t stop there.  Hays goes on to quote a series of tales from his unidentified “friend” who claims to have been on a bus traveling at 85mph while being chased by a “skinwalker.”  Hays’ friend writes:

“The skinwalker ran up to the edge of the road and just kept up pace with the bus hurdling sage brush and rocks while staring at me. After I made eye contact with the thing, I COULD NOT look away. It was as if something was holding my head and eyes in place. The skinwalker just smiled at me this inhuman smile that went ear-to-ear, showing crooked, yellow, pointed teeth. I felt like I was going to throw up and I was panicking through the whole ordeal. The skinwalker started to crumple down on to all fours, still keeping up with the bus. I could see his bones crack and reform, hair started appearing all over the skinwalker’s body and in about 3 seconds was now a coyote and it ran off back into the desert out of view.”

According to Hays these stories, along with Sudduth’s dive into spiritual darkness, all provide “extrabiblical evidence for shapeshifters.”  It seems to me that once you accept extra-biblical evidence for anything, then anything is what you’ll believe in.  I just wonder how long it will be before Hays will be seeing flying the monkey-man on the wing of a plane as he continues his dive into the Twilight Zone.


Robert Reymond – Paradox As A Hermeneutical Category

January 12, 2015

The following is taken from Robert Reymond’s excellent volume; A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith which is arguably the one systematic theology no thinking Christian can do without.  I post the following in the hope to perhaps shake men like Lane Keister from their Vantillian slumber and as a warning to any young man considering entering seminary not to drink the Kool-Aid.

DCF 1.0Bible students should be solicitous to interpret the Scriptures in a noncontadictory way; they should strive to harmonize Scripture with Scripture because the Scriptures reflect the thought of a single divine mind.

But many of our finest modern evangelical scholars are insisting that even after the human interpreter has understood the Bible correctly, it will often represent its truth to the human existent – even the believing human existent [see Lane Keister – SG] – in paradoxical terms, that is, in terms “taught unmistakably in the infallible word of God,” which while not actually contradictory, nevertheless “cannot possibly be reconciled before the bar of human reason.” [R.B. Kuiper]  It is commonly declared, for example, that the doctrines of the Trinity, the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, unconditional election and the sincere offer of the gospel, and particular redemption and the universal offer of the gospel are all biblical paradoxes, each respectively advancing antithetical truths unmistakably taught in the Word of God that cannot possibly reconciled by human reason. James I. Packer likewise affirms the presence of such paradoxes in Scripture in his Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, although h prefers the term “antinomy” to “paradox.” He writes:

An antinomy -in theology at any rate-is not a real contradiction, though it looks like one.  It is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable…. [an antinomy] is insoluble…. What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent contradiction as real.

Cornelius Van Til even declares that, because human knowledge is “only analogical” to God’s knowledge, all Christian truth will finally be paradoxical, that all Christian truth will ultimately appear to be contradictory to the human existent.

[Antinomies] are involved in the fact that human knowledge can never be completely comprehensive knowledge. Every knowledge transaction has in it somewhere a reference point to God. Now since God is not fully comprehensible to us we are bound to come into what seems to be contradictions in all our knowledge. Our knowledge is analogical and therefore must be paradoxical.

While we shun as poison the idea of the really contradictory we embrace with passion the idea of the apparently contradictory.

All teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory.

All the truths of the Christian religion have of necessity the appearance of being contradictory … We do not fear to accept that which has the appearance of being contradictory…. In the case of common grace, as in the case of every other biblical doctrine, we should seek to take all the factors of Scripture teaching and bind them together into systematic relations with one another as far as we can. But we do not expect to have a logically deducible relationship between one doctrine and another. We expect to have only an analogical system.

What should one say respecting this oft-repeated notion that the Bible will often (always, according to Van Til) set forth its truths in irreconcilable terms? To say the least, one must conclude, if such is the case, that it condemns at the outset as futile even the attempt at the systematic (orderly) theology that Van Til calls for in the last source cited, since it is impossible to reduce to a system irreconcilable paradoxes that steadfastly resist all attempts at harmonious systematization. One must be content simply to live theologically with a series of “discontinuities.”

Now if nothing more could or were to be said, this is already problematic enough because of the implications such a construction carries regarding the nature of biblical truth.  But more can and must be said. First, the proffered definition of “paradox” (or antinomy) as two truths which are both unmistakably taught in the Word of God but which also cannot possibly be reconciled before the bar of human reason is itself inherently problematical, for the one who so defines the term is suggesting by implication that either he knows by means of an omniscience that is not normally in human possession that no one is capable of reconciling the truths in question or he has somehow universally polled everyone who has ever lived, is living now, and will live in the future and has discovered that not one has been able, is able, or will be able to reconcile the truths. But it goes without saying that neither of these conditions is or can be true. Therefore, the very assertion that there are paradoxes. so defined, in Scripture is seriously flawed by the terms of the definition itself. There is no way to know if such a phenomenon is present in Scripture. Merely because any number of scholars have failed to reconcile to their satisfaction two given truths of Scripture is no proof that the truths cannot be harmonized. And if just one scholar claims to have reconciled the truths to his or her own satisfaction, this ipso facto renders the definition both gratuitous and suspect. (more…)

John Robbins Quick Quote

January 10, 2015

Since Lane Kesiter has so far refused to answer any of my questions and instead complained that I have misrepresented and mangled what he said and in the process distorted the teachings of his mentor and intellectual father, Cornelius Van Til (Keister said I did so it must be true), I hope to delve more into his non answers in a future post.  I confess, it was intriguing to read him bemoaning my refusal to take  his “no contradictions in the Bible” at face value.  I mean, would he take Jeffery Meyers, James Jordan, Peter Leithart, Richard Lusk, Steve Wilkins (remember him), or Doug Wilson at face value when they all say they believe in justification by faith alone?  I hope not.  Oh, yeah, Keister did take Wilson’s claim at face value before reversing himself after it was too late.

Now, I sympathize with Keister.  As I mentioned recently in one of the discussions on this blog, it is not easy for someone like Kesiter to come out publicly against the present irrationalism as it puts him at odds with the mainstream of modern Reformed thought.  Could you imagine the fallout if he were to repudiate Scott Clark who thinks the teachings of Scripture presents to the mind of man a morass of “mystery of paradoxes”?  Look at what Herman Hoeksema and Gordon Clark, not to mention John Robbins, all went through in opposing men just like Scott Clark. Just look at the amount of garbage being hurled my way for defending something so basic as justification by belief alone against the mystery mongers like Alan Strange, Ron DiGiacom, Reed DePace, Ron Henzel, Kesiter and the others at his blog.

The professional religious class is completely dominated by irrationalists.

For a guy like Keister to reject religious irrationalism parading as Reformed thought would threaten not only his standing among his peers, but his professional standing as well.  And, I’m sure he wants to keep his job.

Concerning the Clark/Van Til Controversy Hoeksema observed:

However, even now one begins to wonder whether the real question in this controversy is not whether God, but whether his revelation to to us in the Scriptures, is comprehensible, that is, can be logically understood by the mind of man. Dr. Clark’s position is that all of Scripture is given us that we might understand it, that all of it is adapted to our human mind, so that, even though there be many things in that revelation of God which we cannot fathom, there is nothing in it that is contrary to human intelligence and logic.  And the opponents appear to deny this [they do – SG].

And if this should be the real, underlying issue [it is – SG], if the complainants take the stand that Scripture reveals things that are, not above and far beyond, but contrary to, in conflict with the human mind [they do – SG], it is my conviction that the complainants should be indicted  of heterodoxy, and of undermining all sound theology.

Either the logic of revelation is our logic, or there is not revelation.

This proposition I am prepared to defend at any time.

Sadly, and as an example of how bad things really are, all you need to do is look back at the Trinity Foundation’s founding document, The Trinity Manifesto: A Program for Our Time. John Robbins wrote about this very problem and fighting it is the reason the Trinity Foundation exists (much to the chagrin of the professional religious class).

Consider this from Robbins:

Contemporary secular intellectuals are anti-intellectual. Contemporary philosophers are anti-philosophy. Contemporary theologians are anti-theology. The irrationalism of the present age is so thoroughgoing pervasive that even the Remnant—the segment of the professing church that remains faithful—has accepted much of it, frequently without even being aware of what it was accepting. In some circles this irrationalism has become synonymous with piety and humility, and those who oppose it are denounced as rationalists—as though to be logical were a sin. Our contemporary anti-theologians make a contradiction and call it a Mystery. The faithful ask for truth and are given absurdity. If any balk at swallowing the absurdities of the antitheologians, they are frequently marked as heretics or schismatics who seek to act independently of God.

There is no greater threat facing the true church of Christ at this moment than the irrationalism that now controls our entire culture. Communism, guilty of tens of millions of murders, including those of millions of Christians, is to be feared, but not nearly so much as the idea that we, as Christian men, do not and cannot know truth. Hedonism, the popular philosophy of America, is not to be feared so much as the belief that logic—that “mere human logic,” to use the religious irrationalists’ own phrase—is futile. The attacks on truth, on revelation, on the intellect, and on logic are renewed daily. But note well: The misologists—the haters of logic—use logic to demonstrate the futility of using logic. The anti-intellectuals construct intricate intellectual arguments to prove the insufficiency of the intellect. The anti-theologians use the revealed Word of God to show that there can be no revealed Word of God—or that if there could, it would remain impenetrable darkness and mystery to our finite minds.

Nonsense Has Come

Is it any wonder that the world is grasping at straws—the straws of mysticism and drugs? After all, if people are told that the Bible contains insoluble mysteries, then is not a flight into mysticism to be expected? On what grounds can it be condemned? Certainly not on logical grounds or Biblical grounds, if logic is futile and the Bible mysterious. Moreover, if it cannot be condemned on logical or Biblical grounds, it cannot be condemned at all. If people are going to have a religion of the mysterious, they will not adopt Christianity: They will have a genuine mystery religion.”Those who call for Nonsense,” C.S. Lewis once wrote,”will find that it comes.” And that is precisely what has happened. The popularity of Eastern mysticism and of drugs is the logical consequences of the irrationalism of the twentieth century. There can and will be no Christian revival—and no reconstruction of society—unless and until the irrationalism of the age is totally repudiated by Christians.

John wrote the above in 1978. I was only a year out of high school and had first professed Christ around that time, but since then very little has change. And, as Keister has demonstrated so convincingly, it has only gotten worse.

Baggins Protests

January 8, 2015

For those who haven’t read it, you can find Lane Keister’s response to my previous blog post “Speaking Nonsense” here.

Last things first.  Keister ends his response with this bit of pettiness: “Since Gerety is banned from this blog, he will need to latestrespond on his own blog.”

Does such a small man really deserve a response?  Probably not.  And, for the record, Kesiter gave me the left-foot-of-fellowship for defending justification by belief alone against those like Alan Strange, Ron DiGiacomo, Reed DePace and others on his blog who openly denied this foundational doctrine of the Christian faith.  For these men there are people who can be properly classified as “faithless believers” which is impossible.  When confronted with the logical impossibility of their position Strange and others appealed to “mystery.” At that time Keister complained:

I wonder sometimes if your faith is in reason and logic too much. In your reaction to Van Til, for instance, you reject any and all kinds of mystery in the Christian faith, as if our minds were as capable of understanding everything as God’s own mind. Is there any limit at all to what human reason and logic can attain? Is there a Creator/creature distinction? I’m not sure there is in your thinking. This makes you so sure of your positions that you look down on people who differ from you in almost any way. There is almost no charity at all when you differ from someone. It is what Scott Clark calls the quest for illegitimate religious certainty.

It is important to keep in mind that for these men the Scriptures teach any number of antinomies and insoluble paradoxes to which all men must bow.  This is the modern definition of Reformed piety.  This is also what these men mean by “mystery” and it is the belief that the Scriptures themselves defy logical harmonization at the bar of human reason.  So, naturally, when Keister says “reason cannot prove the trustworthiness of Scripture” I read it from the epistemological framework he is coming from.  Further, in the context of the Berkof quote claiming that the natural man can see only contradictions when he comes to God’s Word, Keister expands this by insisting, “Even the regenerate person still has sin clinging to his reason. How could any untrustworthy instrument prove perfection to be correct?”  Needless to say, I’m hard pressed to see what else I should have concluded other than man, regenerate or otherwise, is incapable of discovering the logical consent of Scripture.

So I’ll ask again, if one was to posit a contradictory Bible, even if only to the human existent, would it still be trustworthy?  Keister has nowhere addressed this question, and, besides, there is no evidence that he or the others at his blog believe Scripture is their axiom.

For example Reed DePace, who is a PCA TE and one of the moderators at Keister’s blog, argued:

We begin with God. We don’t presume God exists because the Bible is true. We presume the Bible is true because God exists.

God and not the Scriptures is their axiom, either that or DePace does not know what the word “axiom” means. DePace then goes into a discussion about circular reasoning completely oblivious to the fact that he has just begged the question. There can be no knowledge of God and we could know nothing about Him apart from His own self-revelation in Scripture. (more…)

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.

R. Scott Clark Goes to School

December 28, 2013

clarkRecently, R. Scott Clark has  been reviewing John Frame’s new Systematic Theology, which is ironic since Frame’s epistemic method, even prior to his embrace of triperspectivalism, was absolutely hostile to any systematic approach to Scripture.   It’s also ironic, because like  Frame, Clark maintains that the Scriptures present to the mind of man  a morass of insoluble paradoxes and “mysteries” to which man’s mind must submit in the ultimate act of piety.  Think of it as the intellectual equivalent of harikari.  Instead of Christianity being a rational faith where God’s self-revelation is given so that we might believe and understand, for Clark, “Our faith is full of mystery of paradoxes to wit, the holy Trinity, the two natures and one person of Christ, divine sovereignty and human responsibility…., the free offer, the true presence of Christ in the Supper, and means of grace (the Spirit operates through the foolishness of Gospel preaching) and that’s the short list.”

Admittedly, I can’t think of any Reformed confession, much less the Westminster Confession, which makes a similar confession anywhere. Nowhere are we called to confess that  the Christian faith is “full of mystery of paradox.” Instead we confess a method by which the Scriptures might be correctly interpreted and understood.  For example, WCF 1:9 states concerning “The Interpretation of Scripture”:

The infallible rule of interpretation of scripture is the scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture, (which is not manifold, but one,) it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

Notice, nothing about the infallible rule of interpretation ending in the “mystery of paradox” to which we must submit as we embrace nonsense like the so-called “free offer of the Gospel” where confused minds think it a mark of Reformed orthodoxy to confess that God simultaneously desires and does not desire the salvation of all men.  Some, like Van Til,  even maintain that the doctrine of the Trinity is similarly contradictory (what these men call “mystery”) and  confess that God is both one Person and three Persons at the same time and in the same sense.  Thankfully, this was one insoluble Vantillian paradox that Scott Clark refused to swallow.  Small blessings aide, Clark’s belief in Christianity as an irrational faith stems from his belief that God, even in light of His self-revelation of Himself in Scripture, remains completely unknowable.  This is Van Til’s doctrine of incomprehensibility in a nutshell as Clark explains:

As a matter of truth, God’s essence is a dark, unrevealed entity. God, as he is in himself (in se) is hidden from us…We know that God’s hidden essence is but we don’t know what God’s essence is. We’re not capable of knowing or understanding that essence. We know what God has revealed of himself to us. God has given us pictures, illustrations, analogies, but he has not revealed himself as he is in himself…The Reformed want to affirm both the mystery of God’s hiddenness and the utterly reliability of his self-revelation.

Now, in response to this Steve Hays at Triablogue offers this little argument:

If God’s essence is unknowable, then Scripture is not a divine self-revelation. God hasn’t revealed himself to us in Scripture. Rather, God has revealed something other than himself.

Absolutely devastating.  Hays’ argument cuts to heart of Clark’s entire theology and excises the basis for a lot of that “mystery of paradox” nonsense along the way.  Not surprising, it is also an argument that nicely mirrors Gordon Clark’s oft repeated argument against Van Til’s incomprehensible doctrine of incomprehensibility and his insistence that all truth, including all truth about God even as He reveals Himself to us in Scripture, is pure analogy.  Consider this:

If God has the truth and if man has only an analogy, it follows that he does not have the truth. An analogy of the truth is not the truth; even if man’s knowledge is not called an analogy of the truth but an analogical truth, the situation is no better. An analogical truth, except it contain a univocal point of coincident meaning, simply is not the truth at all. In particular (and the most crushing reply of all) if the human mind were limited to analogical truths, it could never know the univocal truth that it was limited to analogies … Such skepticism must be completely repudiated if we wish to safeguard a doctrine of verbal revelation.

For Scott’s Clark response to Hays see here.  For Hays’ biting rejoinder see: Confessional Arians.

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