Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Incarnation Part 4

A Theological and Scripturalist Defense of Gordon H. Clark's Two Person View of the Incarnation

Part 4

By Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.


Continuing with our study of Dr. Gordon H. Clark's apologetic system, I am attempting to show that Dr. Clark did not suddenly become a Nestorian at the end of his life when he wrote his final book as some advocates of Cornelius Van Til's theology have asserted.  Instead I want to show that Clark had developed his theology of the incarnation much earlier in his life and his book, The Incarnation, (Jefferson:  Trinity Foundation, 1988), was simply a continuation of the logical implications of many propositions Clark had articulated in his books and lectures throughout his career.


In this post I want to examine what Dr. Clark has to say about Christ the mediator in his series of articles on the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Christ the Mediator is chapter VIII in the Confession.  And it is telling that Clark emphasizes the prioritizing of the chapters in the Confession once again as a logical system in which all the parts fit together in harmony:


Of course, this feeling that one doctrine or one chapter is the most important is purely psychological, momentary, and relative to a particular purpose.  One might as well ask which wheel or tire of an auto is the most important.  Presumably it is the tire that is about to run over a tack.  Otherwise they are all equally important.  This is true of the chapters of the Confession because they fit together as a system and are not haphazard and disjointed.  It was previously pointed out that the doctrines of predestination and providence underlie effectual calling and the perseverance of the saints; the covenant bears on New Testament baptism; and of course the fall of man necessitates a Redeemer and Mediator.  They all fit together.


Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  What Do Presbyterians Believe?  The Westminster Confession Yesterday and Today.  1965.  (Unicoi:  Trinity Foundation, 2001).  P. 91.


To put it in Scripturalist terms, the doctrine of the Incarnation cannot be neatly separated from the rest of the system of propositional truths which are deduced from the Bible.  (Westminster Confession, 1:6).  The doctrine of Scripture, God's eternal self existence as Trinity, predestination, creation, the fall of man, and the doctrine of the atonement all relate to one another.  According to Dr. Clark, the Westminster Confession of Faith is the best summary of the system of theology ever written and even so it does not come close to exhausting all the possible propositions which can be deduced from the Bible.  "But if it is asked, What do Presbyterians believe, the answer will always be, the Bible and its most excellent summary, the Westminster Confession."  ("Preface", 1965. Ibid., p. ix).


Dr. Clark's book on the Westminster Confession originally appeared as a series of articles in the Southern Presbyterian Journal from 1954-1955.  Some chapters were added later in 1956.  But the book as it stands now was published in 1965 and then reprinted in 2001.  But Clark was already pointing out in the 1940s and 1950s that Jesus Christ in His human nature had a genuine human soul and was limited in every way just as we are.   Since  God is a spiritual being, obviously to identify with humanity and to redeem the elect from their sins the mediator had to become incarnate in human form.  God cannot suffer human pain because He is a spirit.  (John 4:24).


The main idea is not too difficult to understand.  In order to serve as a mediator, the Son of God had to become a man.  This is most evident with respect to the crucifixion.  Obviously if the mediator was to die on the cross, or die in any way, it was necessary to have a body.  A pure Spirit could not be executed.  . . . What we call the incarnation involves more than God's taking a body.  What the Second Person of the Trinity took to himself was a "man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof."  That is, Jesus had a human mind that he could advance in wisdom, as well as stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52).  (Ibid., pp. 94-95).


Here Clark still holds to the view that Christ is one person as taught in the Definition of Chalcedon 451 A.D. and the Westminster Confession  8:2.  (Ibid., p. 95).  But notice in the quote above that Dr. Clark says that "Jesus had a human mind that he could advance in wisdom . . ."  It is clear to me that Clark was thinking about the apparent contradictions involved in the doctrine of the incarnation early on in his career.  Also, this is not something new to Reformed theologians since even Dr. R. C. Sproul acknowledges that Christ in his human nature is not omniscient.


One of the most often cited criticisms of Clark's view is that the orthodox view takes into account the communicatio idiomatum and attributes of both the divine nature and the human nature are predicated of the one person.  Unfortunately, this is confusing because obviously the eternal Logos is an omniscient person, the second person of the triune Godhead, while the human soul of Jesus is fully personal and is not omniscient.  Dr. Clark recognizes the problems entailed by this but does not tackle the issue early on.  But to show that he understood the implications of the heretical views I wish to quote extensively from two of his earlier books.  Some modern evangelists unwittingly commit the heresy of Apollinarianism when they insist that Jesus was "God in a body".  Apollinarianism taught that the divine Logos replaced the human soul of Jesus Christ.  But Dr. Clark also rejected Nestorianism:


In addition to the view that Jesus was "God in a body," a theologian by the name of Nestor conceived Jesus Christ to be two different persons:  one person purely human, the other purely divine.  Another attempt was to conceive of the Savior as neither God nor man, but of a sort of "chemical" mixture the characteristics of the components were both lost.  The student is urged to look up Nestorianism, Eutychianism, and Docetism in a theological encyclopedia.  The subject matter is very interesting.

Eventually the Council of Chalcedon, after nearly four hundred years of church history, arrived at the orthodox doctrine that "two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion."

This Chalcedonian doctrine is necessary to support the function of Christ's mediatorial office.  The reason is that if Christ were a mere man, he could not function as a mediator; nor could he if he were simply God.  In both cases he would be confined to one extreme and fail to link the two.  If Christ were neither God nor man, but an angel or something else, he would be a barrier between God and man rather than a mediator.  But as both God and man, as truly God as man and as truly man as God, Christ can be the Mediator and unite God and men.

In the middle of the section ii the Confession [WCF 8:2] states the method God chose to accomplish the incarnation.  Christ became man by the Virgin Birth.

Ibid., p. 95.


The Roman Catholic Church progressively took extreme liberties with the doctrine of the virgin birth and the orthodox view that Mary was the God bearer or theotokos has been expanded to include the mariolatry that Mary is the mediatrix and a repository of grace as indicated in the line from the rosary where Mary is said to be "full of grace," a mistranslation of the verse from where the Greek actually says Mary was "highly favored" of God.  (Luke 1:28).  The Nestorian controversy was over Nestorius's insistence that Mary only gave birth to the human nature of Christ and was thus the Christ bearer or christotokos and not the bearer of God.  That's because God has no beginning and no end as an eternally self existent triunity of three persons.  So on this point at least, Nestorius was correct and the early church was wrong.  Mary conceived Jesus supernaturally but she only gave birth to the human nature of Christ.  How could flesh and blood give literal birth to God since God is an eternal spirit?  (John 4:24).  [See my post, The Perpetual Virginity of Mary].


The liberal church historian, Adolf von Harnack, in his discussion of the Valentinian form of Gnosticism points out that the Roman Catholic Church adopted at least a portion of the gnostic view:


The characteristic of the Gnostic Christology is not Docetism, in the strict sense, but the doctrine of the two natures, that is, the distinction between Jesus and Christ, or the doctrine that the Redeemer as Redeemer was not a man. The Gnostics based this view on the inherent sinfulness of human nature, and it was shared by many teachers of the age without being based on any principle (see above, p. 195 f.). The most popular of the three Christologies briefly characterised above was undoubtedly that of the Valentinians. It is found, with great variety of details, in most of the nameless fragments of Gnostic literature that have been preserved, as well as in Apelles. This Christology might be accommodated to the accounts of the Gospels and the baptismal confession (how far is shewn by the regula of Apelles, and that of the Valentinians may have run in similar terms). It was taught here that Christ had passed through Mary as a channel; from this doctrine followed very easily the notion of the Virginity of Mary, uninjured even after the birth—it was already known to Clem. Alex. (Strom. VII. 16. 93). The Church also, later on, accepted this view.


Harnack, Adolf von. History of Dogma, Volume 1 (p. 317).  Footnote 357.  . Kindle Edition.


It gets even more complicated as some Evangelicals apparently have accepted patripassionism and/or modalism when they infer that one of the persons of the trinity suffered on the cross:


Nestorianism is basically the doctrine that Jesus existed as two persons, the man Jesus and the divine Son of God, rather than as a unified person. This doctrine is identified with Nestorius (c.386-451), Patriarch of Constantinople, although he himself denied holding this belief. This view of Christ was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431, and the conflict over this view led to the Nestorian schism, separating the Assyrian Church of the East from the Byzantine Church.


The motivation for this view was an aversion to the idea that "God" suffered and died on the cross, be it the divinity itself, the Trinity, or one of the persons of the Trinity. Thus, they would say, Jesus the perfect man suffered and died, not the divine second person of the Trinity, for such is an impossible thought -- hence the inference that two "persons" essentially inhabited the one body of Jesus. Nestorius himself argued against calling Mary the "Mother of God" (Theotokos) as the church was beginning to do. He held that Mary was the mother of Christ only in respect to His humanity. The council at Ephesus (431) accused Nestorius of the heresy of teaching "two persons" in Christ and insisted that Theotokos was an appropriate title for Mary.


"Nestorianism," Theopedia.


I am laying some groundwork for Clark's view of the incarnation so the patience of the reader with the long quotes to substantiate the problems inherent in the doctrinal formulations of many Evangelicals is appreciated.  Dr. Clark is aware of these implications and tackles the problem of the liberal doctrine of kenosis and whether or not God could literally die in his book, The Atonement:  "Christ proved to be a man, not only because he got tired and thirsty, but because he died.  God cannot die.  In fact it is precisely because God cannot die that Jehovah became a man."  Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  The Atonement.  1987. (Hobbs:  Trinity Foundation, 1996).  P. 50.


Some Evangelicals and Charismatic/Pentecostals have adopted the sub-kenotic view of Millard Erickson and Henry Thiessen.  Due to time constraints I will stop here and discuss the problem of the incarnation from the point of view of the kenosis and sub-kenosis views and how that relates to the divine attributes and the human attributes of the Christ in the incarnation from a more orthodox perspective.


See previous post at:  Incarnation Part 3

Avast logo

This email has been checked for viruses by Avast antivirus software.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Incarnation Part 3

A Theological and Scripturalist Defense of Gordon H. Clark's Two Person View of the Incarnation
Part 3
By Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.
In the Westminster Confession of Faith, according to Dr. Gordon H. Clark, the doctrines are prioritized in descending order of importance.  The primary place belongs to Scripture followed by the doctrine of God and the Trinity in chapter 2.  The third most important doctrine is the doctrine of predestination because predestination logically follows from the doctrine of an eternally omniscient and eternally immutable God.  Dr. Clark deduces all of his theology and apologetics from Scripture as his beginning point or axiom.  But in order to get to the heart of the matter, I will break from the logical priority and go first to the doctrine of the human nature as God's image.  It is important to understand that Dr. Clark's thinking in his final book, The Incarnation, was not a significant break from his earlier works as some of his critics contend.  In fact, I will argue that Dr. Clark had these ideas in mind as early as his examination for ordination in the 1940s.  Dr. Gordon H. Clark is unique in that his entire apologetics is built on logical and propositional systematic theology.  For Clark, a paradox is simply confused thinking and if there are apparent contradictions it is possible to reconcile and harmonize the parts of the system because the beginning premise or axiom is biblical inerrancy, not biblical errancy.  Liberals presuppose that fallibility and errancy is inherent in the human nature and that only God can be infallible and inerrant.  It follows, therefore, that only God can know the truth.  According to the neo-orthodox position, systematic truth can only exist in God's mind and since God is totally transcendent and unknowable, humans can only know things God knows by analogy, not "mere" human logic.  But as Dr. Clark often pointed out, do humans do "mere" human arithmetic or does God also know that 2 + 2 = 4?  Unfortunately, Van Til defined paradox as an unresolvable contradiction here on earth and something which could only be resolved above the anvil in God's mind.
It is difficult to develop a timeline for the progression of Dr. Clark's thought but I will attempt to do so with a few references to Clark's distinction between God's knowledge and man's knowledge.  For Dr. Clark, man's knowledge is subject to change and is therefore discursive and progressive while God's knowledge is direct and intuitive.  God knows all the propositions there are to be known all at the same time.   In fact, according to Dr. Clark, the ability to think one thought after another is innate in man and is an a priori gift of God given to man.  This sequential process of thinking one thought after another is what marks off time.  Therefore, for God there can be no progressive thinking, learning or even marking of time.  God is eternally immutable and there is no progression from one thought to another in God's eternal mind.  God never learns anything new and it is on this basis of God's timelessness that He knows human history past, present and future as one eternally unchanging now.  God truly is timeless and omniscient because He is God.
Van Tilians, or those who follow the apologetics of the late Dr. Cornelius Van Til, insist that man can know nothing God knows "as God knows" it because there is a difference in "quality" between human knowledge and God's eternal knowledge.  Van Til rejected systematic theology as "mere" human logic and insisted instead that all Scripture is apparently contradictory.  For Van Til systematic and propositional knowledge exists only in God's unknowable and un-understandable mind.  For Van Til incomprehensibility means God is unknowable, which is virtually indistinguishable from the neo-orthodox doctrine of God's total transcendence.   But the Puritans did not define incomprehensibility this way.  For the Puritans and the Protestant Reformers God's knowledge is not totally transcendent but is rather immeasurable.  When the Anglican divines defined God as incomprehensible in the 39 Articles of Religion and the Puritans followed this in the Westminster Confession of Faith they did not mean that God is completely unknowable or totally transcendent because this would mean that Scripture was only a human opinion of what God is like rather than direct and divine revelation of God in propositional form.  For the Protestant Reformers to say that God is incomprehensible meant that God knows way more than humans know because God knows all the propositions than can be known and thus His knowledge is immeasurable, not unknowable.  We can know some things God knows just as God knows them; but we cannot know all things God knows because His knowledge is intuitive and omniscient.
In Clark's examination for ordination several questions at the onset indicate that his views were not acceptable to certain ordained ministers present at his examination on July 7th, 1944:

18    By Reverend Clelland:
19    Q  You have been examined before, Mr. Clark, by the Presby-
20    tery, and I do not think it is necessary for me to conduct
21    a comprehensive examination in theology at this time.  There-
22    fore, I shall confine myself to certain points which seem to
23    me important in the case at issue.
24    You accept a confession of the faith in our Church, as
25    brought out in the Holy Scriptures?
1       A  I do. 
2       Q  You believe the statement in Chapter 2, Section 1 that the
3       one and only living and true God is incomprehensible?
4       A  I believe that there are indications in Scripture
5       that when we shall be gloried,  our knowledge will continue to
6       increase forever, and that in all probability there will be
7       no end to such increase.
8       Q  There will always be then, something which we could
9       not yet comprehend?
10    A  It seems to me entirely likely, though the exegies of
11    it are a little weak, but it seems to me entirely likely that
12    there will always be certain particular truths that we do not
13    know.
14    Q  I will ask you this question, which you may have already
15    answered:
16    Is all truths in the mind of God, capable of being ad-
17    dressed in propositions intelligible to the mind of man?
18    A  I would no[t] [sic] know what the word: "truth" meant unless
19    as a quality of [a] proposition.  I cannot conceive of anything
20    that is of truth that is not a proposition.
21    Q  All right, [sic] then—how about the proposition being in-
22    telligible to the mind of man?
23    A  I have no Scriptural basis for that, [;] God can reveal
24    Any particular proposition to man, and if God can make Sons
1       of Abraham out of stones of the roadway, he can make even
2       a stupid person understand a proposition.
3       Q  Is the omniscience of God an incommunicable attribute?
4       A  Yes.
5       Q  Man then, will never be omniscient?
6       A  I have already stated that there will always be propositions
7       That man will not know and furthermore, if omniscience is
8       supposed to be the not only the proposition that God knows, but
9       his manner of knowing them, naturally, we shall never have
10    any knowledge in that manner.
11    Q  Chapter 3, section 1 of the Confession, this speaks of
12    God ['s] Eternal Decree by which He has ordained whatsoever comes
13    to past [sic], yet, so as thereby neither is God the author of sin,
14    nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor
15    the liberty nor contingency of second causes taken away—
16    do you freely subscribe to that statement?
17    A  Yes, it includes the last three words:
18    "But rather established."
19    Q  Does not that seem to be a paradox,--let me ask you?
20    can you accept doctrines that are paradoxical?
21    A  By paradox you mean, I suppose, a pair of propositions
22    which people cannot harmonize?
23    Q  Yes.
1       A  Yes.  That is often the case.  I have to accept certain
2       propositions which are paradoxical, but of course, you don't
3       mean paradoxical in the Barthian sense.
4       Q  Are there any conditions paradoxical to God?
5       A  No, sir.
6       There is no paradox in God?
7       A  No.
8       Q  Chapter 5, Section 3 under "Providence" reads as fol-
9       lows:
10    "God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means
11    yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his
12    pleasure."
13    Do you subscribe to that statement of Confession?
14    A  God works against men in the sense which a weak-kneed king
15    would try to do something, use an Army or some device to over-
16    throw the People of God, and God would destroy the Army or
17    the means that the King used.  I know of only two cases in
18    which God works without means, in the creation of the wor[l]d—[sic]
19    he used no means; and the only other case I know where God
20    has worked without all means—is in his upholding the Uni-
21    verse as a whole. 
22    As for working above, I must confess that I don't know
23    what the word:  "Above" means in this connection.  If
24    you give me a definition I will tell you what I think.
Having read numerous books by Clark, I can tell you that Dr. Clark fleshes out his disagreement with Barthianism by saying that Barth's definition of paradox is that a paradox is an unresolvable contradiction and that harmonization of two apparently conflicting propositions is impossible from below.  This is why Dr. Clark emphasized the statement that surely Reverend Clelland did not accept the Barthian definition of paradox.  Of course, Clark was cleared of all charges and his ordination went forward.  But the point I wish to make at this time is that for Dr. Clark there can be no presupposed axiom that apparent contradictions or paradoxes have no solution on this side of eternity.  While there can indeed be paradoxes that have not yet been resolved, this in no way implies that paradoxes have no solutions at all.  It is for this reason that Dr. Clark continued to work toward a resolution for the apparent paradox that Jesus Christ in His incarnation was two natures and one person.  Others have tackled the problem of the apparent contradiction of Christ's presence in one place in time and space, while at the same time the Eternal Son or Logos is omnipresent.  Few have taken on the problem of Christ's epistemological limitations in His human nature, particularly the fact that humans are not omniscient; although in His divine nature, He was truly omniscient.  Moreover, the three main attributes of deity are omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.  The human nature cannot obtain these incommunicable attributes of deity.
At least theoretically, then, the problem of Christ's incarnation as both human and as divine is not an unresolvable paradox but instead has a real and genuine solution.  This apparent contradiction can be tackled by laying the groundwork for the doctrine of the incarnation through examining Clark's doctrine of humanity as the image of God and Clark's doctrine of God.  More on this in the next blog post.
See:  Westminster Confession of Faith for reference to the above quoted examination.
See previous post at Incarnation Part 2.

Avast logo
This email has been checked for viruses by Avast antivirus software.

Support Reasonable Christian Ministries with your generous donation.