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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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Review: Calvin and the Whigs: A Study in Historical Political Philosophy




Book Review:  Calvin and the Whigs:  A Study in Historical Political Philosophy

“Like all other knowledge, our knowledge of God consists of certain propositions or truths. No doubt it is true that “that which God reveals of himself...is so rich and deep [presumably Bavinck means extensive and complicated] that it can never be fully known by any human individual.” But this is not because the knowledge of God is a peculiar and different type of knowledge: It is because life is too short to gain an understanding of the Bible. The defect lies in the shortness of human life, and often in the mediocrity of the man, not in the understandability of the revelation, for all Scripture is profitable for doctrine.”

Gordon H. Clark. The Trinity (Kindle Locations 1529-1533). The Trinity Foundation.

Ruben Alvarado.  Calvinism and the Whigs:  A Study in Historical Political Philosophy.  (Aalten:  Pantocrator Press, 2017).

The author of this work of historiography kindly sent me a review copy of the book.  But in keeping with my commitment to offer solid critical reviews as I have done before, I will simply say what I truly think.  His book purports to explicate the Huguenot point of view of political philosophy and to survey the evolution of political constitutionalism from the divine right of kings to a constitutionalism based on the Presbyterian or Calvinist view of political philosophy as advocated by the French Huguenots and their influence on the Dutch Reformed form of government as it existed under the Calvinist view of constitutionalism.  It is the thesis of the book that modern concepts of natural law are a departure from a more Christian worldview and political constitutionalism which, under the social contract theory of Hugo Grotius and John Locke, deteriorated into the secularist and anti-Christian civil religion of modernity.


As I am no expert in historiography I will only speak to what I can legitimately discern and deduce from the book based on the Calvinism of the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark as I can best understand his views.  At the outset I should acknowledge that I think Dr. Clark would have agreed that John Locke’s political philosophy and social contract theory ultimately leads to totalitarianism.  On that I can wholeheartedly agree with the author.


However, I should also point out that in my short life and due to the work load I have, I cannot claim to have time or resources to give a more detailed critique and review of Mr. Alvarado’s book.  While the quote from Dr. Clark above pertains to Bavinck’s doctrine of the unknowability of God, I think it also applies to how much learning is possible in this life.  It is not that I cannot learn more political philosophy and historiography but that in my short life of 57 years that has not been the primary focus of my personal studies after college and seminary.


I was troubled a bit by his giving credit in the foreward to the book to both Peter Leithart and Gary North for reviewing the manuscript.  I was troubled because Leithart is a promoter of the heresy of the Federal Vision and Gary North is an advocate of the theonomy movement.  From a Clarkian Scripturalist persepective this could indicate some presupposed biases on the part of the author.   However, in a Facebook message to me, Mr. Alvarado assured me that the reviews by Leithart and North were done several years ago prior to Leithart’s departure into the Federal Vision realm.  Also troubling was the use of the term “theocracy” to refer to the Calvinist form of government in Geneva and Holland.  I am not sure how Alvarado is defining theocracy.  Perhaps he means theonomic?  Technically speaking there are no prophets or apostles today nor were there any prophets in Geneva or Holland.  In order for there to be a true theocracy it would be required for there to be ongoing revelation from God as the case was with Moses, Joshua, and to a lesser extent, with the nation of Israel under the rule of David and Solomon, etc.  Since the Bible is the only special revelation from God today, political philosophy must be logically deduced from the Scripture by good and necessary consequence.  (Westminster Confession of Faith 1:6).


The book is very detailed.  The problem with this is that I got bogged down in the inductive aspects of the book and the analysis.  But careful reading does yield several good points made by the author.  However, I was somewhat troubled by the fact that though the book is supposed to compare and contrast the Calvinist view of political constitutionalism and Whig political philosophy and constitutionalism, the author never fully defines either term.  On the one hand, he seems to say that the Calvinism of Geneva, Holland, and England under the Glorious Revolution are all Calvinist, he then proceeds to say that some Calvinists and Puritans under the Glorious Revolution were latitudinarians.  And on the other hand, even in the beginning of the book, Alvarado never defines exactly what a Whig is.  He simply presupposes that we all already know what a Whig is, although we are told that John Locke is a representative of the Whig political constitutionalism in England.  Also, to avoid any confusion, it should be pointed out that the Glorious Revolution is not the same event as the English Civil War or the Cromwellian Revolution.  (See also:  English Whig Party).


As best I can understand, however, it seems that the Whigs were a British political party who opposed the Tories.  The Whigs advocated for a constitutional government that compromised between the authority of a monarch and a more representative government of elected officials in the Parliament as opposed to the Tory advocacy for the divine right of absolute authority for the monarchy:  


This historiographical predilection presents Whigs as those who stood for progress, liberty, and parliamentary government; Tories, as those who stood for reaction, repression, and absolutist monarchy.  . . . The Whigs gained the predominance in England in 1688, in the wake of the so-called Glorious Revolution, in which William III of Orange assumed the throne, upon abdication of James II.  They proceeded to transform English society.  Their innovations proved so popular that England became the model of enlightened progress in Europe.  By the early nineteenth century everyone within the orbit of English politics and society had become permeated with their particular orientation, so much so that all the new political movements operated on terms the Whigs had established, thus in terms of post-Whig agendas, with this fundamental set of beliefs as common ground.  (Alvarado, pp. 1-2).


The basic thesis of the book is not about Calvin himself but about the theological and philosophical legacy of Calvin as it became known later as Calvinism.  In that view I would say that the book would have been better titled as Calvinism and the Whigs since Calvin himself predates the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, and Hugo Grotius and John Locke.  The author goes through a somewhat lengthy argument tracing the roots of constitutionalism and social contract theory all the way back to Augustine’s two kingdoms or two cities view of political and ecclesiastical authority or the two swords view of society.  According to the author, both Calvinism and Roman Catholicism have in common the two swords view and he then links together the Augustinians in both the papist camp and the Calvinist camp and says that both the papists and the Calvinists were favorable to a theocratic or theonomic view of the political constitutional system of government.


While I find his discussion of the development of Hugo Grotius’s natural law theory and the connection to John Locke’s social contract theory interesting and a fairly good analysis, it is troubling that the author thinks the problem originated with Grotius’s Arminianism and Locke’s latitudinarianism.  He overlooks the fact that Calvinism is deduced from the Bible.  The author in fact hardly ever mentions the Bible in his historiographical analysis or his analysis of political philosophy.  The main difference between Roman Catholicism and Calvinism is not latitudinarianism but the source of authority.  Calvinism derives its philosophy of political contract from the Bible, not from the church.  Roman Catholicism places the authority of the church above the authority of Scripture and emphasizes natural law every bit as much as Hugo Grotius and John Locke did.  This seems to be a typical error of theonomists in general where they think Roman Catholicism is a good thing and not part of the very latitudinarianism they complain about.  Furthermore, the author fails to see that placing the sacraments into the political realm and requiring political office holders to partake of the sacraments as keys to the kingdom opens the door for the very abuses that led to the halfway covenant in the Puritan colonies during the time of Jonathan Edwards and his grandfather:


This points, finally, to a subject which is universally neglected by modern historians because its importance is simply not recognized.  Perhaps the key issue of concrete debate during and after the Reformation concerned the nature of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  . . . But the judicial element involved is neglected:  that the administration of the sacraments served to apply judicial decrees concerning inclusion in or exclusion from the Kingdom of Christ.  The ministers in applying these keys were acting in the place of Christ passing judgments in terms of His decrees.  Thus, the administration of the sacraments was considered “binding and loosing:” the application of the very judicial decree of Christ in a particular situation.  Precisely this power, the ramifications of which extend throughout a social order based in Christian faith, was what the secular and lay powers were concerned to remove.  And that explains the fierceness with which this debate was conducted.
Alvarado, pp. 172-173.

Worse, Alvarado has what can only be called a papist view of the sacraments here because the sacraments from a Calvinist perspective are held to be keys to the kingdom only in regards to church membership.  There is no necessary connection between election, regeneration, and church membership.  In fact, the invisible church is composed only of the elect while the visible church is fallible and has members who are both elect and reprobate.  The ministers of the Gospel and the Gospel sacraments are not vicars of Christ acting in the place of Christ.  The fact is the Westminster Confession of Faith outright denies that ministers are vicars of Christ.  Christ alone is the head of the church:

To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof, they have power, respectively, to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word, and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel; and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require. (WCF 30:2 WCS)

The Calvinist and Protestant view is that the Gospel and right belief in doctrinal matters is just as important as sanctification issues and the ministers are not the emphasis.  Rather, the Bible is the final authority, which is why Scripture is given the highest priority in the doctrinal and propositional system of theology deduced from the Bible by good and necessary consequence:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed. (WCF 1:6 WCS)

That being said, I found many of the points made during the discussion convincing.  I am not a theonomist or a supporter of theocracy.  However, it is worthwhile to consider that political philosophy should be deduced from the Bible since all knowledge begins with Scripture.  The author argues that when the role of the family in society is changed to individualism the result is a latitudinarianism whereby individual rights trump what is best for society as a whole.  On that point I can wholeheartedly agree but it should not be forgotten that God ordained the family in creation.  Natural law is nothing more than a form of utilitarian ethics whereby a plurality of individuals who emphasize individual freedom gain control and overpower the biblical values and principles upon which the society was originally founded.  It is literally true that whatever each person thinks is right becomes right.  But this overlooks the total depravity of the fallen human race and the noetic effects of sin  (Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:10-23; Romans 8:7).  This is another reason I object to the author’s downplaying of Roman Catholic complicity in latitudinarianism in the political realm, especially since Vatican II.  Basically the Roman Catholic Church is advocating full blown Pelagianism and not even semi-Pelagian anymore.


I object to the neo-orthodox views of the Van Tilian political philosophy whereby the church is to withdraw from the civic realm and allow the ungodly to rule the civic realm and the church should rule the ecclesiastical realm.  Ironically, theonomy originated with Cornelius Van Til’s theology and was promoted by Greg Bahnsen and others.  The author of this book is part of that theonomic philosophy and theology as far as I can tell.  Yet Van Til’s views also led to the very latitudinarianism to which theonomists object!  This is why you have the Westminster Seminary, California theology that emphasizes a total disconnect between the church and the political realm and another stream that originates from the Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia theology.  It is my opinion that both the disjunction between church and state that leads to the anti-Christian values of secular humanism and latitudinarianism and the theonomic view that emphasizes ecclesiastical militancy above biblical authority both lead to the same place.  That is unless our political philosophy is deduced from the Bible the end result will always be skepticism and totalitarianism.


Furthermore, I find it ironic that certain advocates of Clarkian Scripturalism have basically endorsed a form of secular humanism in reaction to their objections to Van Til’s theology and the theonomic views deduced from Van Til.  John Robbins, for example, worked for Ron Paul and supported Ron Paul’s political philosophy of libertarianism.  Every man literally does what is right in his own eyes.  Let it be said that Gordon H. Clark never agreed with libertarianism because it can never be deduced from the Bible.  On the other hand, theonomy is problematic because it leads to theological errors like the Federal Vision, semi-pelagianism, Arminianism and neo-orthodoxy.  The Westminster Seminary, California theology is equally problematic because it leads to antinomianism and latitudinarianism even more quickly.  Lee Irons and hiswife, Misty, for example, are spearheading LGBTQ rights in the civic realm due to the view that the two kingdoms are totally disjunctive and the one has nothing to do with the other.  Basically neo-orthodoxy leads to two extremes of what can only be called civil religion.  The theonomic civil religion endorses the latitudinarianism of theological pluralism and has no problem with the idolatries of Rome so long as biblical morality is loosely adhered to.  The antinomianism of the neo-orthodox views of Westminster California leads to endorsing perversion as a “natural” right in the civic realm and is therefore a form of atheism and secular humanism.  While the author does oppose the Westminster California endorsement of natural law, he seems to think that Roman Catholicism and Calvinism have something in common, which they do not.


I do recommend this book because the author does a good job of tracing the history of natural law and his explanation of what is wrong with natural law is worthy of consideration.  His view of the Dutch Calvinist government is also interesting.  However, he never mentions the fact that the cause of the fall of the Dutch Calvinist government can also be tied directly to the three points of common grace espoused by Abraham Kuyper, who also advocated for a peace treaty and co-belligerency between Calvinism and Rome.  The author seems to think that certain Calvinists rejected Calvin’s two sword view of the church and state and advocated latitudinarianism after the Glorious Revolution.  But the real problem is that the doctrine of common grace is semi-Arminian and raises natural revelation and natural law to the same level as biblical or special revelation and in fact undermines the Bible as the axiom for a solid epistemology for a Christian worldview and for a political theology and philosophy.  When common grace is emphasized above and beyond the special revelation of Scripture the result is skepticism because science and the arts gain equal authority to Scripture and it is not long before the very latitudinarianism that the author opposes results.  The Westminster divines were careful to exclude the traditions of men as a source of authority and it is troubling that Alvarado sees the Roman Catholic Church in such a positive light.  It in fact raises the question of whether or not Alvarado is in fact pushing a version of the Federal Vision heresy where culture and sacraments trump biblical Christianity?  Does he also disagree with the biblical definition of justification as do the Federal Visionists?


As I said before, the analysis of the historical development of secular humanism and social contract theory in the book is helpful.  But I cannot agree with the author that his brand of theocracy or theonomy is a solution to the problem.  As Dr. Gordon H. Clark so aptly pointed out:


By what right does a government exist?  Those who reject divine revelation base the state either on naked power and brutality, or on some sort of social contract, or on a natural development from the family.  Elsewhere I have argued in detail that the latter two reduce to the first;  with the result that secularism eventuates in dictatorship and totalitarian rule.  It is only in the Hebrew-Christian revelation, e.g. in the account of King Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard, that the rightful power of government is limited.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  “The Civil Magistrate,” in Essays on Ethics and Politics.  John Robbins, ed.  (Jefferson:  Trinity Foundation, 1992).   Pp. 22-23.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Book Review: The Presbyterian Philosopher


Book Review: The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Dr. Gordon H. Clark

By Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

Douglas Douma. The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark. (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2017). Ebook edition.

Douglas Douma has done us all a great service with the research and effort he has put into writing this biography of the late Dr. Gordon Haddon Clark, a controversial figure by all accounts. The reason for the controversy, however, is not what you might think. In fact, the reason Clark was a controversial figure is that he was unafraid to challenge bad theology and bad doctrine. Dr. Clark was one of the most ardent defenders of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura in the 20th century. He not only upheld the doctrine of the plenary verbal inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, following the old line Princeton theologians, but he also faithfully defended the doctrine of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. Dr. Clark held that Scripture alone is the word of God and that because God is Logic (John 1:1) the Scriptures themselves are logical and propositional revelation from God and therefore perspicuous and plain precisely because God himself is intellectual, intelligible, and rational in his tri-personal being. If the Scriptures can mean anything, according to Dr. Clark, they mean nothing at all. That is, the Scriptures must have a definite meaning and exegesis. The Scriptures are not open to any and every exegetical interpretation.

We live in troubled times. Evangelicals have sold their Evangelical and Protestant birthright to mainline Protestant liberalism and neo-orthodoxy without even realizing what they have done. Although Dr. Clark would not like this illustration, he could be called the Mr. Spock of Presbyterianism. That's because Clark held that the Bible is not a book of psychological experiences, ecstatic experiences or emotionalism. According to Clark, replacing doctrine with psychological categories of thought undermines the dogmatic emphases of the Scriptures and leads ultimately to skepticism, liberalism, and even atheism. Even his friend and mentor, Dr. J. Gresham Machen, who was forced out of Princeton Seminary and the Presbyterian Church of the United States, said that liberal Christianity and classical Protestant Christianity are two different religions. For Dr. Clark the Bible is a rational revelation from God that can be understood logically and propositionally. Further, Clark held that propositions can be systematized; because logical propositions are all interrelated other propositions can be deduced from certain other propositions.

While Douglas Douma's book purports to be an authorized biography of the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark, it is much more than that. In fact, the book's first three chapters provide much biographical information. The heritage of Dr. Clark seems to have been a great influence on his theological formation prior to his going off to study philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school. Clark's grandfather and father were both Presbyterian ministers and Clark had numerous conversations on these matters with both men, not to mention that the young Gordon H. Clark had access to read many classical theological works written by the Puritans and the 19th century Calvinist theologians because of his father's extensive theological library. It should also be pointed out that Clark was an only child and had plenty of intellectual stimulation from both his parents.

The next few chapters deal with the ordination controversy and the theological issues behind the controversy. And several other chapters deal with Clark's views on empiricism and other issues. Unfortunately it is difficult to cover eighty years of Gordon Haddon Clark's life and fully deal with all of his philosophical views and theological views in such a brief book. Douma does an admirable job of doing this but I think he was too easy on the Van Tilians and probably had some influence from John Frame and Kenneth Talbot to soften the edge a bit. This is particularly true of Douma's assertion that the authors of the Complaint revised their view to say that there was some element of coincidence between the Bible and what God knows. But in the appendix of the book, Dr. Gordon H. Clark says the opposite is true. The retraction paper did not in any serious way deal with Dr. Clark's objections to Cornelius Van Til's doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God. In the body of the book, Douma says that the complainants retracted their attack on Dr. Clark's view that the Bible is univocally the very words of God. According to an email conversation I had with Douglas on this issue he said that the timeline was wrong and that Clark's paper presented in the appendix was written prior to the retraction written by the complainants. This does appear to be the case but there was an earlier retraction on mimeographed paper and it is to this earlier retraction that Clark responds in his paper. Since the supporters of Van Til continue to this day to mispresent Clark's views, I would contend that Clark's assessment of the earlier retraction most likely still applies to the later retraction. That's because Clark never again mentions any changes in Van Til's views. In his paper Clark says:

It is true that at one point the papers [sic] seems to withdraw from the position of the Complaint. On page 3 it says, "Truth is one. And man may and does know the same truth that is in the divine mind . . . " This statement is entirely acceptable because it flatly contradicts the Complaint. And if the paper as a whole consistently maintained this view, it too would be acceptable. But it is soon seen that this, which seems to be a retraction is but a temporary and superficial lapse from their fixed doctrines. The very same paragraph continues to say that man "cannot possibly have in mind a conception to eternity that is identical or that coincides with God's own thought of his eternity." This is nothing else than the doctrine of the Complaint over again. In the first lines of the paragraph they say that man can have the same truth that is in the divine mind, and immediately below they say that man cannot have the concept of eternity. The conception of eternity that the complainants have—not God's conception of eternity—is the conception of endless years. If this is not God's conception of eternity, it must follow that the complainants have the wrong conception of eternity. Man, according to them, cannot know that God is eternal; he can only know that God has endless duration. Endless duration is an analogy of eternity. God has the truth; man has only an analogy of the truth, and he can be quite sure that he does not have the truth itself.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark. "Appendix C. Studies of the Doctrine of the Complaint". Douglas Douma. The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark. (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2017). Ebook edition.

Nota Bene: I am unable to give an accurate page number due to the epub reader I am using.

Interestingly the proponents of Dr. Cornelius Van Til's theology continue to charge Clark with rationalism. Of course Dr. Clark was not a rationalist because he started with the axiom of Scripture, not with reason or rationalist arguments for God's existence.

Furthermore, Van Til claimed to reject both rationalism and irrationalism but in fact embraced both as his starting points. First, Van Til was an irrationalist because he said that man's logic does not apply to God because there is no point of coincidence or univocal knowledge between God and His creatures. Interestingly enough, by Van Til's own theology this would not be possible to know because that would be prying into the incomprehensibility of God as Van Til defines incomprehensibility as unintelligibility and unknowability. How does Van Til know that God has feelings and emotions or that God has no logical coincidence with "mere human logic"? And why do I say that Van Til was a rationalist? I say that because consistent with Van Til's Thomist views he tried to prove God exists by way of the transcendental argument for God's existence. Basically this is just another version of the ontological argument. Because we can conceive of no higher being than God then God must exist, otherwise we could not conceive of such a being with so many perfections.

The TAG is a transcendental argument that attempts to prove that God is the precondition for logic, reason, or morality. The argument proceeds as follows:

God (most often God is defined as the supreme entity found in Christianity), is a necessary precondition for logic and morality.

People know things (have logical, and moral intuitions).

Therefore, God exists.

Cornelius Van Til likewise wrote:

"We must point out ... that univocal reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well... It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions."

— (A Survey of Christian Epistemology [Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969], p. 204).

From: Wikipedia: "Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God".


It is not clear to me why Van Til thought that univocal revelation in the Bible is a self-contradiction. Did Van Til really believe the Bible is special revelation from God? And exactly what was Van Til arguing? That it is impossible for God to not exist? The "impossibility of the contrary" seems to mean that the assertion that God does not exist is an impossibility to the contrary. But why Van Til thought this was true still is not clear.

On the other hand, Dr. Clark thought that Van Til was advocating a version of the cosmological argument or the argument that God is the first cause of all things:

Some more quotes. "With regard to the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism, there is absolutely certain proof. There is a cogent theistic proof." Now, Frame's statement there is quite true, Van Til has said this over and over again. He doesn't accept Thomas' proof or any other proof. But he insists that there is an absolutely certain proof. A cogent theistic proof. And he indicates he means the cosmological proof not the ontological proof. And for some forty years now I've been bugging him to show me the proof, so I can see whether it is valid or not. He hasn't accommodated me as yet.

From the transcript of Clark's lecture, "John Frame and Cornelius Van Til".

The Gordon H. Clark Foundation.


Douma does not deal with these two issues in the book but I think the key to understanding the continuing controversy on the incomprehensibility of God is that Van Til, according to Dr. Gordon H. Clark, inadvertently stumbled into neo-orthodoxy without realizing it:

Student asks question at around 17:49 in the lecture: Um, how does Van Til . . . (garbled)?

Clark: "I hope to talk about Van Til before the class . . .before the semester is over but let me say this. My impression is--I could mention some differences between the two—but my impression is that in spite of the fact Van Til denies he is a neo-orthodox apologete, I think he has been very deeply influenced by neo-orthodoxy and unwittingly supports their position. But let that do for the present and I'll try to explain it further when we get to uh ….(garbled)."

From Clark's lecture, "Irrationalism". Posted at the Trinity Foundation: http://www.trinitylectures.org/MP3/Irrationalism.mp3

As Douma's book correctly points out, Clark held that incomprehensibility as it was defined by the classical Calvinist theologians like Hodge and the earlier Puritans was that God's knowledge is immeasurable, not that God was totally unintelligible. Van Til did a great disservice to the conservative Presbyterian cause by opening the door to irrationalism and neo-orthodox theology within the Evangelical Presbyterian churches and seminaries.

The strength of Douma's book is that he provides a detailed timeline for the ordination controversy and the participants involved on both sides. He also refutes the typical view that Clark left the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in a heated emotional outburst. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Douma points out, Clark only left because his supporters were attacked and forced out leaving him to defend himself alone. What other choice did he have other than leaving? Douma's account of the situation gives an insight into the man that I have not seen before and for this Douma is to be greatly commended.

Another strength of the book is that Douma accurately describes and explains in detail Clark's rejection of empiricism and logical positivism. Related to this is the issue of how sensations could produce impressions or perceptions. Clark emphatically rejected the view that sensations could produce sensory images that led to perceptions which in turn produced knowledge. My only question is how Clark understood the role of sensations since in the question and answer session at the end of his lecture on A Contemporary Defense of the Bible he stated that sensations could stimulate recollection by the mind.

Questioner: Dr. Clark let me ask a question to try to clarify this a bit. In your philosophy what exactly is the role of empiricism and sensory data?

There is role of empiricism in my philosophy. I am utterly anti-­empiricist. I've been trying to get that point across. And I give you the challenge again, show me how you get perception out of sensation.

Questioner: Well, I think that's not really what we're trying to get to.

Well, that's what I'm trying to get to.

Questioner: I understand. For example, a man, a scientist in a laboratory, he gathers data.

No he doesn't gather data. There are no such things as data in the science of physics.

Questioner: That's what they call it.

Some scientists don't know much science.

Questioner: Well, what would you consider they are gathering? What are they collecting in the laboratory? When they do run experiments.

They are not collecting. They are formulating a construction. They never discover anything. And every law of physics is false.

Questioner: What is the role, for example, when you read a book, you're using your eyes to read the book.

You don't even know you have a book in your hand.

Questioner: You assume you have a book.

Is that your assumption?

Questioner: Well, I wouldn't, yes sir that'd be my assumption.

Well then you deduce a lot of theorems from the assumption, "I have a book in my hand." Can you construct a philosophy on the assumption "I have a book in my hand?" Of course you can't appeal to sensation, because you're starting with a proposition "I have a book in my hand."

Questioner: Right, ok, when you read. What role does reading have in your philosophy?

Well I answered that a moment ago, but see you were offering an alternate point of view. You wish to base a philosophy on the proposition "I have a book in my hand."

Questioner: No, no. Taking your presupposition "the Bible is the word of God" that is your fundamental principle. In your philosophy, when you read, what role does reading have? When you see what role does seeing have?

A stimulus to recollection if you wish.

From: Transcript of "A Contemporary Defense of the Bible: Question and Answer Session".


The weakness of Douma's book, I think is that he downplays the continuing controversy between the Clarkian camp and the Van Tilian camp. While this could make the book more broadly appealing to a wider audience, I do not think it serves either party well. The book is endorsed by John Frame but as the lecture on John Frame and Cornelius Van Til shows, Clark was no fan of Frame or Van Til. In fact, the paper in Appendix C straightforwardly says that Van Til's view is not Reformed and that it is a departure from classical Reformed theology. Also, the anecdotal accounts of four meetings between Clark and Van Til later in life hardly means the two men reconciled. To the contrary, it seems to me that the rift between the two men was never reconciled and the audio evidence on Van Til's side of the issue confirms my view. Van Til on several occasions accused Clark of neo-orthodoxy, which is laughable at best. In another audio I heard, Van Til said that Clark was responsible for the neo-evangelical liberalism at Fuller Seminary and that Clark's apologetics amounted to positing "theories." Van Til apparently did not know the difference between a logical theorem deduced from an axiom and a conditional theory to be tested by empirical science. Obviously Clark completely rejected empiricism so it would be impossible for him to base his apologetics on empirical theories. For Clark all induction is false. I apologize for not providing quotes and time stamps to Van Til's remarks but one of the lectures was on The New Evangelicalism posted at Sermon Audio.


There is also a chapter on the issue of Clark's view of the Incarnation. Douma does an adequate job of explaining that controversy as well, though I think Clark's reasons for rejecting the one Person view of the Incarnation are more complicated than some interpreters of his work have indicated. Clark was not a Nestorian but his major concern was to reject the kenosis view of the incarnation and he contended that taking an Apollinarian view where an impersonal human nature receives the Logos as a replacement for the human soul of Christ implies the liberal doctrine of kenosis and in fact denies that Christ was both fully human and fully God.

I am greatly appreciative for all the information Douglas Douma has provided in regards to Clark's childhood, education, and marriage. He has truly brought to life a controversial figure. I highly recommend this book to both the supporters and opponents of Dr. Gordon H. Clark's apologetics, philosophy and theology.

For an excerpt of the book:


To purchase the book:




Sunday, April 23, 2017

Incarnation Part 8






But divine attributes are not characteristics that are separate and distinct from the divine essence so that God can set them aside as one might remove a pin from a pincushion and still have the pincushion.  Rather, the divine essence is expressed precisely in the sum total of its attributes.  To hold that God the Son actually emptied himself in his state of humiliation of even one divine characteristic is tantamount to saying that he who "enfleshed" himself in the Incarnation, while perhaps more than man, is now not quite God either.  But as Bishop Moule once wrote, a Savior not quite God "is a bridge broken at the farther end."  Robert L. Reymond.


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

Part  8
By Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

I apologize for not posting more recently.  However, work demands have been heavy and I have been reading the "authorized" biography of Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  I want to write a fair review of the biography by Douglas Douma so this post will be brief.  I will be posting a thorough review of the Douma biography shortly.  I mostly agree with his account of Dr. Clark's life but I have a few serious disagreements with his theological presentation and the conclusions he draws from a few brief encounters Dr. Clark had with Van Til later in life.  But I will save those comments for a later post.  For now I want to discuss in more detail the so-called Evangelical view of the incarnation of Christ that is usually identified as the sub-kenotic theory.

The sub-kenotic theory's purpose is to preserve the true humanity of Jesus Christ but unfortunately it does so at the expense of His true deity and divinity.  The orthodox doctrine of the incarnation asserts that Christ is both fully God and fully man.  Millard Erickson is a good example of the sub-kenotic view, which I believe was also taught by Henry Thiessen, a dispensationalist.  In reviewing Erickson's systematic theology, which I have not read since college, I found that Erickson has other problems in addition to his sub-kenotic view of the incarnation.  He also speaks in the affirmative of what can only be called a Barthian view of the biblical teachings on Christ, which Erickson calls the "kerygma", and the so-called "historical" Jesus Christ, the "real" person of Christ as opposed to the kerygmatic Christ that was taught by the early church and the later traditions of the Christian church after the apostolic period.

We have seen that each of these two seemingly mutually exclusive positions has certain strengths and weaknesses.  Is there some way to unite Christology from above [Barthianism] and Christology from below [modernism] so as to preserve the best elements of both while minimizing the problems of each?  Can the kerygmatic Christ and the historical Jesus, faith and reason, be held together?  Evangelicals are concerned to retain both.  This concern stems in part from the evangelical understanding of revelation:  revelation is both the historical events and the interpretation of them.  These are two complementary and harmonious means by which God manifests himself.  Both are therefore sources of knowledge of him.  

Millard Erickson.  Christian Theology.  Three volumes in one.  (Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1985).  P. 673.

On the credits page Erickson acknowledges Bernard Ramm as his first theology professor, William E. Hordern, his doctoral supervisor, and most troubling, he credits Wolfhart Pannenberg as the inspiration of his own theology.   Unfortunately, Pannenberg was a neo-orthodox scholar from Germany.  (See:  Wolfhart Pannenberg).  Among other things, Pannenberg rejected the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration and biblical inerrancy.  Pannenberg allegedly believed in the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ but a careful reading of Pannenberg's book, Jesus:  God and Man, reveals that Pannenberg rejected the physical and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Gospel accounts of the resurrection for that very reason.  Instead Pannenberg accepted only the account of Luke in the book of Acts where Paul encounters the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-7).  The reason for this is that for Pannenberg the "historical" resurrection is a vision experienced by Paul, not a literal and physical resurrection from the dead.  Pannenberg's so-called theology from below and his historical emphasis is a Barthian interpretation of history as mythological, not literal, history.  Pannenberg's theology is still very much neo-orthodox despite his idiosyncratic interpretations of history and the resurrection.  For Pannenberg the empty tomb is more significant than the resurrection itself because it can be historically verified.  But he neglected to notice that the only account we have of even the empty tomb comes from the inspired Scriptures.  Erickson likewise downplays the propositional truths of the inspired and inerrant Scriptures and instead opts for a strange blend between neo-orthodoxy and modernist liberalism.   

Incidentally, I once visited my Christian philosophy professor, Dr. Jerry Walls, in his office at Asbury Seminary around 1992-1995.  At the time Pannenberg had recently lectured on the historicity of the resurrection and I approached Walls to mention to him that Pannenberg did not believe in the resurrection.  But Walls insisted that Pannenberg did believe in the resurrection.  I was dumbfounded to say the least.  The degree to which so-called Evangelical seminaries have been infected with neo-orthodoxy is disturbing.

At any rate, once it is noted that Erickson's mode of operation for his theology is infected with Barthianism and neo-orthodoxy, it is easier to see why he opts for the sub-kenotic view of the incarnation.  According to the classical liberal view, reason shows that it would be impossible for God to literally become incarnate in a human person or to literally unite Himself with a human nature.  Of course, only the second Person of the Godhead, the divine Logos became incarnate.  So classical liberalism taught the doctrine of the kenosis and that the Logos literally emptied Himself of deity and became a literal human being.  It is from this premise that the liberals assert the proposition that Christ was only a good moral teacher and not literally divine.  The Evangelical solution of Erickson allegedly compromises the two extremes of Barthianism and liberalism but both are actually denials of the incarnation.

This preliminary commentary on Pannenberg and Erickson's affirmation of Pannenberg's dialectical view of the historical resurrection was necessary to help my readers see the biases of Erickson and a possible explanation for Erickson's affirmation of a so-called Evangelical doctrine of sub-kenosis.  But exactly what is sub-kenosis?  We can begin to see where Erickson is headed when he denies that the incarnation is contradictory.

The idea of the incarnation of God is not inherently contradictory.  Brian Hebblethwaite has argued that the belief that the incarnation involves a contradiction stems from taking the incarnation too anthropomorphically.  To be sure, there is a paradox here, a concept which is very difficult to assimilate intellectually.  The function of a paradox, as Ian Ramsey has shown, is to force our minds beyond the natural to the supernatural.  In this case, we are not predicating divinity of Jesus' humanity, or suggesting that God became an entirely different kind of God, or that one person was both limited and unlimited at the same time and in the same respect.  Rather, we are simply claiming that God voluntarily assumed certain limitations upon the exercise of his infinity.  He had similarly limited his options when he created humans.  Ibid., pp. 680-681.

Erickson tried to avoid a contradiction by asserting another contradiction, namely that God can be both immutable and mutable at the same time.  If God is eternally immutable and never changes, how can God place limitations on his divine predicates if in fact that God's attributes are an inseparable part of God's essence or being?  To say that God can limit himself means that God is not immutable and, according to Dr. Gordon H. Clark, would make God a finite god and not an eternally omnipotent and omniscient God who acts with teleological purposes within His creation.  If God is eternal, then God transcends the passing of time and is timeless.  According to the Van Tilians eternity is the passing of time in endless duration, not timelessness.  So here again we see the Van Tilians are the ones who confuse creation with the Creator.  God is eternally timeless as an eternally unchanging being and hence he cannot limit Himself without becoming less than the God defined by Scripture as an eternal God who is without beginning or end and who is from everlasting to everlasting.  (Hebrews 7:3; Revelation 1:8, 21:6, 22:13; Psalm 90:2).   Worse, Erickson's Arminianism contends that God decided to change or become finite in order to allow humans to be sovereign over God.  Otherwise, libertarian free will could not be defended.  Of course this is all meant to defend God against the problem of evil.  But as Gordon H. Clark pointed out, libertarian free will nor a finite God solves the problem of evil as intended.

Another issue relevant to this discussion is what is a paradox anyway?  According to Dr. Gordon H. Clark a paradox is an issue that causes confusion in the mind; it is an apparent logical contradiction.  But do paradoxes have logical and rational solutions?  Yes, they do.  While the solution may not be readily apparent at first with much hard work a solution can be found.  To assert or presuppose that paradoxes have no solution is to adopt what can only be called a theology of irrational contradictions.  Erickson is to be commended for trying to solve the logical problem involved with the paradox of the incarnation but the question is whether his solution actually resolved the conflicting predications of humanity and deity or did his solution amount to a heresy that is equivalent to the full kenosis view?

Erickson's position can be demonstrated most accurately in the following quotation:

. . . While he did not cease to be in nature what the Father was, he became functionally subordinated to the Father for the period of the incarnation.  Jesus did this for the purposes of revealing God and redeeming man.  By taking on human nature, he accepted certain limitations upon the functioning of his divine attributes.  These limitations were not the result of a loss of divine attributes but of the addition of human attributes.


2.  The union of the two natures meant that they did not function independently.   Jesus did not exercise his deity at times and his humanity at other times.  His actions were always those of divinity-humanity.  This is the key to understanding the functional limitations which the humanity imposed upon divinity.  For example, he still had the power to be everywhere (omnipresence).  However, as an incarnate being, he was limited in the exercise of that power by possession of a human body.  Similarly, he was still omniscient, but he possessed and exercised knowledge in connection with a human organism which grew gradually in terms of consciousness, whether of the physical environment or eternal truths.  Thus, only gradually did his limited human psyche become aware of who he was and what he had come to accomplish.  Yet this should not be a considered a reduction of the power and capacities of the Second Person of the Trinity, but rather a circumstance-induced limitation on the exercise of his power and capacities.  Ibid., p. 735.



The inherent problem here is that Erickson confuses what God does and who God is.  Dr. Robert L. Reymond aptly pointed out that what is predicated of God's being or essence is who and what God is by nature and cannot be divorced from that nature or limited in any way without making God something other than God.  God cannot handicap himself because to do so would be to make God finite instead of omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.  Erickson's contention that Christ in the incarnation laid aside equality with God without laying aside the "form" of God seems to imply a contradiction.  Erickson claims to reject the kenosis view but his own sub-kenotic view is for all practical purposes the same as the kenosis view.  Dr. Robert L. Reymond was straight to the point in his comments on this matter in both his lecture on false Christology (Demolishing the Stronghold of Rome's False Christology) and in his systematic theology:

Millard Erickson is a contemporary kenotic Christologist.  The theory in general advocates the view that God the Son "emptied" (ἐκένωσεν, ekenosen; see Phil. 2:7) or divested himself of certain of his divine attributes, such as omnipresence and omniscience, or of the use of one or more of them, in assuming human flesh.  Consider for a moment the effects of this view on the Son's attribute of omnipresence.  On several occasions I have asked evangelical pastors the question:  "After the Incarnation had occurred, did the Second Person of the Trinity still possess the attribute of omnipresence or was he confined to the human body which he had assumed?"  Many have opted for the latter construction, the necessary implication being that in the Incarnation God the Son divested himself of his attribute of being always and everywhere immediately present in his created universe.  But divine attributes are not characteristics that are separate and distinct from the divine essence so that God can set them aside as one might remove a pin from a pincushion and still have the pincushion.  Rather, the divine essence is expressed precisely in the sum total of its attributes.  To hold that God the Son actually emptied himself in his state of humiliation of even one divine characteristic is tantamount to saying that he who "enfleshed" himself in the Incarnation, while perhaps more than man, is now not quite God either.  But as Bishop Moule once wrote, a Savior not quite God "is a bridge broken at the farther end."   

Robert L. Reymond.  A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith.  (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 1998).  Pp. 615-616.

[See also:  Biblehub: ekenosen].


Following the logic of Reymond's remarks it must be pointed out that God is one God and one in essence and nature and the three Persons distinguished within that one Godhead are inseparably united.  According to Erickson's view, one of the three Persons must have temporarily limited himself and the other two did not.   So Erickson's sub-kenotic view creates unintended problems for the doctrine of the Trinity.  Gordon Clark deals with this issue in depth in his two books, The Trinity, and, The Incarnation.

Further, Reymond contends that the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation, meant to defend their view that the sacramental elements of bread and wine are the virtual body and blood of Christ, violates the distinction between the divine and human natures of Christ.  That is because to communicate ubiquity or omnipresence to the human nature is to divinize the human nature:

Catholic Christendom has not always and everywhere remained faithful to what it confessed at Chalcedon.  In the Lutheran churches, for example, a form of Eutychianism emerged that serves that church's peculiar view of the relationship of Christ's body to the physical elements of the Lord's Supper.  This may be seen in the Lutheran representation of the communication idiomatum ("communication of attributes"), whereby our Lord's divine nature at his virginal conception virtually "divinized" his human nature by communicating its attributes to the human nature.  Thus the latter is ubiquitous, Lutherans insist, and is really physically present "in, with, and under" the elements of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  But such a Christological construction, in the words of Charles Hodge, "form(s) no part of Catholic Christianity."  Reymond, 615.

I fully agree with Reymond's assessment of the Lutheran doctrine.  Christ's body is present in one location in heaven, not everywhere present with God's Spirit.  But this raises an important question.  If the divine attributes cannot be communicated to the physical body of Christ, can the divine attributes be communicated to the human soul of Christ?  The Definition of Chalcedon says that the human nature of Christ possesses a genuine and reasonable human soul.  Is the human Christ omniscient?  Do the two natures vacillate back and forth?  J. I. Packer makes a remark in this regard:

Christians, focusing on Jesus' deity, have sometimes thought that it honors Jesus to minimize his humanness. The early heresy of Monophysitism (the idea that Jesus had only one nature) expressed this supposition, as do modern suggestions that he only pretended to be ignorant of facts (on the supposition that he always actualized his omniscience and therefore was aware of everything) and to be hungry and weary (on the supposition that his divinity supernaturally energized his humanity all the time, raising it above the demands of ordinary existence). But Incarnation means, rather, that the Son of God lived his divine-human life in and through his human mind and body at every point, maximizing his identification and empathy with those he had come to save, and drawing on divine resources to transcend human limits of knowledge and energy only when particular requirements of the Father's will so dictated.


The idea that Jesus' two natures were like alternating electrical circuits, so that sometimes he acted in his humanity and sometimes in his divinity, is also mistaken. He did and endured everything, including his sufferings on the cross, in the unity of his divine-human person (i.e., as the Son of God who had taken to himself all human powers of acting, reacting, and experiencing, in their unfallen form). Saying this does not contradict divine impassibility, for impassibility means not that God never experiences distress but that what he experiences, distress included, is experienced at his own will and by his own foreordaining decision.


J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs.  "Part Two:  God Revealed as Redeemer.  Two Natures:  Christ Is Fully Human."  (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).  Logos Bible edition.  

Although Dr. Reymond did not mention Packer, it seems to me that Packer also opts for the sub-kenotic view since he contends that God can change by experiencing human limitations.  As I see it if the divine Logos does not replace the human soul of Jesus as the Apollinarian heresy contends, then Jesus must indeed be a genuine human person.  If on the other hand, we reject the Lutheran doctrine of communicatio idiomatum or imputing divine attributes to Jesus' human nature and soul, then Jesus must be a real human person as well.  The Lutheran view is a monophysite or Eutychian view that would make Jesus a mixture of two natures and therefore neither fully divine nor fully human.  It seems to me therefore that to say that the incarnate Jesus is one Person has implications that create apparent contradictions or paradoxes.  It would either be Apollinarianism to say that Christ is one Person or it would be Eutychianism because the human soul would be divinized.  If the human nature is impersonal and only the Logos is present under the incarnation, the result is Apollinarianism.  Also, as Dr. Clark pointed out, Apollinarianism is another way of espousing a kenosis view of the incarnation where God the Son empties Himself of deity for a temporary time on earth.  If we opt for one Person and that Person is the Logos, then the other option is Eutychianism where the divine attributes are imputed to the human nature of Christ and thus His human soul would be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  Again, this would mean that in the Incarnation Christ is neither fully God nor fully human but a cross blending of the two natures into one nature.


In the next installment on this series I will discuss the Trinity and Dr. Gordon H. Clark's solution to the problem of the unity of God's essence and His tri-personality as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is also impossible to discuss the Incarnation without including a discussion of Clark's view of the doctrine of man and the image of God.  I will be discussing that in a future installment as well.  However, before I do the next few articles I will be reviewing Douglas Douma's biography of Dr. Gordon H. Clark.




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