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 Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Hyper-Calvinism, Common Grace, Libertarianism and the Simplicity of God (Part 1)

“. . . Do you believe that He foreknows against His will, or that He wills in ignorance? If then, He foreknows, willing, His will is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so: and, if He wills, foreknowing, His knowledge is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so.

From which it follows unalterably, that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God.  . . .”  Dr. Martin Luther, 16th century father of the Protestant Reformation.

Hyper-Calvinism, Common Grace, Libertarianism and the Simplicity of God  (Part 1).

I know this seems to be a shotgun post meant to cover many topics.  But honestly the attacks on Calvinism as a system of propositional truths deduced from the Bible are coming from many points in the Evangelical world, and surprisingly that would even include some who consider themselves Clarkian Scripturalists.  Amazingly many of those who identify as Clarkian Scripturalists and associate themselves with the Trinity Foundation site are actually pushing the views of the late Dr. John Robbins, who by the way was not a trained theologian or Christian philosopher.  Robbins’s doctorate was earned in economics, not philosophy or Christian theology.  I am and will be forever grateful for the work that the Trinity Foundation has done in publishing Dr. Clark’s books and papers but that does not remove the fact that the ministry of the Trinity Foundation has had some significant departures from Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s theological and philosophical positions, including the idea that Clark was somehow in agreement with the foundationalism of Dr. Alvin Plantinga of the University of Notre Dame.  But I will come back to this later.  For now let me cover a few of my issues with the semi-Arminians.


Since in the title I initially mentioned hyper-Calvinism, let me address that one first.  The popular misrepresentation of classical Calvinism as somehow part of a conspiracy called hyper-Calvinism and which started somehow with theologians like John Gill is so pervasive that it is almost impossible to have a rational discussion of the classical position with the vast majority of semi-Arminian Calvinists and neo-Calvinists today.  The most popular website eschewing hyper-Calvinism is one that has been run by Phil Johnson of the Grace to You ministry titled, “A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism,” originally posted in 1998.  Unfortunately, to prove his point, Johnson uses several straw man fallacies and sophistry to achieve his intended rebuttal.  Let’s take a look at that page and give a point by point rebuttal to Johnson’s rebuttal.

In his introduction Johnson misses the point completely by quoting Ezekiel 33:11.  The verse says that God does not desire the death of the wicked in any universal sense.  But what Johnson, the Arminians, and the semi-Arminian Calvinists fail to point out is that the verse is directed to the Old Testament nation of Israel, not to the other pagan nations.  The phrase “house of Israel” is mentioned 146 times in the entire Bible and of those occurrences over 82 of them are in the book of Ezekiel and not once does the term refer to all nations in general but only to the nation of Israel.  Most tellingly the term occurs in the very verse that Johnson contends is a universal “offer” to all the world rather than a specific address to the Old Testament church.  The Old Testament nation of Israel is a type of the visible church and so the promises and the threats addressed to the members of the visible church of the Old Testament do not apply to the pagan nations.  Of all the nations in the Old Testament, Israel alone received the covenant of grace and the promises warranted by that covenant as an outward sign.  (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).  The Bible over and over again demonstrates clearly that God does desire the death of the wicked in particular cases.  This would seem to refute the hypothetical universalism of common grace and the well meant offer advocates.  (1 Samuel 1:3; 2:25; 1 Kings 14:11; 2 Kings 9:10; 1 Peter 2:8; Romans 9:11-13).  Therefore, Ezekiel 33:11 is not a universal declaration that covers both the elect and the reprobate individuals in every nation.  Of course the promises given to Abram in Genesis 15 and 17 do extend the promises to the Gentile nations but with few exceptions that is not fulfilled until the Apostle Paul comes on the scene.  (Romans 11:13; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11).  This does not mean that today we do not give a general call of the Gospel to anyone who will listen even though in the Old Testament dispensation of the eternal covenant of grace there was no general call of the Gospel given to the pagan nations.  (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).  There are of course individual exceptions like Rahab the harlot and perhaps Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, Ruth the Moabitess and others.  (See:  Joshua 6:17, 23, 25;  Exodus 18:1-12; Ruth 4:13-22). 

Johnson defines hyper-Calvinism as “ . . . a doctrine that emphasizes divine sovereignty to the exclusion of human responsibility.”  (Primer).  As his starting premise this probably does apply to certain of the Primitive Baptist groups and New Covenant theology groups which advocate an antinomian view that the Christian is under grace but not the moral law.  But it certainly does not apply to either Dr. Gordon H. Clark or those who consistently follow his Scripturalist views on dogmatic theology, though I think maybe John Robbins and certain of the Trinity Foundation advocates tend toward antinomianism.  Clark himself stood for the entire Westminster Confession of Faith as a system of propositional truth that could be harmonized as a whole system, not isolating any of the chapters from the rest of the system.  This is where even seminary educated Clarkians sometimes misunderstand Clark’s position or unintentionally misrepresent Clark.  The best example of this is Doug Douma’s article asking whether or not Clark thought Arminians were outright heretics.  (Clark and the Salvation of Arminians). Of course, in the interest of holding Evangelicals together as Protestants Clark would not condemn Arminians as guilty of adhering to a false religion or being part of a synagogue of Satan.  Although I disagree with Clark on this point, it is understandable that he would want to preserve at least some common ground with other Protestants.  But at the same time Clark did not say that there was a list of essential doctrines--like confessing that Jesus is Lord--which are necessarily salvific.  But Clark was also an outspoken critic of both Arminianism and semi-Arminianism.  In fact, he was so hated by the Arminians and dispensationalists at Wheaton College that he was fired or forced to resign because of it.  Ironically, the main opponent Clark faced at Wheaton was Dr. Henry Thiessen, a dispensationalist who later taught at Dallas Theological Seminary.  Another dispensationalist who was also a Reformed Episcopalian, W. H. Griffith Thomas, helped found Dallas Theological Seminary.   (See:  The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, by Doug Douma).

Even more ironically, a Baptist, namely Phil Johnson, quotes an article by a high church Anglo-Catholic cleric, Peter Toon, to define hyper-Calvinism.  It is amazing how quickly baptistic Calvinists fall prey to those who want to draw Protestants back into communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  Peter Toon was part of the Continuing Anglican Movement, which is a modern spinoff of the Oxford Movement or high church Tractarian movement of the 19th century.  The best evidence that Peter Toon was an Anglo-Catholic was his membership in the Prayer Book Society and his support of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which is favored by conservative Anglo-Catholics.  The 1928 BCP has prayers for the dead among other things.

Another so-called Calvinist, Dr. J. I. Packer, has an agenda to compromise with Rome as well and has signed the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document, emphasizing sophistry and double talk in order to bring about a false compromise with the Roman Catholic Church.  Packer is also advocating compromise with high church Anglo-Catholics in the Anglican Church in NorthAmerica and their redefinition of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, which are clearly Protestant and Calvinist.  But following the Tractarians and the Anglo-Catholicism of John Henry Newman, Edward Pusey and others, Packer thinks that the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion can be interpreted as Roman Catholic and Protestant as a via media.  But that was never Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s intention whatsoever.  Cranmer advocated the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation, absolute predestination, and a Zwinglian view of the two Gospel sacraments.  (See: Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, Article 17.  Also see my blog post on Packer’s visit to Orlando, Florida on his last crusade:  Packer’s Last Crusade.)

This connection between self-identifying Calvinistic Baptists and dispensationalists with the Federal Vision movement is apparent especially between John Piper and James White, both of whom do not denounce Douglas Wilson as a heretic for promoting the objective covenant of grace, baptismal regeneration, conditional regeneration, and other doctrines of the Federal Vision heresy.  Piper even invited Wilson to promote his views at Piper’s Desiring God conference a  few years ago.  The connection between the Federal Vision and the Oxford Movement may not be immediately obvious but the emphasis on the visible church, visible signs as actually conveying grace, and the conditional and objective covenant are all in collusion with the papist view, the Tractarian and Ango-Catholic view, and other departures from the Bible and the Reformed confessional standards.  While Johnson may not be officially connected to Piper or White, his writings and public appearances affirm that he is more comfortable with the Arminians, the Federal Visionists, and even the Anglo-Catholics than with fellow Calvinists who uphold the Protestant Reformation and the system of propositional truth in the Bible.  This is a telling indictment of the compromises that many in the Reformed Baptist circles are willing to make.

Rather than go point by point refuting Johnson’s infamous attack on classical Calvinism, I will only briefly consider his objections and point the reader to a more substantial rebuttal written by a minister in the Covenant Reformed Churches in Ireland, Rev. Martyn McGeowen.  McGeown rejects Johnson’s first two points as irrelevant since the classical Calvinists do not reject duty faith or the obligation to believe the command to repent and believe the Gospel.  The first point of Johnson’s five points of hyper-Calvinism is vague and unclear.  

Before Johnson gives his own definition of hyper-Calvinism—a five-point definition, which, if true, would make the PRC and BRF three-point hyper-Calvinists—he quotes a dictionary. Apparently, whoever writes the theological dictionaries rules the theological landscape! However, theological dictionaries do not determine theology. The creeds do! They—not theological dictionaries—were officially adopted by the church.  (An Answer to Phil Johnson's "Primer on Hyper-Calvinism", by Rev. Martyn McGeown.)

McGeown is here absolutely right.  The Reformed standards are not determined by a single person who also happened to be a high church Anglo-Catholic, namely the late Peter Toon.  In fact there is not one shred of evidence that any of the Reformed creeds, confessions, or symbols made the well meant offer a binding doctrine and the same can be said for the free offer of the Gospel and the three points of common grace.  Through a clever bit of sophistry the semi-Arminians claim that the classical Calvinists in the PRCA, the British Reformed Fellowship, and the Covenant Reformed Churches in Ireland all reject the general call of the Gospel.  That is an absolute falsehood and the opponents on the other side should be ashamed of themselves for violating the ninth commandment and bearing false witness.  What is at issue is how the general call is issued and what is the theological language used in such a presentation?  It is wrong to tell an unconverted person that Jesus loves them and died for them on the cross for this can only be said if you are an Arminian or a semi-Pelagian.  Christ died only for the sheep.  Now after conversion it can be said that God loves that person and that Christ died on the cross for them and even then it could be wrong since there is always from a  human point of view the possibility of apostasy.  (1 John 2:19;  Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-29).  Since God’s perspective is eternal and timeless it is and was never possible that Judas Iscariot would be saved.  This offends those who reject the doctrine of double predestination and the necessity that God’s foreknowledge and predestination are one and the same thing.  In other words, equal ultimacy and double predestination are one and the same thing.  Further, the doctrine of libertarian free will does not get God off the hook since God would still be the cause of the fall by giving Adam the option to rebel and bring God’s curse on mankind.  Martin Luther’s book, The Bondage of the Will, does not affirm that sin is the cause of man’s loss of free will.  In fact, Luther argues just the opposite.  He said that God’s foreknowledge proves that the fall of Adam was of necessity and that this dashes the doctrine of libertarian free will on the rocks:

Sect. 9.—THIS, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: That God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, "Free-will" is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. Those, therefore, who would assert "Free-will," must either deny this thunderbolt, or pretend not to see it, or push it from them. But, however, before I establish this point by any arguments of my own, and by the authority of Scripture, I will first set it forth in your words.

Are you not then the person, friend Erasmus, who just now asserted, that God is by nature just, and by nature most merciful? If this be true, does it not follow that He is immutably just and merciful? That, as His nature is not changed to all eternity, so neither His justice nor His mercy? And what is said concerning His justice and His mercy, must be said also concerning His knowledge, His wisdom, His goodness, His will, and His other Attributes. If therefore these things are asserted religiously, piously, and wholesomely concerning God, as you say yourself, what has come to you, that, contrary to your own self, you now assert, that it is irreligious, curious, and vain, to say, that God foreknows of necessity? You openly declare that the immutable will of God is to be known, but you forbid the knowledge of His immutable prescience. Do you believe that He foreknows against His will, or that He wills in ignorance? If then, He foreknows, willing, His will is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so: and, if He wills, foreknowing, His knowledge is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so.

From which it follows unalterably, that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God. For the will of God is effective and cannot be hindered; because the very power of God is natural to Him, and His wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived. And as His will cannot be hindered, the work itself cannot be hindered from being done in the place, at the time, in the measure, and by whom He foresees and wills. If the will of God were such, that, when the work was done, the work remained but the will ceased, (as is the case with the will of men, which, when the house is built which they wished to build, ceases to will, as though it ended by death) then, indeed, it might be said, that things are done by contingency and mutability. But here, the case is the contrary; the work ceases, and the will remains. So far is it from possibility, that the doing of the work or its remaining, can be said to be from contingency or mutability. But, (that we may not be deceived in terms) being done by contingency, does not, in the Latin language, signify that the work itself which is done is contingent, but that it is done according to a contingent and mutable will—such a will as is not to be found in God! Moreover, a work cannot be called contingent, unless it be done by us unawares, by contingency, and, as it were, by chance; that is, by our will or hand catching at it, as presented by chance, we thinking nothing of it, nor willing any thing about it before.   

(The Bondage of the Will.   Section 9, The Sovereignty of God.  By Martin Luther).

This is at first a confusing piece to read.  But to put it simply let me say that our knowledge from a human perspective is limited to what we can know from one second to the next in the passing of one thought to the next in the mind.  Time is perceived because we have the passing of thoughts discursively in our minds.  But with God who is timeless there is no passing of thoughts from one thought to the next because God is eternally omniscient.  He foreknows the future not as an endless consideration of multiple contingencies and counterfactuals of which He must continually adjust in time.  On the contrary, God is eternally timeless and eternally omniscient because He knows all things at once in a direct and intuitive perspective.  He knows your entire life from beginning to end and whatever happens in your life is foreknown by God because He initiated it all when He created the universe on day one of creation.  As Dr. Gordon H. Clark once said, the first verse in the Bible that alludes to predestination is Genesis 1:1.  In fact, the crowd laughed when he said this in one of his lectures.  God is not subject to contingencies.  So even though God knows all possible outcomes, counterfactuals, and whatever else could influence an outcome of the actions of moral agents or even acts of nature, the one outcome that actualizes in providential time is the only possible outcome from God’s point of view because He eternally foreordained it.  Not only so but even the Westminster Confession of Faith says that in providence God governs all things so that the events that come to pass in time are in accordance with God’s one will and one eternal decree.

  1.      God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, (Heb. 1:3) direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, (Dan. 4:34–35, Ps. 135:6, Acts 17:25–26,28) from the greatest even to the least, (Matt. 10:29–31) by His most wise and holy providence, (Prov. 15:3, Ps. 104:24, Ps. 145:17) according to His infallible foreknowledge, (Acts 15:18, Ps. 94:8–11) and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, (Eph. 1:11) to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. (Isa. 63:14, Eph. 3:10, Rom. 9:17, Gen. 45:7, Ps. 145:7)

  2.      Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; (Acts 2:23) yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (Gen. 8:22, Jer. 31:35, Exod. 21:13, Deut. 19:5, I Kings 22:28, 34, Isa. 10:6–7)

  3.      God, in His ordinary providence, maketh use of means, (Acts 27:31, 44, Isa. 55:10–11) yet is free to work without, (Hos. 1:7, Matt. 4:4, Job 34:10) above, (Rom. 9:19–21) and against them, (2 Kings 6:6, Dan. 3:27) at His pleasure.

  4.      The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; (Rom. 11:32–34, 2 Sam. 24:1, 1 Chron. 21:1, 1 Kings 22:22–23, 1 Chron. 10:4, 13–14, 2 Sam. 16:10, Acts 2:23) and that not by a bare permission, (Acts 14:16) but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, (Ps. 76:10, 2 Kings 19:28) and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; (Gen. 50:20, Isa. 10:6–7, 12) yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. (James 1:13–14, 17, 1 John 2:16, Ps. 50:21) . . . .  (Chapter 4, Of Providence.  The Westminster Confession of Faith. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996. Print.

Notice that in section 4 that God’s power ensures that whatever He has foreordained happens not by bare permission but that it happens exactly as God planned.  His plan is “joined with” almighty power so that “a most wise and powerful bounding, . . . and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation to His own holy ends; . . .” so that whatever God wills comes to pass just as He intended.  In other words God’s teleological purposes cannot be thwarted because He knows all that will happen from beginning to end and He has predetermined all the secondary causes and contingencies and means to accomplish His eternal plan, purpose and will.  (See Isaiah 14:24; 46:9-11; Deuteronomy 29:29; Job 23:13; Acts 4:28; Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 21:30; Daniel 4:35).  Those who reject equal ultimacy in the name of preserving human freedom, i.e. libertarian free will as opposed to human volition as a free moral agent, are in fact in opposition to Scripture and the Westminster Confession.  No man’s will is free from sin after the fall and even more to the point, no man’s will is free from God’s eternal will and providence.  God alone has a will free from any determinative contingencies outside Himself.  God is not the author of man’s sins because it is man who sins, not God.  But that does not mean that God is not the remote and ultimate cause of everything.  The Arminian and the Open Theist try to escape the implication that evil is ultimately part of God’s eternal plan and that moral evil by moral agents and natural disasters are both brought to pass by God’s providential governance of every single detail that happens in time.  If God foreordains the movement of the atoms and the most minute workings of nature to even the grandest scale of solar systems and galaxies, it surely is not beyond God’s power to cause Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate to bring about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.   (Acts 4:27-28).

Here ends the first installment.  Look for part 2 in a couple of days.  In the next installment I will delve into the issue of common grace and how that conflicts with special revelation and the doctrine of propositional revelation, plenary verbal inspiration and the doctrine of the absolute infallibility and inerrancy of Holy Scripture.  Also, in reference to these doctrines I will compare and contrast the doctrine of libertarian free will with the political philosophy of libertarian governmental policies and how that cannot be in agreement with Reformed theology as deduced from Scripture and outlined by the Reformed confessions.

Also in future posts to this topic I will consider how the Trinity Foundation and the late Dr. John Robbins significantly differ from Dr. Gordon H. Clark on libertarian politics and on Plantinga's foundationalism.  Clark would have never agreed with foundationalism and in future posts I will compare and contrast Plantinga's views with Clark's view of Scripture as the beginning axiom of Christianity.

Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

John Frame's Rejection of the Bible as Logical and Propositional Revelation

. . . The purpose of apologetics is to produce as detailed a system, detailed a system as possible to meet the systems of logical positivism or mechanism in physics, or other non­-Christian systems. And the only way that you can have any systematic knowledge is to begin with indemonstrable axioms.   -- Dr. Gordon H. Clark

John Frame’s Rejection of the Bible as Logical and Propositional Revelation

It is amazingly time consuming to transcribe audio into a readable transcript.  However, sometimes the time involved is worth the effort in order to bring greater clarity to the Clarkian Scripturalist point of view.   This is most easily demonstrated by showing how Clark’s deprecators misrepresent his position.  It is difficult to discern whether the misrepresentation is deliberate or unintentional but the straw man must be deconstructed either way.  One of the foremost proponents of the apologetics of the late Dr. Cornelius Van Til was one of his students, Dr. John Frame.  In an audio interview with Dr. Frame posted on YouTube under the title, “What Is Presuppositional Apologetics?:  An Interview with John M. Frame, D. D. [2006],”  Dr. Frame says the following:

Student:  Dr. Frame, how would you differ from Gordon H. Clark and for Van Til?

Dr. Frame:  Well, I don’t think I differ from Van Til much at all but uh some people think that I do.  I use different terminology from and uh I think that Van Til was a little bit confused on some points uh….   For example, the way that he uh tried to describe detail uh the opposition between believer and unbeliever.  I think he is right about that opposition but I’m not entirely sure that he described it in the best possible way.  If you get book on Van Til, you’ll notice that there are a few areas where I think that uh his thought can be improved but in general I think it’s pretty good.  Gordon Clark is also … was also a very fine thinker.  Of course both these men are with the Lord now.   Uh but Gordon Clark was uh a very sharp philosopher uh a very logical thinker uh, a very clear writer uh.  I think a clearer writer than Van Til.  But uh I think that Gordon Clark uh… Well what Gordon Clark tries to do is to say that uh Christian faith is kind of like uh uh an axiomatic system of geometry and that the Bible is like an axiom.  And uh from the Bible you can prove other things uh about the Gospel.  But there’s no way to test the Bible.  You see Clark called himself a presuppositionalist as Van Til did.  Uh Clark says there’s no way to prove the Bible uh except by showing that it’s logically consistent and showing that it uh is rich enough to answer the questions which uh we have about God and ourselves and uh our need of salvation.  Now uh I think the problem with Clark is that uh that he uh almost sets up logic as having an authority equal to or greater than the Bible.  Now when I say that I’m not trying to deprecate logic.  Usually Clark’s disciples say I’m disparaging logic or that I’m looking down on logic or that I want to be fideistic or irrational.  There’s nothing like that at all.  Logic is something wonderful.  It’s a great gift that God has given to us.   But uh, uh I think that uh human logic is fallible.  You know.  We make mistakes.  In our logical reasoning just as we make mistakes in our seeing and our hearing and our touching so we make mistakes in logic.  Uh, and uh even people who are professional philosophers who have worked out systems of logic, even they have made mistakes.  So no human logic is absolutely infallible.  And uh only God, heh, has a perfectly, uh perfectly infallible logic.  And I think that Clark and even more his disciples uh, have tended to, uh, to say that, uh, unless you agree that, uh, Clark’s system of logic or Aristotle’s system of logic is absolutely infallible, uh, you, uh, you really despise logic.  And, uh, I don’t think that’s right.  Uh, and uh, I think that only the Bible is infallible, uh, only the Bible is God’s word, uh, to us and we need to, uh, to you know, put logic in its place.  Now of course the Bible needs to be read in a logical way.  The Bible is full of therefores.  Uh, the Bible recommends all kinds of logical arguments to us.  Uh, but, uh, human logic does not have the same authority as God’s revelation does.  

[The question and answer transcribed occurs from the 59:25 minute mark to the 1:03:44 minute mark in the YouTube video.]

It will take some time to unpack the errors in this audio statement by John Frame.  However, it seems to me that despite his superficial laudatory remarks about Clark that Frame persists in saying that Clark elevates logic above Scripture and that Clark thought he himself was infallible in his use of logic.  Frame is wrong on both points and he ought to know better if he indeed has any training in philosophy or logic at all.  At first glance, Frame’s critique of Clark seems on the mark.  But is Frame’s own apologetic method based on mere human logic and fallibility?  If the Bible is not inherently logical, how would anyone read the Bible and understand anything it has to say?

At the outset Frame confuses Clark’s view of the Bible with geometry.  The Christian faith is not like an “axiomatic system of geometry” but rather the Christian faith is a system of propositional truth which is logically deduced from the propositional revelation recorded in the Bible.  Even where direct propositions are not readily seen in Scripture, such as in metaphors and analogies, there are logical propositions embedded in the text.  For knowledge to be possible knowledge must be coherent and systematic where all the parts of the system fit together in harmony.  Language, for example, would be completely meaningless without grammatical rules and standard usage.  Word definitions and syntactical constructions all work together to convey meaningful propositional statements to the human mind.  All knowledge must be propositional in order for thinking to occur.  The fact of the matter is that everyone starts somewhere.  Even Frame, earlier in the lecture said that everyone uses circular arguments.  Unfortunately, this would mean that everyone is using a logical fallacy of circular reasoning or the petitio principii.  But an axiom is not a circular argument or the petitio principii for the simple reason that axioms by definition are not demonstrable or provable.  Even in geometry there is no way to prove the axiom that a straight line extends into infinity in two different directions.  It is an axiom of geometry from which theorems can be made and demonstrated.  But the axiom itself is indemonstrable.

As used in mathematics, the term axiom is used in two related but distinguishable senses: "logical axioms" and "non-logical axioms". Logical axioms are usually statements that are taken to be true within the system of logic they define (e.g., (A and B) implies A), often shown in symbolic form, while non-logical axioms (e.g., a + b = b + a) are actually substantive assertions about the elements of the domain of a specific mathematical theory (such as arithmetic). When used in the latter sense, "axiom", "postulate", and "assumption" may be used interchangeably. In general, a non-logical axiom is not a self-evident truth, but rather a formal logical expression used in deduction to build a mathematical theory. To axiomatize a system of knowledge is to show that its claims can be derived from a small, well-understood set of sentences (the axioms).

From:   Wikipedia:  Axiom:  As Used in Logic and in Mathematics.  [Emphases mine].

John Frame misunderstands Clark when he says that the Bible is “like” an axiom.  I do not see how taking the Bible as a starting point for an epistemological system makes the Bible “like” your usage of the term axiom.  Saying the Bible is like an axiom is something similar to saying the Bible is like a book.  Either the Bible is a book or it is not book but it is not “like” a book at all.  Either the Bible IS an axiom or a logical starting point for your logical epistemological system or it is NOT your axiom.  Using the word “like” in a simile is not a proper use of the literary term simile if you are making a tautological statement like, " A simile is like a simile."  In addition, Clark never tries to prove the Bible from logic.  On the contrary, Clark uses the axiom of Scripture to establish an epistemological system which makes the Christian worldview possible.

Moreover, Clark viewed the Westminster Confession of Faith as a dogmatic system of propositions which is logically deduced from the propositional revelation in the Bible.  Since propositions can be arranged into a logical system it follows that the Westminster Confession is a summary in systematic form of a very limited number of propositions deduced from the Bible by good and necessary consequence.  (See WCF 1:6).  So Frame is wrong again when he says that Clark tries to prove the Bible is true by using logic.  What Clark does is to show how the Bible is logically consistent, coherent and harmonious without violating the law of contradiction.  Clark says that the law of contradiction is basic to logic.  A and non-A cannot both be true at the same time.  One is true and the other is false.  For the Bible to say anything meaningful to us it cannot contain actual contradictions or violate the law of contradiction.  Does the Bible say to commit adultery and not commit adultery and both are true?  Of course not.  It is not true that Clark makes logic equal to Scripture or above Scripture because it is from Scripture that Clark deduces that God is Logic (John 1:1); man thinks logically because God is logic.  Furthermore, the Logos is the light that enlightens every man with the ability to reason and think logically (John 1:9).  Scripture is embedded with logic and propositions because God breathed out the Scriptures and God in His simplicity IS Logic.  (2 Timothy 3:16; John 1:1; John 10:35).  

But can the Bible be “tested”?   Yes.  The Bible can be tested to be logically consistent and without any contradictions by solving apparent contradictions through rational explanations.  This is only possible if one accepts the plenary verbal view of the inspiration of Scripture and the absolute inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  The students and advocates of Van Til’s theology claim to believe the Bible is primary and that the Bible is infallible and inerrant and fully inspired.  But their theology is inconsistent since they deny that Scripture is propositional revelation and inherently logical.  For Frame the Bible is inspired only in the sense that it is revealed through mere human logic.  Van Til said that all Scripture is apparently contradictory and that human logic is created, not innate in the image of God in man as a creation of God.  Also, Van Til denied that Scripture is univocally the very word of God but is instead only an analogical revelation of God.  Van Til thought he was correcting the theology of Thomas Aquinas but in reality he was adopting Aquinas’s two fold view of truth as analogical, which Aquinas borrowed from Aristotle.  Some of Van Til’s followers, including Scott Oliphant, go so far as to say that the Bible is not propositional revelation because that would make the Reformed view Thomistic.   However, the real debate between Van Til and Clark was over the univocal versus analogical view of truth in Scripture.  Van Til’s view, according to Clark, amounts to irrationalism and neo-orthodoxy.   For Clark, the Bible IS univocally the very word of God.  For Van Til the Bible is not really God’s word but something revealed through mere human logic, a created logic.  Worse, Van Til viewed Scripture as analogical and at best the Westminster Confession of Faith is an analogical system of dogmatic theology, not a system of propositional truth deduced from Scripture.  For Van Til what the Bible says is mere human knowledge and nothing God revealed in the Bible is what God knows because man can know nothing, absolutely nothing, that God knows.  Does God know that Jesus Christ is the savior of all mankind, those elected from all eternity?

It is true that Francis Turretin distinguished between ectypal knowledge and archetypal knowledge, the latter being known only to God.  It is also true that Turretin acknowledged both propositional revelation and analogical statements in Scripture.  But Turretin was influenced by Thomas Aquinas and the Van Tilians are imbibing Thomistic skepticism by way of Turretin.  But this is an aside which I will have to address in future posts.  The real issue here is whether or not God is Logic.  If God is simple and everything predicated of God in Scripture is who God is in His simplicity, without body, parts or passions and that God is eternally immutable (WCF 2:1), then it logically follows that logic is not “human” logic nor is logic created.  Rather logic is God’s very nature.  Just as God is love so God IS logic.  Logic is how God thinks and it is also why man is God’s image and therefore thinks rationally and logically.  This is by no means elevating logic above Scripture.  Instead it is a statement deduced from the Bible that God’s logic is not created because God is Himself Logic.  (John 1:1).

Another error Frame makes here is saying that Clark claimed that his system of logic is infallible or that Aristotle’s system of logic is infallible.  This is an equivocation at best.  If all logic is fallible then logic itself is in error.  Since God IS Logic, it would follow logically that God Himself can err.  That’s obviously false.  What Clark said was not that humans cannot err or that he himself or Aristotle could not err.  On the contrary, Clark openly acknowledged that he had make mistakes in logic before.  Aristotle erred as well when he tried to prove the unmoved mover.  Frame has obviously not read Clark carefully because Clark never claimed infallibility for himself or his system of apologetics.  What Clark did say was that it is possible for humans to produce infallible documents.  That does not mean that a human is himself infallible.  The Apostle Paul was only infallible when he was inspired of God to write Scripture.  In other situations he obviously could and did err.  Suppose for example that someone wrote out the multiplication tables to 100 without making any mistakes.  Would that not be an infallible document?  But can I as a human being make mistakes or commit errors?  Obviously I could mistakenly overlook something in writing out the multiplication tables.  But if I did not make such a mistake the resulting document would be without error and infallibly so.  It follows therefore that much of Aristotle's system of logic is without error even if Aristotle himself was a fallible human being and did make a few mistakes here and there in his philosophy.

The problem with Frame is he thinks the Bible is not logical revelation and he thinks that the Bible is not subject to logical consistency.  That’s also why Frame agrees with Van Til that all Scripture is apparently contradictory.  In other words, all Scripture is apparently in error if we follow Frame’s logic to its conclusion.

In closing I will quote Clark from a question and answer session at the end of his lecture, “A Contemporary Defense of the Bible”:

Questioner: Ok, my problem is that if, it seems to me that if you’re going to be uncertain of something then you’re a skeptic. So unless you’re saying that we all must be skeptics, and if I understand your writings correctly, it is only in the system of faith that has come out of the Reformation, or the Scriptures, that we have any certainty that we can have certainty of knowledge, that we can know truth.

Clark: You said two things. One of which I sorta agree with and the other I don’t. As I just finished saying, certainty doesn’t impress me. Because, as I say, I just used a facetious example, but you can think of all sorts of examples of people being certain of the most ridiculous things. But as a matter of truth, that is quite different. I am interested in truth, I am not interested in certainty. That is just a psychological quirk. And furthermore, as I have said, the problem of apologetics is to present a detailed system of truth. So that it all fits together. I don’t say that a person can achieve this perfectly. I’m quite well aware of that. We all make mistakes. But our aim is to produce an intelligible system. And this requires axiomatization in my opinion. And the axioms themselves are the teachings of Scripture. So I would be interested in truth in the insisting on absolute unchangeable truth. But people have been certain that the moon is made of green cheese.

Audio:  Trinity Foundation:  A Contemporary Defense of the Bible.  (See: MP3 Download Lectures).

As further evidence that Clark did not claim that humans are infallible:

Section 5 even uses the word infallible. [WCF 1:5]. It says that our full assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of these books is the work of the Holy Spirit. Can there be error in infallible truth? To the same end Section 9 teaches that the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself. Can it now be maintained that the Presbyterian standards admit the existence of error, of mistakes, of false teaching in the Bible? And if not, what can be thought of Presbyterian ministers who do not believe in the full truthfulness of the Scriptures? Though they may believe that the word of God is to be found somewhere in the Bible, and perhaps only in the Bible, yet what can their ordination vows have meant to them, if they reject the very basis on which all the remainder of the Confession rests?

Clark, Gordon H.  Articles on the Westminster Confession of Faith.  (Kindle Locations 100-107). Kindle Edition.

Here Clark affirms the full inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, which Frame cannot do since the Bible is apparently revealed in mere “human” logic.  The Word of God is breathed out by God and cannot therefore err through human logic.  But if the Bible is not mere human logic in the propositional statements written there, what kind of logic did God use in inspiring the biblical writers and what logic did the biblical writers use to write down the infallible and inerrant words?  If the words of Scripture and God’s knowledge do not coincide at any single point then the obvious conclusion is that nothing in the Bible is what God knows.  Does God know that David was the king of Israel?

And Clark acknowledges the noetic effects of sin:

It is the heart that thinks. Sin thus interferes with our thinking. It does not, however, prevent us from thinking. Sin does not eradicate or annihilate the image. It causes a malfunction, but man still remains man. The Bible stresses the malfunctioning of the mind in obviously moral affairs because of their importance. But sin extends its depraving influence into affairs not usually regarded as matters of morality – arithmetic, for example. One need not suppose that Adam and Eve understood calculus; but they surely counted to ten. Whatever arithmetic they did, they did correctly. But sin causes a failure in thinking, with the result that we now make mistakes in simple addition. Such mistakes are pedantically called the “noetic” effects of sin. But moral errors are equally noetic. When men became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts were darkened; when they professed to be wise, but became fools; when God gave them over to a reprobate mind – their sin was first of all a noetic, intellectual, mental malfunction. Regeneration and the process of sanctification reverse the sinful direction of the mind’s malfunctioning: The person is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.
Gordon H. Clark.  In Defense of Theology.  (Kindle Locations 1086-1095). Kindle Edition.

For Dr. Clark, epistemological systems are the basis for every worldview and the Christian worldview begins with the Scriptures as the axiomatic starting point for the Christian system of knowledge:

Clark:  . . . As I mentioned last night too, the purpose of apologetics is to produce as detailed a system, detailed a system as possible to meet the systems of logical positivism or mechanism in physics, or other non­-Christian systems. And the only way that you can have any systematic knowledge is to begin with indemonstrable axioms. Even empiricism makes the unproven assumption that experience can give you truth. And that assumption, which cannot be proved, is an assumption that I just reject. And instead of saying sensation connects us with reality I say we are immediately connected with the mind of God. We live and move and have our being in Him. And God illuminates our minds and gives us our ideas.  

In conclusion then I say that not only does Frame misunderstand Clark but he completely misses the whole point of the Bible as our final authority.  Without  the image of God as taught by the Bible it would be impossible for humans to think or understand the Bible at all.  Man is the image of God.  (1 Corinthians 11:7). It is because God is Logic that we can accept the Bible as Scripture and understand what it says.  John Frame’s comments above blatantly contradict the doctrine of biblical infallibility and the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration.

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