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.]

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Clark/Van Til Controversy: The Text of a Complaint (Part Three)

[To read the entire article see Part One, and Part Two.]

The Clark/Van Til Controvery: The Text of a Complaint (Part Three)

II. If the first error concerns Dr. Clark's view of the relation of man's knowledge to God's knowledge, there is a second error closely related to this one: namely, his view of the relation of the faculty, to other faculties of the soul. Again here, Dr. Clark's statements are a highly unsatisfactory representation of the teaching of Scripture and of our subordinate standards, as well as of the great writings of Reformed theology.

It may be objected immediately that this is not a problem in theology as such, but as a secondary problem of human psychology, of which the Bible and our standards have but little to say, and which cannot be considered essential to orthodoxy or a Reformed position. At least, however, the problem is one of applied psychology, and particularly one of psychology as applied to man's religious activity. Of that subject, the Bible has a great deal to say, and the whole locus of Soteriology is deeply concerned with man's religious activity. Of that subject, the Bible has a great deal to say, and the whole locus of Soteriology is deeply concerned with man's reaction to God's saving work. As can be seen in detail from the following discussion, the supposed psychological problem touches most pointedly on any number of highly essential theological questions.

Any statement of the relation between the intellectual and the other spiritual faculties must needs be concerned with God as well as with man. Although comparatively little was said in the course of Dr. Clark's examination to outline his position. Dr. Clark should certainly not be accused of dividing the nature of God, or even of man into discrete parts which might be labeled “intellect”, “emotion”, and “volition”, or by other terms. However, since he is willing, at least for words as indicating different faculties there is certainly meaning in what has been said on the subject.

First of all, Dr. Clark specifically states (p. 16) that the statement of the Westminster Confession that “God is without . . . passions” means that God is lacking in feeling and emotion. Although he objects to a definition of feeling or emotion which would make those words mean anything different from “passions”, he does not make provision for any other faculty in God's nature which would be non-intellectual and non-volitional.

Secondly, to round out the picture, Dr. Clark apparently does assume that God has both intellectual and volitional faculties, for he talks about the decretive and preceptive will of God, as well as about God's knowledge.

As for Dr. Clark's views on human psychology and religious activity, the evidence is much more complete. Again, Dr. Clark must not be accused of splitting up man's soul into sections, with one of which he thinks, with another of which he wills, and so on. It would even appear that Dr. Clark is reluctant to speak of distinct faculties (pp. 39-40), but he is willing to do so at least for the sake of argument. Presumably his reluctance is in the interests of protecting the unity and integrity of the human soul, which is indeed a commendable motive. However, quite a bit is said about the relation between the various faculties or activities of the undivided human soul, which merits close study.

While Dr. Clark is “willing to admit [that] the intellect and volition and emotion are equally essential to a human being”, he maintains that “they have different functions” and “that the intellect is a supreme function” (p. 13).. The intellectual apprehension of God is man's “method of enjoying God forever and . . . the greatest religious activity” (p. 13), and he equates the contemplation of God with glorifying and enjoying God (p. 14). Volitional activity on man's part is considered a means to the end of intellectual contemplation (29:3-6; 39:15-24; 40:19-41:1; 42:6-10). Of all the activities that are colloquially called “emotions”, love was the only one prominently mentioned in the examination; Dr. Clark considers love, in the theological sense, as volitional (29:11-12). By exclusion, however, Dr. Clark denies any important place in man's religious activity to anything which is colloquially referred to as an “emotion”; at best, that would also be a means to the end of contemplating God.

This statement of the “primacy” of the intellect carries with it certain ideas about volition as such. The activity of the will which Dr. Clark subordinates to intellection seems to be little more than “a voluntary act of paying attention”, which results in an intellectual apprehension (29:3-4). If it may be assumed that outward acts are also the results of volitional activity, then the volitions that give rise to our obeying God's commands also seem to be of a low level, for glorification of God is said to include “the ordinary act[s] of obedience on a purely common plane such as “Thou shalt not steal” (32:1-4; italics added). In any case, such volitions are held to be on a much lower level than intellectual contemplation of God.

Above all, however, Dr. Clark's statements about the primacy of the intellect in man's religious activity must be connected with what he says about “knowing” in other connections. To sum up in the clearest available quotation what has been clearly stated already, Dr. Clark says, “The only kind of knowledge [with] which I am familiar is the knowledge of the proposition; knowledge is the possession of truth, and the only truth I know anything about is a proposition” (22:18-21). The clear meaning of Dr. Clark is, then, that man's highest religious activity is to have an intellectual apprehension of propositions contained in God's knowledge, such as “two plus two equals four”, or “God is love”. Dr. Clark frankly says that he does not know what is meant by knowing the love of God (22:10-21); man's religious activity must be confined to knowing such things as the fact that God is love. This knowledge, to be sure, is supposed to include volition and perhaps even emotion, but aside from merely paying attention in order to learn, nothing is said about any but the purely intellectual activity of apprehending propositions. In fact, it is perfectly clear, from the statements that man's highest religious activity is intellectual and that intellection means knowing propositions, that Dr. Clark conceives of man's religion as nothing greater than knowing propositions as such. This knowing of propositions cannot, in the nature of the case, reflect or inspire any recognition by man of his relation to God, for the simple reason that the propositions have the same content, mean the same, to God and man. It would seem clear without going any farther that Dr. Clark has done one of two things: either he has emasculated the words “emotion” and “volition” so that they imply almost none of the ideas that are customarily assigned to them in colloquial usage, or he has ruled them out of the intellect in spite of his statements to the contrary. Dr. Clark deserves the highest commendation for his faithful opposition to any form of humanistic emotionalism in theology. However, when his position is compared with the teachings of the Bible, the Westminster Standards, and also with the writings of Reformed theologians, it unfortunately begins to appear that he is in grave danger of falling into the equally serious error of humanistic intellectualism. No Calvinist would for a moment deny the tremendous importance of knowledge and of the intellect; a Calvinist might even say that knowledge is the first requirement of such a religious activity as faith. However, neither the Bible nor the standards nor the theologians of the Reformed tradition support such a view of the primacy of the intellect as that outlined above.

What, in the first place, is the Reformed teaching about the aspects of God's nature, or, if you will, the faculties which reside in God? That God has knowledge and will is agreed by all. The questions that must concern us are two: Does God have what may properly be called “emotions”? and, what is the relation between God's faculties?

If we assign to the word “emotion” an a priori definition which in the nature of the case identifies emotion with “passions”, it would obviously be denying our standards to say that God has emotions (Westminster Confession, II, 1). God does not change; there is no shadow of turning in him; he is not a man that he should repent; he is immutable. Certainly, also, God does not share certain of the qualities which we call “emotions”, such as fear, longing, and surprise. If we are to speak of feelings or emotions in God at all, we must confine ourselves to his attributes which are sometimes summed up under the word “benevolence”: love, goodness, mercy, and grace. Even here, we must be careful to defend the immutable self-determination of God. But the question still remains, can these be identified with, or associated with, the idea of “emotion” or “feeling”? Obviously, we define those words in their narrow but perfectly good colloquial sense as something which arouses the will and thus determines action. In fine, is there any quality or faculty in God which is neither intellectual nor volitional, and which underlies or accompanies volitional activity? That question, in similar words, Dr. Clark studiously avoided answering (p. 16).

On precisely the same subject, Charles Hodge makes a very clear statement (Systematic theology, vol. I, pp. 428-9):

Love of necessity involves feeling, and if there be no feeling in God, there can be no love. That he produces happiness is no proof of love. The earth does that unconsciously and without design. Men often render others happy from vanity, from fear, or from caprice. Unless the production of happiness can be referred, not only to a conscious intention, but too a purpose dictated by kind feeling, it is no proof of benevolence. And unless the children of God are the objects of his complacency and delight, they are not the objects of his love.”

Although love may, perhaps, be volitional, it must involve feeling or emotion—not in the sense of passions, passivity, or change, but feeling in some sense akin to those which we have, which determine our will and action. It is necessary to deny external determination in God's pity, compassion, jealousy, hatred, love, and “repentance”; but it is difficult to see how internall determined feelings can be eliminated.

As to the relative prominence or functional level of the various faculties which God possesses, nothing in the Bible or in Reformed theology indicates that any one is to be set above the others. The Bible states with precisely the same absolute force that God knows the end from the beginning, that God is a jealous God, and that God imparts gifts as he wills. The Westminster Shorter Catechism makes no distinction when it says that God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being and in all of his attributes. It may seem that Hodge, in the above quotation, subordinates volition to emotion, and that in the following quotation he subordinates intellect to volition:

God knows himself by the necessity of his nature; but as everything out of himself depends for its existence or occurrence upon his will, his knowledge of each thing as an actual occurrence is suspended on his will” (Systematic Theology, vol. I, p. 397).

However, in each case Hodge is making no reference at all to a difference of functional level, but only to a logical order of economic succession. Reformed theology seems to be barren of any references to a primacy of the intellect in God. In fact, every indication is that whatever distinguishable faculties exist in God are equally prominent, equally significant, and of equal functional level. God is “a personal Spirit, infinite, eternal, and illimitable alike in His Being and in the intelligence, sensibility, and will which belong to Him as a personal Spirit” (B.B. Warfield: “God”, Studies in Theology, p. 111).

As for human psychology and man's religious activity Dr. Clark's position again seems to be at serious variance with Biblical, confessional, and traditional statements. From the viewpoint of abstract psychology, it is perfectly true that Reformed theologians have not been in complete agreement as to the number and names of the faculties of the human soul. In speaking specifically of the human soul Calvin mentions by name only the intellect and will (Institutes, Book I, Chap. XV, Sect. 6). Augustine refers to the perception, understanding, and will. The more recent theologians, however, seem to agree in large measure on the threefold distinction of intellect, emotion, and will (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. III, p. 35; A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 217; Warfield, loc. cit.; Abraham Kuyper, Dictaten Dogmatiek, Vol. II, Locus de Homine, pp. 68-88). There would also seem to be considerable disagreement on the relations between the faculties: Calvin bluntly says that “the intellect rules the will” (loc. cit.), while Bavinck (Gereforemeerde Dogmatiek, Vol. I, pp. 227ff.) seems now and then to think in terms of a primacy of the will. However, in both of these cases it soon becomes clear that the reference is not to functional levels; both Calvin and Bavinck insist on the total activity of the human being in religion, with no subordination of one faculty to another.

It is specifically in the sphere of religious activity, then, that the question of the relation of man's spiritual faculties to each other must be settled. The Christian, regenerated and effectually called by God's Spirit, is active in faith, in repentance, and in sanctification—though, of course, not exclusively nor intially active. In each of these three activities, the clear statements of the Reformed Faith are at variance with Dr. Clark's views of intellection, as knowledge of propositions, being man's highest religious activity.

As for faith: The Westminster Confession, Chap. XIV, Section II, says, “But the principle acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone . . .” This is in accord with Biblical language which speaks of knowing Christ, receiving him, and hoping or trusting in him. That “accepting” Christ has to do with intellectual activity, “receiving” him with emotional activity in relating him to our personal cases, and “resting upon” him with volitional activity is the universal witness of Reformed theology. A.A. Hodge combines all three in the following quotation (Outlines of Theology, pp. 353-4):

The one indivisible soul knows and loves, desires and decides, and these several acts of the soul meet on the same object. The soul can neither love, desire nor choose that which it does not know, nor can it know an object as true or good without some affection of the will towards it. Assent to a purely speculative truth may be simply an act of understanding, but belief in a moral truth, in testimony, in promises, must be a complex act, embracing both the understanding and the will. The understanding apprehends the truth to be believed, and decides upon the validity of the evidence, but the disposition to believe testimony, or moral evidence, has its foundation in the will. Actual trust in a promise is an act of the will, and not a simple judgment as to its trustworthiness.”

Compare this with Dr. Clark's statements that intellection is the highest act of man, and that intellection consists in knowing propositions such as “Two plus two equals four”.

[This article is 15 pages long in pdf. It takes considerable time to type it out by hand. The answer given by Dr. Clark is even longer. It may take me a couple of months to finish this project. You can read the pdf files by going to Part One above.]

See Part Four.

Reasonable Christian Blog Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; Answer. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen. 1662 Book of Common Prayer

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