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, March 13, 2011

Clark's Answer to Van Til: On Incomprehensibility: Part Four

[The following is the continuation of The Answer given by Dr. Gordon H. Clark and his supporters to The Complaint by Dr. Cornelius Van Til and his supporters. The Answer will be given in installments as time permits. To read the pdf image file click on the links. The following is from the chapter "On Incomprehesibility". See Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.]

Clark's Answer to Van Til: On Incomprehensibility: Part Four

The method the complainants have pursued is to center attention on one accident of a proposition and then tenacity to assume that there is nothing more to be said. Because each proposition is numerically distinct, they infer that there is nothing except numerical distinction.

Later in the Complaint they offer a reason for their concern over what may seem arid logical technicalities. They assert (P. 7, 3; O. 28) “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.” If this pronouncement be applied to a concrete case, it means that the truth “Christ died for our sins” cannot reflect or inspire recognition of man's relation to God. Why propositions, such as “Christ died for our sins” cannot reflect the truth of God, the complainants do not explain. They simply make an ex cathedra statement. One may ask, of what use are all the propositions of Scripture, if they do not reflect God and his relation to man? And if propositions cannot inspire any recognition by man of his relation to God, why should anyone preach the gospel? Dr. Clark believes that the preaching of the gospel, not without the regenerating or illuminating power of the Holy Ghost, is for the express purpose of teaching man what to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man. Since Scripture is in propositional form, the assumption of the Complaint that no statement in the Bible can reflect or inspire any recognition by man of his relation to God is both absurd and unscriptural. The second part of the same sentence purports to give a reason for the first part: propositions cannot inspire recognition of God, “for the simple reason that propositions have the same content, mean the same, to God and man.” The complainants therefore deny that propositions have the same meaning for God and man. But this denial nullifies the Bible from cover to cover. The same idea is found in another place. The Complainant infers as an untenable conclusion from Dr. Clark's views that therefore (P. 5, 2; O. 20) “a proposition would have to have the same meaning for man as for God.” Here is the basic difference in this matter for Dr. Clark and the Complainant. He holds that propositions have a single meaning, the same for God and man. The Complainant evidently assumes that a given proposition has two entirely different meanings. One of these meanings man can grasp; the other meaning God alone knows and man has no idea at all of what God means. But if this were so, what would become of the doctrine of verbal inspiration? The proposition, Christ died for our sins, has a single, definite, plain meaning. To say that God places some other, undiscoverable meaning upon these words is to empty the Bible of truth and to deny that really reveals God's mind. This logical deduction from the Complaint is to be repudiated.

Involved in the discussion of these same pages of the Complaint is the role of reason in religious knowledge. “It will be observed that Dr. Clark does not claim to derive this judgment from Scripture; it is rather regarded as an axiom of reason” (P. 5, 2; O. 19). The complainants also say (P. 5, 2; 9. 20) “and it may not be overlooked in this connection that Dr. Clark does not claim Scriptural proof for his fundamental assumption as to the character of knowledge.” One might guess that the complainants would demand exegetical proof even for the theorems of geometry. Later they say (P. 6, 3; O. 24, 25) “And that he is in error seems to be due to the fact that he does not approach the doctrine by way of an exegesis of Scripture. His approach, on the contrary, while admittedly taking into account certain teachings of Scripture, is to a large extent rationalistic. His argument is built up from certain principles derived from reason. One cannot expect a sound theology to proceed from a faulty method. In short, therefore, we hold that both the formulation of this doctrine and the method by which it is reached are out of harmony with orthodox Presbyterianism.”

It has already been shown that Dr. Clark's position agrees with Scripture, but the implication of this charge seems to be that an appeal to principles of reason is out of harmony with orthodox Presbyterianism. Now in the first place, some of this discussion is not so far removed from Scripture as the complainants seem to think. It is true that the assertion “truth may always be expressed in propositions” is not a conclusion based on the exegesis of a certain number of Scriptural passages. The doctrine of the federal headship of Adam may be deduced by exegesis from Romans 5:12ff.; and the unity of the covenant of grace is supported by Galatians 3. There is no single passage from which by exegesis one can deduce that truth may always be expressed in propositions. But it must be insisted upon that the Bible as a whole is written in propositional form. The propositions of the Bible are not propositions about propositions; that is, the Bible is not a textbook on logic. But the Bible is logical; its teaching is propositional; and in view of the fact that God chose words and propositions for his revelation, in view of the fact that God did not choose some non-propositional form of revelation, one should be cautious of disparaging propositions. There is therefore Scriptural support, even if not exegetical support, for the propositional view of truth.

In the second place, and now directly to the point, an appeal to principles of reason is not out of harmony with orthdox Presbyterianism. We trust it will be granted that William Brenton Greene, late professor of apologetics in Princeton Seminary, was an orthodox Presbyterian. The following quotation from The Function of Reason in Christianity, by W. Brenton Greene, Jr., in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, Vol. VI, 1895, pages 499ff., illustrates a view that has had wide acceptance.

For all that logically precedes the Scriptures, as the being of God, the need of a written revelation, etc., we must go back to philosophy, to reason pure and simple . . . . Hence Henry B. Smith has well said: “If we cannot construct the foundations and the outworks of the Christian System on impregnable grounds; if we cannot show the possibility of miracles, and of a revelation; if we cannot prove—absolutely prove—the existence of a wise, intelligent, personal, and providential Ruler of all things: then we are merged in infidelity, or given over to an unfounded faith. If we cannot settle these points on the field of open discussion, we cannot settle them at all.” . . . Reason should distinguish among the interpretations of the Scriptures between what is above reason in the true sense of beyond it, and what is above reason in the wrong sense of out of relation to it, or contrary to it. That is, as a revelation must evince rationally its right to be believed; so, as has been seen, it itself can contain nothing irrational or impossible. In deciding what is thus, however, the reason must act rationally and not capriciously. Its judgments must be guided by principles which commend themselves to the common consciousness of men, such as, that that is impossible which involves a contradiction; that it is impossible that revelation should deny any well authenticated truth, whether of intuition, experience, or science; that it is impossible for what reason cannot try to comprehend to be true. All this must be so; for God, who is the Supreme Reason, cannot but be rational and hence self-consistent.”

The italicized phrase is a little awkward in expression, but its implications for the doctrine of incomprehensibility are tremendous.

(See Page 18).

Part Five

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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