See Part 12
Collect of the Day
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.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Clark's Answer to Van Til: On Sovereignty and Responsibility Part 11
[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 above. The following is Clark's response to Van Til in regards to his views on human psychology. See Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, and Part Ten. See also, The Answer, in PDF].
The third theological section of the Complaint runs from page 42 to page 50, and treats of the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The charge made is that Dr. Clark “has done decided violence to the latter,” i.e. responsibility. But a study of the Complaint fails to discover any evidence that Dr. Clark has denied or done violence to human responsibility; and there is no comparison between Dr. Clark's view and the Westminster Confession. There is simply no evidence.
The complainants instead of supporting their charge have used the space to object to Dr. Clark's statement that responsibility and sovereignty do not appear contradictory to him. The complainants hold that responsibility and sovereignty ought to appear contradictory to everyone. This raises two questions: Does the Scripture encourage us to attempt the solution of paradoxes? And, does the Scripture provide any hints for the solution of this particular paradox?
With respect to the first of these questions it may be noted that the Westminster Confession I, vi, says, “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.” The Confession, therefore, instead of considering a logical approach to Scripture as rationalistic, approves of logical deductions from Scripture; in fact, the Confession is itself largely a set of such deductions. B. B. Warfield in Revelation and Inspiration, page 12, says, “But revelation, after all, is the correlate of understanding and has as its proximate end just the production of knowledge, though not, of course, knowledge for its own sake, but for the sake of salvation.” How can anyone suppose that God would reveal to man something irrational or non-understandable? To be sure there are “some things hard to be understood,” but if the Bible actually reveals God, it cannot be non-understandable. God commands us to search the Scriptures; we are encouraged to understand. Calvin, Institutes, III, xxi, 3, replies to those who think one ought not to investigate the doctrine of predestination, by pointing out that such an attitude is in effect a charge that God did not know how much he should reveal. No doubt this doctrine, and all doctrines, should be studied with care and caution; but the Scriptures nowhere prohibit us from attempting to solve revealed paradoxes. Nearly any two propositions could appear contradictory to someone, the less a person has studied the Bible, the more likely he is to encounter difficulties; and the advice usually given is to study further and understand more. The Complaint may easily be interpreted to preclude all further progress in the understanding of God's revealed word. The position of Presbyterianism, however, has never been that the confessions of faith are the ultimate of man's understanding of the Scriptures. The Complaint seems to imply that those who seek to advance theological knowledge through exegesis of and deduction from the word of God are thereby guilty of heresy. Such a position is to be rejected.
Conversely, anyone who argues that a given revealed paradox cannot be solved is virtually claiming omniscience. He who says a given paradox cannot be solved, logically implies that he has examined every verse in Scripture, that he has exhausted every implication of every verse, and that there is in all this no hint of a solution. Such a person must have a tremendous knowledge of the Bible. And this is exactly what the complainants claim. They assert (P. 12, 1; O.46) “Not even Holy Scripture offers a solution.” This is a claim to an exhaustive knowledge of all Scripture. Certainly it is more modest to believe that one has solved a paradox than to assert that it cannot be solved. It is true that certain theologians have called this paradox insoluble; but if Scripture does not forbid, this is no reason why other men should not attempt to solve it.
Furthermore, to solve a paradox may not be such a superhuman task as the complainants seem to think. They say (P. 12, 1; O. 46) “Dr. Clark asserts unblushingly that for his thinking the problem has ceased being a problem.” The apparent intention is to make Dr. Clark claim that there remain no problems to be connected with sovereignty and responsibility. Many problems remain. The one problem that Dr. Clark thinks he has solved is the anti-christian allegation that sovereignty and responsibility are contradictories. To say, even mistakenly, that one can show they do not contradict each other, is not to say that one knows everything about the subject.
The second question was, Does the Scripture provide any hints for the solution of this particular paradox? Dr. Clark thinks he has found the key to such a solution. He may be wrong, but how can the complainants, lacking omniscience, assert that there is none at all? Before A.D. 325 someone might have said that the Scriptural teaching on the Father, Son, and Spirit is self-contradictory. But Athanasius solved that paradox—without exhausting the subject of the Trinity. The two natures of Christ might have appeared contradictory in those early days; but the Council of Chalcedon solved that paradox. In the history of secular logic certain problems were, during the Middle Ages, called insolubilia. But in 1850 an English logician thought he had found the solution. He had not; but he had made a start toward the solution, and later logicians improved upon him, until today logicians do not consider the insolubilia insoluble. It is just possible that Dr. Clark, even if mistaken, may have discovered a hint leading to a solution. He claims, at any rate, that the solution lies almost on the surface of Calvin's Institutes. To develop Calvin's hint, one must readjust Calvin's exegesis of Romans 9. Calvin, as the complainants are careful to quote, says that Romans 9:20 is a preliminary answer, and that the verses toward the end of the chapter and the following chapter are the beginning of a more fundamental solution. Dr. Clark, on the contrary, thinks that Romans 9:20 is the fundamental and ultimate principle, as Calvin virtually admits in the Institutes, III, xxiii, 2; and that the later section consists of deductions, applications, or elaborations. This would not be the only instance of a lack of complete consistency between Calvin's Commentary and his Institutes.
Since everyone makes mistakes in exegesis, it is beside the point whether Dr. Clark is right or wrong on this point. All that should be of concern to the Presbytery is whether Dr. Clark asserts both sovereignty and responsibility. The fact that he attempts to solve the paradox is itself proof that he accepts both propositions. The complainants try to compare Dr. Clark with the Arminians and the Antinomians (P. 12, 1-2; O. 47). These two groups, the complainants claim, also attempted to solve this paradox. But in fact neither of these groups tried to solve the paradox. Paradoxes are not solved, they are merely denied, by rejecting one of the parts. The Arminians rejected absolute predestination; the Antinomians rejected morality. In neither case were two apparently contradictory propositions shown to be inconsistent. Each group simply denied one of the two propositions. This is not what Dr. Clark has done; he has asserted both and has tried to show that they are consistent. Now, the complainants do not charge Dr. Clark with Arminianism; they charge him with Antinomianism. (P. 12, 2; O. 48). For those who wish to judge further of this charge, since there is no evidence for it in the Complaint, the Presbytery draws attention to Dr. Clark's eight-page tract on Romans VI, distributed by our Committee on Christian Education.
It is pertinent to note that Dr. Clark, instead of approaching these problems on a rationalistic basis, reaches his conclusion from an exegesis of Scripture.
As in the other sections of the Complaint, here too there are incidental misrepresentations and fallacious inferences.
For example, there seems to be the impression that it is unorthodox to quote the Stoics because they were heathen. Aside from the fact that Calvin borrowed parts of his psychology from Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, one might also ponder Acts 17:28-29, where the Apostle Paul approves a certain Stoic teaching on the nature of God.
Next, the attempt to find a deeper study of the Scripture the solution of paradoxes—a use of exegesis that the complainants call rationalism—is in the eyes of the complainants incompatible with subjection of human reason to the divine word (P.12, 1; O. 47). In other words, a man who tries to understand what God has revealed to him cannot be subject to the revelation, and if the more he understands, the less he is subject; probably the less he understands, the more subject he is; so that the really obedient and devout man must be completely ignorant. By what right do the complainants imply that the attempt to understand Scripture is inconsistent with believing Scripture?
Again, the complainants assert that Dr. Clark “sever (s) human responsibility from human freedom” (P. 12, 3; O. 49). But a study of Dr. Clark's article shows that he accepts Hodge's conception of “free moral agency”; he rejects that freedom of contrary choice on which the Arminians wish to base responsibility. It should be noted that “human freedom” has many meanings. It may mean political freedom, freedom from mechanical causation, freedom of the will from the intellect, freedom from sin, freedom of contrary choice, freedom from God, and free moral agency. When an author argues for or against “freedom,” the critic should determine which freedom the author means. To apply to one meaning of freedom what the author says of another meaning of freedom, as the complainants do here, is not scholarly procedure.
In view of all these considerations the Presbytery concludes that this section of the Complaint fails to prove its charge.
See Part 12
[The concluding section of The Answer will deal with Clark's view of the presentation of the Gospel: "On the Offer of the Gospel." I will be posting this section in the near future as time permits.]