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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

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Gordon H. Clark and Cornelius Van Til Controversy Rages On: Mike Horton's Systematic Theology: Part Four

Michael Horton. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011). 1,051 pages.


It had never occurred to me the depth and breadth of the theological and doctrinal differences between the proponents of Gordon H. Clark's theology of Scripturalism and the proponents of Cornelius Van Til's theology of analogical knowledge.  Mike Horton's recent systematic theology draws these lines even more sharply. (See The Christian Faith: Part One, Part Two, Part Three). Horton's systematic theology in fact downplays traditional Reformed and Protestant theology in favor of an eclectic approach that tries to incorporate postmodernist theology into Evangelical theology. 

The reason for this is that Horton does not really believe in propositional truth anymore.  He definitely gives lip service to this doctrine but when the rubber meets the road, Horton cannot help trying to be all things to all men rather than simply holding the line against liberalism.  The reason for this is that Van Til's theology of analogy is essentially a mediating position between neo-orthodoxy and the traditional and classical Protestant view that Scripture is the very words of God, words breathed out by God himself through human agency.  (Listen carefully to Gordon H. Clark's lecture, Biblical Inerrancy).  Unfortunately once this position is taken the slippery slope leads directly to neo-orthodoxy.  Most Evangelicals today are completely unaware of the degree to which they have imbibed a neo-orthodox theology of Scripture.  After all, Scripture is the "dead letter" and we should worship the author of the book and not the book itself.  Christianity is more about a relationship with Jesus Christ than doctrinal precision or theological propositions, right?


Perhaps an interpolation of my own theological education and autobiographical "testimony" would be pertinent here?  I realize that anecdotal testimony is not necessarily true since personal experience is subjective.  On the other hand, Gordon H. Clark has correctly pointed out that salvation and sanctification depends on knowledge of Scripture.  The axiom that Scripture is the Word of God is applicable here. 

My theological education began in early age.  I was not raised in a Christian home.  But I did receive a Gideon's New Testament at school every year beginning with the first grade in Weaver, Alabama around 1965.  I read with interest the King James Version of the Scriptures.  Scripture has a way of piercing through the hardened heart and "piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit . . . and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."  (Hebrews 4:12 KJV).  At that time there was still the practice of reciting the Lord's prayer, which was taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in retrospection.   I was then motivated to read the entire Bible in the King James Version.  I read widely up to the age of eight.  I did not yet understand the trinity or the incarnation.  But as a child I did understand that God could do anything He wanted to do.  God by definition is sovereign.  Perhaps the concept of free moral agency did not occur to me; however, even as a child I understood that the Bible taught that God could and did cut men off in their sins--thus preventing their further propagation of even more evil acts.  That is, God is absolutely sovereign over even the "free acts" of men.  So when modernists and Arminians protest against this doctrine I have to say that even a child can understand this simple proposition, "God is absolutely sovereign."  (Isaiah 45:18; 2 Timothy 3:15).

Even more to the point, later in life when I felt a call to become a Christian, my first choice was a Pentecostal church.  The reason for this was that I did not yet understand the distinction between Calvinist and Arminian theology.  My basic assumption was that since God is sovereign then God must be able to do supernatural miracles today.  The sovereignty of God extends to every area of life, including transcending the natural world through divine intervention.  Unfortunately I would discover that Pentecostals do not really believe in the sovereignty of God over the natural realm at all.  Rather they believe in the sovereignty of man to do miracles by exercising their own faith, a faith which they work up from within themselves.  I would discover that the real roots of Pentecostalism were not connected to the doctrine of God's omnipotence and supernatural intervention but that the roots were connected to a combination of Arminian synergism and aberrant Christian Science and New Thought theology syncretized with Wesleyan holiness/entire sanctification.  Basically the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is nothing more than a hodge podge and ad hoc collection of ecstatic mysticism, existential encounter, gnosticism, the New Age theology of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and whatever modern liberal theology as happens to agree with the Pentecostal theology of the moment.  Evangelical pietism is basically an anti-intellectual movement that empties the Protestant Reformation of all rational and logical content.

While Mike Horton claims to be opposed to pelagianism and "Christless Christianity", in the end he cannot bring himself to total separation from such heresy.  Instead Horton's theology makes it possible to reconcile totally contradictory theological traditions such as Arminianism and Calvinism.  This becomes possible because according to him we only know anything at all by analogical theology, not by univocal theology in the revelation in Scripture.  Every section of Horton's systematic theology continually repeats his attack against propositional truth claims and the doctrine of verbal/plenary inspiration and biblical inerrancy.  Although he does not name them explicitly, the implied accusation is that Horton even goes so far as to falsely accuse Gordon H. Clark and Carl F. H. Henry of teaching the mechanical dictation theory of inspiration:
When evaluating the relationship of God's activity and that of the creatures in the production of Scripture, the doctrine of analogy already proves its merits.  If agency is univocal (the same thing) for God and for creatures, then the question is raised:  Who acts more?  Is God the author of Romans or is Paul?  However, if agency is analogical, then God's activity in producing these texts is qualitatively different from human agency.  In this way it may be seen that the role of human authors in producing the Scriptures is entirely their own activity and entirely God's.  For example, Joseph could attribute the same act (his brother's treachery) to different agents with different intentions:  "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Genesis 50:20).  Scripture includes false utterances (namely, in the speeches of Job's friends, the psalmist's acknowledged misunderstandings of God and his ways--and those misunderstandings of the disciples in the Gospels--as well as the statements of pagan rulers and even Satan).  Ascribing inspiration to Luke's account of Paul's speech in Athens in no way entails that the writings of pagan philosopher Epimenides or poet Aratus (the latter, in a hymn to Zeus) were inspired, even though Paul quoted them in Acts 17:28.  Nor does it mean that their words were inspired, but only that Paul's interpretation--his use of their words--shared in this inspired speech.  Whatever these speakers intended, God's intentions was to use these lines in the script of his unfolding drama, although these pagan sources are not treated as normative.  Therefore, it is impossible to treat every word as normative, much less as the direct utterance of God.  Yet the Bible as a whole is God's inspired script for the drama of redemption.


In its treatment of creation as well as inspiration, fundamentalism tends to collapse God's indirect speech act, "'Let the earth sprout . . .'" into God's direct fiat, "'Let there be' . . . ."  To the extent that the Bible is the Word of God, on this view, human mediation must be diminished or even denied.  In this sense, fundamentalism shares with liberalism a univocal view of divine and human agency, leading the former to undervalue the Bible's humanity, while the latter interprets the obvious signs of the Bible's humanity as evidence of a merely natural process.


In contrast to mechanical inspiration, evangelical theology embraces a theory of organic inspiration. (18)  That is, God sanctifies the natural gifts, personalities, histories, languages, and cultural inheritance of the biblical writers.  These are not blemishes on or obstacles to divine inspiration but the very means that God employs for accommodating his revelation to our creaturely capacity.  The christological analogy reminds us that the Word became flesh.  The incarnation itself was a fiat declaration of the "'Let there be . . .'" variety.  Nevertheless, the Son's gestation and birth were part of a natural (Let the earth sprout . . .'") process.  Even his physical, intellectual, and spiritual maturation were gradual gains through ordinary means:  "And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom" (Luke 2:40).  His humanity was not charged with superhuman abilities but was like ours in all respects except for sin (Hebrews 4:15).  "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).  If God can assume our full humanity without sin, then he can speak through the fully human words of prophets and apostles without error.  As Herman Bavinck expressed this point, "Like Christ, [Scripture] considers nothing that is human strange." (19)  (Horton, pp. 162-163).

 This lengthy quote was necessary to show Horton's lack of precision in dealing with the doctrine of inspiration in general and in his false dilemma between univocal/propositional truth and analogical/dramatic truth told in stories.  First of all, he says,

If agency is univocal (the same thing) for God and for creatures, then the question is raised:  Who acts more?  Is God the author of Romans or is Paul?  However, if agency is analogical, then God's activity in producing these texts is qualitatively different from human agency (p. 162).

Anyone familiar with basic logic can tell that having a univocal theology of inspiration does not entail that two agents are the same agent.  Nor does it logically follow that because agency is a univocal concept for both man and God that this means that God and man are acting together in the same agency.  Not at all.  God is absolutely sovereign over human agency.  Horton's view implies synergism, not monergism.  Human agency is at God's disposal and not vice versa.  To ask who acts more betrays the semi-Arminian presuppositions of the Van Tilian position.  Analogy is a convenient excuse for Arminianism apparently.  Simply because humans are "free moral agents" does not mean that God is not sovereign over them.  So if the Arminian asks the question, "Who acts more?" the answer is obviously that God controls even human agency!  How does God do this?  The Westminster Confession says that God does so without violating the will of man:

Chapter 3: Of God's Eternal Decree
1. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:1 yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,2 nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.3
See also: WLC 12 | WSC 7  (3. Cf.  Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28; Matthew 17:12; John 19:11; Proverbs 16:33).

 The Reformed confession answers Horton's hypothetical question with the proposition that God is sovereign over even human agency.  Any Reformed theologian who has no equivocal agenda could easily say this without any contradiction whatsoever.  But Horton's agenda is to mediate between mutually contradictory positions.  While the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration does not necessarily imply mechanical dictation, as Horton rightly points out (see footnote 18, p. 163), the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration positively asserts that it is the words of Scripture that are fully inspired.  Unfortunately, Horton contradicts this by saying that the concepts, the drama, or the story as a whole is inspired and not every single word and proposition of Scripture.  Even where the words of a pagan philosopher are recorded in the inspired text this accurate record of what that philosopher said is fully inerrant in regards to the record and in regards to the meaning given to those quotes by way of the propositional assertion made by the biblical writer.  Horton, on the other hand, implies that not all Scripture is inspired of God.  Only those portions of Scripture that are positive assertions of doctrine are true for Horton.  But that is not the traditional doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration.


The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy expresses the consensus on this:


Articles of Affirmation and Denial
 Article VI.
     We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.
     We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.
Ironically, Gordon Clark and Carl Henry both denied mechanical dictation and affirmed the organic view.  While Horton does not name them in this section, his reference to univocal agency and inspiration strongly implies that they are also advocates of this view.  For Horton any view that tries to promote propositional truth is lumped together with liberalism, open theism, and other errors (pp. 238, 254).  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Gordon Clark's view follows the axiom that Scripture is the Word of God while for Horton God is hidden in what He reveals since at no single point does Scripture univocally converge or coincide with absolute truth, which Horton believes only God can know.  Sound familiar?  Yes, it does.  It's called neo-orthodoxy.  The theology of paradox.

2 comments:

Jaime Rodriguez said...

Thank you! I’ll check some of your other stuff later. Enjoyed this one.

Charlie J. Ray said...

You're very welcome. Van Til was influenced by neo-orthodoxy even though he denied it.

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