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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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dr. Gordon H. Clark and the Axiom of Scripture as a Logical System


"The unity of truth is preserved without sacrificing the clarity and distinctness of several truths because truth is conceived as a system of truths." 
 
"This doctrine of the eternal decree underlies not only the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, but also that of effectual calling, the necessity and nature of regeneration, the gifts of saving faith, and in short the whole gospel."


"For the whole Gospel is not just a few disjointed truths.  It is an ordered and logical system.  Each part bears on each other part." -- Dr. Gordon H. Clark


Oddly enough when reading the blogs of others professing to be Clarkian Scripturalists or Clarkian presuppositionalists one almost never finds any mention of Clark's most basic philosophical principle that logic and propositions formed in the mind can and should be organized into a logical system.  Truth cannot be isolated into unrelated parts or aggregates that have no relation to the other parts.  This would result essentially in chaos and irrationalism, even if the isolated proposition happens to be a valid one.  For example, Dr. Clark's last book, The Incarnation, further defined and clarified the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ and attempted to harmonize the apparent difficulties in the doctrine as it appears to be paradoxical that Jesus Christ could be both a fully human person and man, while at the same time being a fully divine Person within the Tri-unity of one God who is also three distinct Persons:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  One self-professed Scripturalist suggested that Dr. Clark had been totally wrong in all of his previous writings on The Atonement, The Trinity, and several other books where Clark held that Christ is one Person.  This is of course somewhat true.  But what the blogger does not say or believe is that Clark was pointing out that the word "person" as it was understood previously in the Chalcedonian Definition of 451 A.D. was not a clearly defined word.  Clark did not completely reject the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Chalcedonian creed but simply wanted to define terms and reconcile the apparent paradox.  His final view was that Jesus Christ was two persons, a fully human person and a fully divine Person, the divine Logos.  (See:  Was Gordon H. Clark a Nestorian? by Gary Crampton and Kenneth Talbot).  This is because Dr. Clark was a systematic and logical thinker.  His basic point of view is that logical propositions should not violate the law of contradiction.   But more about that in another blog post later. 

[Nota Bene:  My own opinion of Dr. Clark's book, The Incarnation, has evolved and changed over time.  I now fully agree with Dr. Clark's definition of person as a system of propositions that the person thinks.  You can read one of my earlier posts before I fully embraced Clark's view here.]

However, the point I want to make here is that those who claim to accept Dr. Clark's axiom of Scripture, while rejecting Dr. Clark's views on the Westminster Confession of Faith as a system of propositional truth deduced from the Bible, have no valid claim or profession in regards to holding to Clark's views.  That is because logical systems are consistent with all the parts.  Just as isolating one proposition from the multiplication tables, such as 2 x 2 = 4, and rejecting the rest of the table would be irrational, so to isolate certain aspects of Dr. Clark's philosophy and theology from the rest of his theological system would also be irrational.  The fact is Dr. Clark fully approved of the Westminster Standards with only a few minor points of disagreement.  One of those points of disagreement was the definition of the word infallible in regards to one's assurance of salvation.  But more about that in another post.

The fact of the matter is that Dr. Clark rejected personal experience as a source of knowledge because personal experience varies from one person to the next and absolute truth is therefore rejected in favor of relativism.  He rejected empiricism because blank minds cannot think or learn.  Since all knowledge is propositional in nature, there must be apriori abilities of the human soul.  Even here Dr. Clark deduces these innate qualities and abilities from the Bible.  Since God is Logic (John 1:1) and man is God's image (Genesis 1:27, John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 11:7), it follows that man's ability to think logically is because man is God's image.  It is the human soul that is God's image because God is a spirit without any body parts.  (Deuteronomy 4:15-16; John 4:24; Luke 24:39.  See: WCF Chapter 2, Section 1).

As substantiation for my contention I want to quote Dr. Clark from a couple of his writings.  First, to demonstrate that he held that Scripture is a consistent system of propositional revelation which can be summarized in systematic form we read in his book on the Westminster Confession of Faith:


Aside from the fact that God has commanded his servants to preach all his revelation, one great reason for preaching on the eternal decree is that a knowledge of sovereignty, election, and predestination is necessary in order to understand many other doctrines.
How else can we understand the perseverance of the saints?  
And assurance of salvation, far from being inconsistent with divine sovereignty, is impossible without the doctrine of election.  If God has not from all eternity decided to preserve me in grace, do I have any spiritual power in myself to persevere to the end?  And if I have such power, would not salvation be achieved through my own efforts and by my own merits, rather than by God's grace. [?]  [sic].
This doctrine of the eternal decree underlies not only the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, but also that of effectual calling, the necessity and nature of regeneration, the gifts of saving faith, and in short the whole gospel.
For the whole Gospel is not just a few disjointed truths.  It is an ordered and logical system.  Each part bears on each other part.  This is what is meant in Chapter I, section v, where it says we may be induced to a reverend esteem of the Scripture by the consent, the logical consistency, of all the parts.
Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  What Do Presbyterians Believe?  1965.  2nd Edition.  (Unicoi:  Trinity Foundation, 2001).  P. 47.

The unique ability of Dr. Gordon H. Clark to apply his training in philosophy and logic to theological issues and his defense of biblical Christianity is encouraging in the face of so many Evangelical and Reformed seminaries these days which are promoting neo-orthodox theology and postmodernism as their apologetic method.  But as one can see from the Westminster Confession, Dr. Clark was not so unique as these modern irrationalists would have one believe.   The Westminster divines were well instructed in classical learning, including courses in logic, rhetoric, grammar and theology.  Their philosophy and theology was thoroughly committed to the idea that truth should be fitted into a system of objective truth.  That beginning axiom for Christians and for Dr. Clark was the axiom of Scripture.  All the propositions of Scripture are profitable for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16) and those propositions may legitimately be summarized and deduced into a logical system.  That system, which Dr. Clark said was the best summary of the Bible ever produced, is the Westminster Confession of Faith.

But it should also be noted that for Dr. Gordon H. Clark knowledge was not relative or ever changing but rather absolute and unchanging.  The only way to arrive at truth is through a system of logical propositions.  Since everyone is a presuppositionalist or fideist, Dr. Clark asserted that the secular thinkers were inconsistent when they attack Christian presuppositionalism.  According to Dr. Clark, logical positivism cannot prove its own axiom because the beginning axiom is empirically unverifiable and unfalsifiable from empirical observation!  Empiricism is no better because blank minds cannot think:



There is a third view of truth that attempts to escape these difficulties. It might be called apriorism, presuppositionalism, or intellectualism, if these terms are not too definitely connected with earlier, specific systems. The subjective aspect of this theory requires a body of apriori forms or truths as a guarantee against skepticism. In empiricism the mind begins as a blank sheet of paper, and to use Aristotle’s phrase, it is actually nothing before it thinks. Then sensation furnishes data. But the apriorists find themselves unable to understand how universal and immutable truth can be constructed out of constantly changing particulars. How can the laws of logic, which are not sense data, be constructed from bits of experience when these bits must first be connected by the laws of logic? How can alleged data bear any meaning apart from presupposed logical forms? The classification of data or even of one datum can be made legitimately only through the use of universal principles not contained in momentary particulars.


A Christian who adopts this view does not find that it lacks Scriptural support. The Reformed doctrine of the image of God in man attributes to man’s mind or soul characteristics which come directly from the act of creation and not from sensory experience. Man’s original endowment contained both knowledge and righteousness. Scripture does not describe the soul, either before or after the fall, as blank or actually nothing. So ineradicable is this original knowledge that even when a depraved sinner wishes to extrude God from his mind, he cannot do so, but retains some recognition of the divine majesty and the moral law written on his heart.


It is in this way that apriorism avoids the deadly dilemma of omniscience or skepticism. Instead of beginning with nothing and failing to arrive at universal propositions through sensation, and instead of beginning with everything and failing to explain our present extensive ignorance, apriorism allows a body of primary principles on which further knowledge may be built up.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark, "The Nature of Truth,"  The Gordon H. Clark Foundation.

And to further emphasize my point that truth must be organized into a consistent and coherent logical system, Dr. Clark says in the same article:


On the objective side of the problem also, apriorism or intellectualism would seem to offer less difficulty than the competing views. The unity of truth is preserved without sacrificing the clarity and distinctness of several truths because truth is conceived as a system of truths. While a person may know this or that proposition without knowing its place in the system, the proposition itself is objectively a part of a logical whole. It derives its meaning from the system although the person in question may not know the derivation.
(Ibid.).


All this was said simply to point out that certain so-called Scripturalists who reject the logical and theological system of truth espoused by the Westminster Confession of Faith have no legitimate claim to their profession.  The doctrine of saving faith, which Dr. Clark wrote about extensively, does not teach antinomianism nor can it be isolated from the doctrines of regeneration, repentance, conversion, justification, sanctification and assurance of salvation.  All the parts fit together into a logical system of theological propositions which are deduced from the Bible and summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Even Dr. Clark contended that the WCF is not an infallible document.  He said that it was subordinate to the Scriptures.  But this does not mean that Presbyterians are free to reject the system of theology in the Westminster Confession.  Far from it.  Saving faith, although it does not promote the tautological views of the neo-Calvinists as knowledge and assent plus trust, does fit into the same system that teaches that sanctification produces assurance of salvation.  It is also the same system that says that the perseverance of the saints is monergistic and not synergistic.  And it  is the same system that says that any synergistic cooperation of the will of the elect person is also caused by God's absolute sovereignty.

Charlie J. Ray.

 

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