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

Monday, January 09, 2017

Incarnation Part 3

A Theological and Scripturalist Defense of Gordon H. Clark's Two Person View of the Incarnation
Part 3
By Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.
In the Westminster Confession of Faith, according to Dr. Gordon H. Clark, the doctrines are prioritized in descending order of importance.  The primary place belongs to Scripture followed by the doctrine of God and the Trinity in chapter 2.  The third most important doctrine is the doctrine of predestination because predestination logically follows from the doctrine of an eternally omniscient and eternally immutable God.  Dr. Clark deduces all of his theology and apologetics from Scripture as his beginning point or axiom.  But in order to get to the heart of the matter, I will break from the logical priority and go first to the doctrine of the human nature as God's image.  It is important to understand that Dr. Clark's thinking in his final book, The Incarnation, was not a significant break from his earlier works as some of his critics contend.  In fact, I will argue that Dr. Clark had these ideas in mind as early as his examination for ordination in the 1940s.  Dr. Gordon H. Clark is unique in that his entire apologetics is built on logical and propositional systematic theology.  For Clark, a paradox is simply confused thinking and if there are apparent contradictions it is possible to reconcile and harmonize the parts of the system because the beginning premise or axiom is biblical inerrancy, not biblical errancy.  Liberals presuppose that fallibility and errancy is inherent in the human nature and that only God can be infallible and inerrant.  It follows, therefore, that only God can know the truth.  According to the neo-orthodox position, systematic truth can only exist in God's mind and since God is totally transcendent and unknowable, humans can only know things God knows by analogy, not "mere" human logic.  But as Dr. Clark often pointed out, do humans do "mere" human arithmetic or does God also know that 2 + 2 = 4?  Unfortunately, Van Til defined paradox as an unresolvable contradiction here on earth and something which could only be resolved above the anvil in God's mind.
It is difficult to develop a timeline for the progression of Dr. Clark's thought but I will attempt to do so with a few references to Clark's distinction between God's knowledge and man's knowledge.  For Dr. Clark, man's knowledge is subject to change and is therefore discursive and progressive while God's knowledge is direct and intuitive.  God knows all the propositions there are to be known all at the same time.   In fact, according to Dr. Clark, the ability to think one thought after another is innate in man and is an a priori gift of God given to man.  This sequential process of thinking one thought after another is what marks off time.  Therefore, for God there can be no progressive thinking, learning or even marking of time.  God is eternally immutable and there is no progression from one thought to another in God's eternal mind.  God never learns anything new and it is on this basis of God's timelessness that He knows human history past, present and future as one eternally unchanging now.  God truly is timeless and omniscient because He is God.
Van Tilians, or those who follow the apologetics of the late Dr. Cornelius Van Til, insist that man can know nothing God knows "as God knows" it because there is a difference in "quality" between human knowledge and God's eternal knowledge.  Van Til rejected systematic theology as "mere" human logic and insisted instead that all Scripture is apparently contradictory.  For Van Til systematic and propositional knowledge exists only in God's unknowable and un-understandable mind.  For Van Til incomprehensibility means God is unknowable, which is virtually indistinguishable from the neo-orthodox doctrine of God's total transcendence.   But the Puritans did not define incomprehensibility this way.  For the Puritans and the Protestant Reformers God's knowledge is not totally transcendent but is rather immeasurable.  When the Anglican divines defined God as incomprehensible in the 39 Articles of Religion and the Puritans followed this in the Westminster Confession of Faith they did not mean that God is completely unknowable or totally transcendent because this would mean that Scripture was only a human opinion of what God is like rather than direct and divine revelation of God in propositional form.  For the Protestant Reformers to say that God is incomprehensible meant that God knows way more than humans know because God knows all the propositions than can be known and thus His knowledge is immeasurable, not unknowable.  We can know some things God knows just as God knows them; but we cannot know all things God knows because His knowledge is intuitive and omniscient.
In Clark's examination for ordination several questions at the onset indicate that his views were not acceptable to certain ordained ministers present at his examination on July 7th, 1944:

18    By Reverend Clelland:
19    Q  You have been examined before, Mr. Clark, by the Presby-
20    tery, and I do not think it is necessary for me to conduct
21    a comprehensive examination in theology at this time.  There-
22    fore, I shall confine myself to certain points which seem to
23    me important in the case at issue.
24    You accept a confession of the faith in our Church, as
25    brought out in the Holy Scriptures?
1       A  I do. 
2       Q  You believe the statement in Chapter 2, Section 1 that the
3       one and only living and true God is incomprehensible?
4       A  I believe that there are indications in Scripture
5       that when we shall be gloried,  our knowledge will continue to
6       increase forever, and that in all probability there will be
7       no end to such increase.
8       Q  There will always be then, something which we could
9       not yet comprehend?
10    A  It seems to me entirely likely, though the exegies of
11    it are a little weak, but it seems to me entirely likely that
12    there will always be certain particular truths that we do not
13    know.
14    Q  I will ask you this question, which you may have already
15    answered:
16    Is all truths in the mind of God, capable of being ad-
17    dressed in propositions intelligible to the mind of man?
18    A  I would no[t] [sic] know what the word: "truth" meant unless
19    as a quality of [a] proposition.  I cannot conceive of anything
20    that is of truth that is not a proposition.
21    Q  All right, [sic] then—how about the proposition being in-
22    telligible to the mind of man?
23    A  I have no Scriptural basis for that, [;] God can reveal
24    Any particular proposition to man, and if God can make Sons
1       of Abraham out of stones of the roadway, he can make even
2       a stupid person understand a proposition.
3       Q  Is the omniscience of God an incommunicable attribute?
4       A  Yes.
5       Q  Man then, will never be omniscient?
6       A  I have already stated that there will always be propositions
7       That man will not know and furthermore, if omniscience is
8       supposed to be not only the proposition that God knows, but
9       his manner of knowing them, naturally, we shall never have
10    any knowledge in that manner.
11    Q  Chapter 3, section 1 of the Confession, this speaks of
12    God ['s] Eternal Decree by which He has ordained whatsoever comes
13    to past [sic], yet, so as thereby neither is God the author of sin,
14    nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor
15    the liberty nor contingency of second causes taken away—
16    do you freely subscribe to that statement?
17    A  Yes, it includes the last three words:
18    "But rather established."
19    Q  Does not that seem to be a paradox,--let me ask you?
20    can you accept doctrines that are paradoxical?
21    A  By paradox you mean, I suppose, a pair of propositions
22    which people cannot harmonize?
23    Q  Yes.
1       A  Yes.  That is often the case.  I have to accept certain
2       propositions which are paradoxical, but of course, you don't
3       mean paradoxical in the Barthian sense.
4       Q  Are there any conditions paradoxical to God?
5       A  No, sir.
6       There is no paradox in God?
7       A  No.
8       Q  Chapter 5, Section 3 under "Providence" reads as fol-
9       lows:
10    "God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means
11    yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his
12    pleasure."
13    Do you subscribe to that statement of Confession?
14    A  God works against men in the sense which a weak-kneed king
15    would try to do something, use an Army or some device to over-
16    throw the People of God, and God would destroy the Army or
17    the means that the King used.  I know of only two cases in
18    which God works without means, in the creation of the wor[l]d—[sic]
19    he used no means; and the only other case I know where God
20    has worked without all means—is in his upholding the Uni-
21    verse as a whole. 
22    As for working above, I must confess that I don't know
23    what the word:  "Above" means in this connection.  If
24    you give me a definition I will tell you what I think.
Having read numerous books by Clark, I can tell you that Dr. Clark fleshes out his disagreement with Barthianism by saying that Barth's definition of paradox is that a paradox is an unresolvable contradiction and that harmonization of two apparently conflicting propositions is impossible from below.  This is why Dr. Clark emphasized the statement that surely Reverend Clelland did not accept the Barthian definition of paradox.  Of course, Clark was cleared of all charges and his ordination went forward.  But the point I wish to make at this time is that for Dr. Clark there can be no presupposed axiom that apparent contradictions or paradoxes have no solution on this side of eternity.  While there can indeed be paradoxes that have not yet been resolved, this in no way implies that paradoxes have no solutions at all.  It is for this reason that Dr. Clark continued to work toward a resolution for the apparent paradox that Jesus Christ in His incarnation was two natures and one person.  Others have tackled the problem of the apparent contradiction of Christ's presence in one place in time and space, while at the same time the Eternal Son or Logos is omnipresent.  Few have taken on the problem of Christ's epistemological limitations in His human nature, particularly the fact that humans are not omniscient; although in His divine nature, He was truly omniscient.  Moreover, the three main attributes of deity are omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.  The human nature cannot obtain these incommunicable attributes of deity.
At least theoretically, then, the problem of Christ's incarnation as both human and as divine is not an unresolvable paradox but instead has a real and genuine solution.  This apparent contradiction can be tackled by laying the groundwork for the doctrine of the incarnation through examining Clark's doctrine of humanity as the image of God and Clark's doctrine of God.  More on this in the next blog post.
See:  Westminster Confession of Faith for reference to the above quoted examination.
See previous post at Incarnation Part 2.

Avast logo
This email has been checked for viruses by Avast antivirus software.


John Bradshaw said...

Hi mate,
Appreciate this section and it was good to read Clark's examination....Wow! How he was calm through that is unbelievable!!
I'm not sure if there are any other historical documents that tackle the two natures in one Person issue, but if you know of any that are worth reading in full pls reference them as you have time.
I have read Charlie Hodge as he discusses the man Christ Jesus and the Divine nature and the combination of both in the God-Man and that seems to make sense to me but he doesn't (as far as I can tell) get into meaty definitions about what a "nature" is. Thus he still leaves some questions to be answered. He does say that the Personhood belongs to the Son of God (ie Christ, the Son of God, was a Person from all eternity) and that Christ did not take on an already existing human person when He became a man, but rather, the Person of the Son of God took on a human nature.
Be interested in your next part of the series.
Thx again Charlie!!

Charlie J. Ray said...

Incarnation Part 4

Support Reasonable Christian Ministries with your generous donation.