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

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Further Remarks on Clark's View of Common Ground

"Note well that this does not say that there is no common ground between a Christian and an unbeliever.  I hold that Christ is the light and logos that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  I hold that every man is made in the image of God, and that every man has what may conveniently be called an innate idea of God.  All this is common ground between the Christian and the unbeliever."   [Selected Letters].

"Therefore, without in the least denying that sin has affected their volition, it must be asserted that sin has also affected their intellect."  [God's Hammer].

-- Dr. Gordon H. Clark

In my previous post, Did Gordon H. Clark Advocate a Common Ground View of Apologetics?, I stated that it was Gordon H. Clark's view that there is no common ground between the unbeliever and the believer.  However, in my Facebook debate group, Calvinism Defended Against All, Doug Douma posted a comment that quoted from the Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark where Clark does say that there is at least some common ground between the believer and the unbeliever.  The letter was written to Dr. J. Oliver Buswell in regards to Buswell's review of Clark's book, A Christian Philosophy of Education.  Somehow the quote that Doug posted is not showing in Facebook anymore so I will type out the quote here for the reader:

It is not necessary for you to say that you have not tried to do me any injustice.  I have never detected in you any kind of injustice; and if you are not literally the most just man with whom I have had dealings, at least I have met no man more just.

It amuses me somewhat to compare what you say of my thought with what Dr. Van Til says.  You complain that I do not allow for a "common ground" while Dr. Van Til condemns me because I do.  Probably I suffer from inability to express myself clearly.  And for this reason I think you have done me an injustice unwittingly.  You have every right to argue against my position, and I have enjoyed reading your argument.  But at one point, I must say, you have mistaken my meaning.

On page four you say, "he denies that we have any common ground, in facts or rationality, with unbelievers."  And you quote from page 164 of my book.  But you do not begin your quotation soon enough.  The preceding two sentences are important:  "There is no such thing as a common ground between Christianity and a non-Christian system.  From a world naturalistically conceived, one cannot argue to the God of the Christians."  Note well that this does not say that there is no common ground between a Christian and an unbeliever.  I hold that Christ is the light and logos that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  [John 1:9]  I hold that every man is made in the image of God, and that every man has what may conveniently be called an innate idea of God.  All this is common ground between the Christian and the unbeliever.  But there is no common ground between Christianity and a non-Christian system.  It seems to me that it is wise to keep distinct what is true about a system and what is true about individual persons.  Systems attain a high degree of consistency; people often do not.  I fear that misapprehension of my meaning has affected several parts of your review.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark.    Clark and His Correspondents:  Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark.  Compiled by Douglas J. Douma.  Edited by Thomas W. Juodaitis.  (Unicoi:  Trinity Foundation, 2017).  Pp. 127-128. 

I would like to make several comments about this quote.  First, as Dr. Clark himself said, individuals are not always consistent with any particular system of propositional truth, including the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Inductive reasoning can and does often lead to logical fallacies and invalid reasoning.  The fact that all men are created in God's image (John 1:9; Genesis 1:27) does not negate the noetic effects of sin (Romans 1:18-32; Romans 3:10-23; Jeremiah 13:23) and the propensity of individuals to make logical errors in thinking.  (Romans 1:21).  However, if there were no such thing as rationality no one would be able to communicate at all since even languages and grammatical constructions depend on word definitions and logical propositions.  All knowledge is propositional in nature, including the formulation of language.  This is also why the Bible is not an idol composed of paper, leather and ink spots on a page.  It is indeed written on paper and the ink forms letters that together formulate linguistic expressions that form words and sentences that can be understood with the mind.  But every jot and tittle of God's written word forms words with definite definitions and definite propositional revelation such that God's written word can have only one correct meaning in any given verse.

The emphasis is that individuals who are committed to non-Christian systems have no common ground with Christians who accept the system of knowledge revealed in Scripture and from which the Christian makes other deductions by good and necessary consequence.  But that does not mean that all communication between the believer and unbeliever is meaningless conversation.  Even an atheist can understand that the Bible defines a sovereign God but the atheist refuses to believe what he understands the Bible to say about God.  The Arminian understands very well that Calvinism contends for the absolute predestination of all things, including moral evil.  But the Arminian refuses to believe what he understands as the Calvinist exegesis of the Scriptures.  The problem is not understanding the argument but refusing to believe what is understood.  This is why Arminians are so opposed to Christianity as defined by the Calvinist system of dogmatic truth summarized by the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Sadly, today many semi-Arminian Calvinists only believe an edited version of the Westminster Confession.

It goes without saying that the unregenerate elect and the unregenerate reprobate share unbelief.  But at some point God, who has foreordained the election and reprobation of certain and particular individuals whom He knows by name, will cause the arguments used by evangelists and theologians to take effect through the means of God's written word so that the elect will be effectually called to saving faith.  (John 1:12-13; John 3:3-8; John 10:3; 2 Timothy 2:19; Isaiah 55:11-12).

We too should read the Confession. And we should preach it with vigor. Not only have Romanists, modernists, and neo-orthodox departed from the teachings of the Bible, but there are also others, who in spite of professing to adhere to the Scripture, have diverged, sometimes widely, from the truth. There was a Bible professor in a Christian college who taught that man was a sinner, man was in a bad way, man was sick in sin. Now, salvation, so this Bible professor explained it, is like medicine in the drug store; and the sick man ought to drag himself to the store and get the medicine, and be cured. There was also a convinced Presbyterian on this faculty, who taught in accordance with the Westminster Confession.

So evident to the students was the contrast between these two theologies that the President disconnected the Presbyterian from his post.

The Bible and the Confession teach that man is not just sick in sin; he is dead in sin; and salvation rather than being compared with medicine is compared with a resurrection.

Gordon H. Clark. Articles on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Kindle Locations 358-367). Kindle Edition.

The doctrine of total depravity teaches that no part of human nature escapes the devastation of sin, and among the passages on which this doctrine is based are some which describe the effects of sin on human knowledge. For example, when Paul in 1 Timothy 4:2 says that certain apostates have their consciences seared with a hot iron, he must mean not only that they commit wicked acts but also that they think wicked thoughts. Their ability to distinguish right from wrong is impaired, and thus they give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. Therefore, without in the least denying that sin has affected their volition, it must be asserted that sin has also affected their intellect. And though Paul has in mind a particular class of people, no doubt more wicked than others, yet the similarity of human nature and the nature of sin force the conclusion that the minds of all men, though perhaps not to the same degree, are impaired.

Gordon H. Clark. God's Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics.   (Gordon Clark) (Kindle Locations 575-582). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

These noetic effects of sin have been used to support the conclusion that an unregenerate man cannot understand the meaning of any sentence in the Bible. From the assertion “there is none who understands,” it might seem to follow that when the Bible says, “David…took out a stone…and struck the Philistine in his forehead,” an unbeliever could not know what the words mean.

Gordon H. Clark. God's Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics.  (Gordon Clark) (Kindle Locations 590-592). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

It should not be concluded, therefore, that Gordon H. Clark agreed with the Three Points of Common Grace or any other system that asserts a common ground between the world's system of knowledge or epistemology and the system of propositional truth summarized by the Westminster Confession of Faith, which Clark says is the best doctrinal and dogmatic system of theology ever deduced from the Bible.  (See Westminster Confession of Faith 1:6).  I say this for the simple reason that Clark completely rejected empirical science as an epistemological system that could produce knowledge or even moral values.  For Clark logical positivism is self refuting because its starting axiom is itself unverifiable or falsifiable by means of a tabula rasa, blank slate, or the five senses.  According to Clark, it is impossible to demonstrate how one could get from sensations to perceptions to mental images.  A second criticism Clark registers is that empirical science commits the fallacy of induction.  Science is always changing and can never arrive at any final truth on anything, most especially when it comes to morality, ethics and values.

This brings me to my objection to certain political philosophies that are derived from secular systems or non-Christian systems of thinking in regards to current controversies in the culture wars and politics.  Let it be said that any political science or philosophy that is deduced from empiricism or the secular sciences is inherently relativistic and therefore non-Christian if not out and out anti-Christian.  This would include any so-called "Christian" libertarianism.  There can be no common ground and no co-belligerence between libertarianism and Christianity for the simple reason that the proponents of the modern libertarian movement are what Gordon H. Clark called contemporary impuritans:

Contemporary Impuritans
.....The central cause of this widespread moral collapse, so it seems to me, is located in the decline of Puritan religion. This returns us to the main theme of religious rather than civil history. When the seminaries and churches declare that God is dead, or when, less extreme, they substitute for the Puritan God of the Ten Commandments a different concept of god, inconsistent with the Ten Commandments, it logically and factually follows that morality is changed, too. A man’s view of morality depends on his view of God or whatever his first principle may be. Different types of theology produce different types of morality.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  "The Puritans and Situation Ethics."  Trinity Review.  January/February 1989.  Audio lecture.

The previous lecture began with the moral principles of the Puritans and then contrasted them with our contemporary moral anarchy. It has always been clear that the Puritans derived their ethics from the ten commandments and the God who gave them. What is not always so clear is that competing systems, and even anarchy, must also presuppose or imply a particular theological position. Some systems may deliberately announce a different kind of God and then deduce their ethics from their concept of deity. More frequently, however, a system of ethics is erected on an independent foundation and a type of deity is then manufactured to suit the ethics.

Gordon H. Clark.  "The Decline of Theology in America."  Transcript of audio lecture.  The Gordon H. Clark Foundation.

According to Gordon H. Clark, one cannot get an "ought" from what "is":

The principle by which logical positivism dismisses all metaphysics and all theology as meaningless nonsense is their verification principle. They hold that nothing can be true or even false unless it can be verified or falsified by sensory experience. What is unverifiable is neither true nor false, but completely meaningless. Our objection now is that this verification principle cannot itself be verified, and hence it is meaningless. But if their basic principle is as much nonsense as they think theology is, they have no basic principle on which to impune theology.

The second point, unlike some of these technicalities, is well within the range of the general public. It is derivative and subsidiary, but it is more a matter of daily life. This second point is that empiricism cannot establish any norm of morality. I am not saying that secular morality and Christian morality are different. A recent defense of abortion, a TV interview, was that the government should enforce only rational morality and not revelational morality. My point is that so-­called rational morality does not exist. The reason should be easily understandable.  Empirical philosophy claims to base all its truth on observation. Therefore, any evaluations or moral judgments empiricism makes must be inferred from observations. Now, observations at best can only give statistical information as to what is the case. It can record record how many murders occurred in Philadelphia last month, how many divorces were granted in Washington, and how many cases of arson there were in Boston. But a simple logical principle prevents the empiricist from concluding that murder is unjustifiable. One of the essential requirements for a valid argument is the presence in the premises of every term found in the conclusion. If any term in the conclusion is missing from the premises, the argument is a fallacy. For example, if all cows are wise animals, and if all wise animals are beautiful, it logically follows that all cows arebeautiful. It does not follow that all cows are lame, or that all dogs are beautiful. Neither lame nor dogs are found in the premises. Therefore, they cannot be allowed in the conclusion. The point of this example is that empirical premises contain nothing but statements of empirical facts. They give observational data. They state what is. Hence, nothing but observational data can be put into the conclusion. If the premises state only what is, the conclusion cannot state what ought to be. There is no way of deriving a normative principle form an empirical observation.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark, "Empiricism."  Transcript of audio tapeThe Gordon H. Clark Foundation.  

In opposition to so-called Christian libertarianism, therefore, Clark said that political and judicial law should be deduced from the Christian system of epistemology or special revelation, not any revelation deduced from natural law or reason.  Just as we cannot deduce the Trinity from natural revelation or natural theology so we cannot deduce that fornication, adultery, homosexuality, transgenderism or gambling is sinful from what can be observed in nature or by way of empirical science.  But particularly devastating to the so-called Scripturalists who advocate a judicial morality that is deduced from a secular system of political libertarianism is Clark's remarks in the question and answer session on Puritan ethics:

Moderator: Dr. Clark, should the federal and state governments of the U.S. include the ten commandments in their basic body of ordinances?

Moderator: This is in line with your Puritan ethics, I suppose.

Dr. Clark: If you make the franchise dependent on church membership, it results in great hypocrisy in the church. And it has proved deleterious in the case of the Puritans. Now, what was further in that question?

Moderator: Should we, should the federal and state governments of the U.S. include the ten commandments in their basic body of ordinances?

Dr. Clark: Well, yes I rather suppose so. And in fact it has been done done perhaps not completely. But people who say that you cannot legislate morality and people who say they don’t want Christian morality imposed on them, don’t seem to object to laws against theft.  Particularly if they’re the victims. And the law against theft of course comes from the ten commandments. So those who make these objections are inconsistent. They don’t follow the logic of their principles. I don’t see how they could sustain any laws.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  Question and Answers:  A Panel Including Gordon H. Clark.  Transcript of audio tapeThe Gordon H. Clark Foundation.

I could give much more evidence that Clark was opposed to libertarian political philosophy.  He also says that secular humanism has no  basis for morality or ethics for the same reasons that empiricism can produce no morality or values.  Libertarianism is another variety of godless non-Christian systemic anarchy.  In a future post I will examine what Dr. Clark had to say about the civil magistrate and from where governments can legitimately derive their authority.  Unless the government is derived from special revelation from God the end result is tyranny.  This would include all forms of secularism, including libertarianism.  I make no apologies for quoting extensively from Clark's writings and his lectures.  It seems fairly self-evident to me that Scripturalists who endorse secular libertarian political philosophy are out of accord with Clark himself and in fact advocating a contradiction if not outright moral anarchy.  The doctrine of common grace has been rightly said to attribute civic good to the reprobate.  But as with all of the effects of the original sin of Adam, sin has corrupted more than just individuals but sociological systems as well.  Principalities and powers are in operation here.  (Ephesians 3:10; 6:12).

You shall not at all do as we are doing here today-- every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes-- (Deut. 12:8 NKJ)

 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Jdg. 17:6 NKJ)

 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Jdg. 21:25 NKJ)

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise. (Prov. 12:15 NKJ)

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts. (Prov. 21:2 NKJ)


John Bradshaw said...

Thankyou Charlie.
This was perhaps the best summary I have read of Clark's views relating to ethics/politics. It made several things fall into place. Particularly helped with the discussion about logical positivists/ethics.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks for your kind remarks, John. I have been busy with work and didn't see your comment until today. Charlie

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