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, December 01, 2017

Keith Mathison's Response to John Frame's Mutualism

"First lessons in theology, no matter how elementary, do not dare to omit the Scriptural material on omniscience, immutability, and creation. But it would be unfair to the student to leave the impression that all is elementary and easy. While it is conceit to assert that the problem [immutability and divine simplicity] here is insoluble, for no one knows enough to set limits to the implications of Scripture, it is not conceit, it is not even modesty, it is but frustrating fact to acknowledge that even the better attempts to solve this problem leave much to be desired."   -- Dr. Gordon H. Clark

I am always learning but hopefully I am arriving somewhere closer to the truth.  Pun intended.  However, in studying the doctrine of the incarnation and the trinity it has become all the more apparent to me that the problem of God's immutability and how that can be understood in relation to the doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus Christ is one that has not been completely solved even by the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  For example, in regards to the doctrine of creation Dr. Clark rightly asked the question of how an immutable God can "begin" to create?  If God is eternally timeless, then how does that work in regards to providential time?  After all, God is eternally omniscient and never learns anything new.  If God looks into the future to learn what will happen and then adjusts His providence to accommodate for contingencies and possibilities, is the future always in flux and is God ignorant of the future?

10. Immutability and Creation.

It would not do, however, to omit from this chapter a discussion of an extremely difficult point that besets the doctrine of creation. The difficulty lies in the apparent antithesis between divine immutability and the single, once­ for­ all act of creation, from which God rested on the seventh day. The history of theology has not overlooked this difficulty, but the solutions proposed are sometimes painfully superficial. 

Augustine did his best with the problem: How can the eternal and immutable produce the temporal and changing? The famous Passage in the Confessions (XI, 10, or 12) begins with the question of the Manichaeans: "What was God doing before he created the heaven and the earth?  If he were lazy and inactive, why, they ask, why did he not remain so for the rest of time, the same as before, doing nothing? If a change occurred in God, a new volition, to create what he had not yet created, how could there be a true eternity, when a volition occurred that had not occurred previously? Indeed, the will of God is not a creature; it precedes every creature; nothing is created without the preexisting will of the creator. The will of God belongs to the very substance of God. If in the divine substance, something comes forth that did not previously exist, that substance cannot be truly called eternal. And if God has always willed the existence of the creature, why is not the creature also eternal?" (cf. City of God, XI, 4­5).

The way the Manichaeans and Augustine understood the problem results in a solution that depends on a theory of time. The first word of Genesis, "in the beginning,” indicates a moment at which creatures first began to exist. Since, now, change defines time, time itself is a creature and began in the finite past. Hence it is wrong to picture God as doing nothing for a long time and then after this time creating the world. There was no time before creation. God is eternal, not temporal. A time preceding creation would pose the question, Why did God choose one moment, rather than an earlier or later moment, in which to create? In an infinite void time, every moment would be indistinguishable from every other. No one more than any other would contain a reason for choosing that one to be the moment of creation. This irrationality therefore precludes an infinite past of empty time. Similarly there could be no infinite empty space, for the same question reappears: Why did God create the world here rather than there? 

Quoted from:  Introduction to Theology, Chapter 4, Creation, by Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  (Pp. 29-30, pdf file). This is an unpublished chapter from an unpublished systematic theology written by Clark.  Thanks to Doug Douma for posting this on his blog, A Place for Thoughts.
Clark openly said that he had not solved this apparent contradiction between God's immutability and His providence in creation:

J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., in his A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (pp. 40, 42, 47­-48, 52­-53) solves the present problem by denying what previous theologians have called immutability. Buswell of course asserts that God is eternal, but he denies that eternity is timelessness. He objects to the idea of an eternal now, and disapproves of Augustine and Aquinas. Although he asserts that God is “unchangeable in his being,” he repudiates "a timeless mental and spiritual immobility.” He denies that God is "fully actualized," and asserts that God is (partly at least) potential; from which we must conclude that Buswell is conceiving of God as in a state of development. He says, "The implications of the doctrine that God is 'pure act,' 'fully realized', that in him there is 'no potentiality (dunamis)' are devastating."

Naturally there is no antithesis between a temporal, potential, developing God and an act of creation preceded by time.

First lessons in theology, no matter how elementary, do not dare to omit the Scriptural material on omniscience, immutability, and creation. But it would be unfair to the student to leave the impression that all is elementary and easy. While it is conceit to assert that the problem here is insoluble, for no one knows enough to set limits to the implications of Scripture, it is not conceit, it is not even modesty, it is but frustrating fact to acknowledge that even the better attempts to solve this problem leave much to be desired.  (Ibid., pp. 33-34, pdf file).

Moreover, I find it refreshing that there are at least a few defenders of old school Calvinism and classical Reformed theology out there.  Dr. Keith Mathison of Table Talk Magazine wrote the following critique of John Frame's review of James Dolezal's polemical work on divine simplicity. His observations in regards to Frame's theology of mutualism and divine immanence is a refreshing and encouraging theological tsunami that raises many valid points against assuming that all Scripture is apparently paradoxical:

Theologians even of the stature of the late Dr. Robert L. Reymond unwittingly introduced a form of mutualism into the doctrine of immutability when he objected to Dr. Gordon H. Clark's doctrine of divine impassibility and immutability.  The implications of Dr. James Dolezal's work for students of Dr. Gordon H. Clark are tremendously important.

I recently purchased both of James Dolezal's book on divine simplicity in Kindle format from the Amazon website and will be utilizing those books in my continuing defense of Gordon H. Clark's view of the incarnation as two persons.  Dolezal's books are available here:

God Without Parts:  Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God's Absoluteness.

Of course, the theological debate between the Van Tilian school of apologetics and Clarkian apologetics continues to this day.  The trouble is that when the axiom of plenary verbal inspiration and biblical inerrancy is replaced with a thomist theology of analogy the tendencies toward neo-orthodoxy and Barthianism is notable.  Even worse, when Scripture is devalued as univocal and propositional revelation, the result is the undermining of every other doctrine as well.  The classical view that Scripture is an objective revelation from God is replaced by a theory that posits a twofold view of knowledge such that man can know nothing God knows whatsoever.  But is a theory of Scripture as analogy more neo-orthodox than Reformed?  I think the answer is yes. 

If there is a twofold theology of knowledge or epistemology the implication is that man's theological systems are all anthropocentric and not essentially based in direct divine and special revelation.  That would be because Scripture is not univocally identical to what God knows.  If definitions mean anything at all it would imply that knowledge has two different meanings and Van Tilians are using both definitions in equivocating and contradictory ways.

Another problem with Frame's approach is that he equivocates on the doctrine of plenary inspiration by advocating an axiom that from the outset makes Scripture irrational revelation.  The problem stated is that when Cornelius Van Til said that all Scripture is apparently contradictory he was presupposing an axiom of irrationality as his starting point for his theology.  The result of such contradictory thinking leaves the door wide open to outright contradictions in Frame's analogical system of doing theology and apologetics.  It is just fine to affirm both Arminianism and Calvinism since the contradictions can be resolved above the anvil in heaven and there is no need to try to resolve apparent contradictions and paradoxes here on earth.

For those who have unwittingly bought into a theology of paradox and contradictions it does not matter that the distinction between the doctrine of predestination or the divine decree and the doctrine of providence has not been fully solved.  According to Van Til's thinking, it is fine to embrace contradictions.  Dr. Gordon H. Clark never said that he had solved every apparent paradox in regards to the Trinity and the Incarnation.  But he at least tried to solve those problems and give some logical considerations to possible solutions.  In regards to the Trinity, for example, Clark said only that God is three in one sense and one in another sense.  But he was quick to point out that Van Til's contention that God was both one Person and three Persons is an outright contradiction and a direct rejection of classical Reformed and confessional theology.

In regards to the Incarnation, Clark rightly pointed out that the Definition of Chalcedon 451 A.D. said that the divine Logos did not replace the human soul of Jesus Christ but that the Definition then went on to say in so many words that Christ was not a human person.  Unfortunately, Clark died before he could finish his final book.  Though many of the Van Tilians are quick to call Clark a Nestorian for positing that Christ was both a genuine human person and the incarnation of the divine Logos, a distinct Person of the Trinity, I do not think the charge stands justified on the basis of Clark's own work.  And it is ironic that it is the Van Tilians who are advocating another departure from classical Christian theism by adopting the contradiction of immanence and transcendence as another part of their analogical system based on the axiom of irrationalism and apparent contradiction here on earth.

For another review of Dolezal's book, All That Is in God, see:  Reformation 21:  All That Is in God, by Malcom Yarnell.

Keith Mathison's review of All That Is in God is here:  Table Talk:  Book Review.

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