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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Michael Horton's Theological Contradictions and Weak Calvinism

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. (Proverbs 30:5 KJV)

“The notion of analogy begins quite simply and innocently in Aristotle.”   Dr. Gordon H. Clark

"In no case does a prophet put his words forward as his own words. That he is a prophet at all is due not to choice on his own part, but to a call of God, obeyed often with reluctance; and he prophesies or forbears to prophesy, not according to his own will but as the Lord opens and shuts his mouth . . . and creates for him the fruit of the lips . . . In contrast with the false prophets, he strenuously asserts that he does not speak out of his own heart . . ., but all that he proclaims is the pure word of Jehovah."  Benjamin B. Warfield

Michael Horton’s Theological Contradictions and Weak Calvinism

Some years ago when I began listening to The White Horse Inn I will concede that I thought Mike Horton was a sincere Calvinist and that his stand for the doctrine of justification by faith alone was brilliant.  We are constantly told that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the doctrine by which the true visible churches stand or fall.  I say “visible” churches because from a Calvinist perspective the invisible church is composed of only those elected from before the foundation of world.  (Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 1:4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Isaiah 53:11; Revelation 13:8).  But when Martin Luther wrote against Disiderus Erasmus of Rotterdam on the issue of libertarian free will, Luther did not say that justification by faith alone was the central issue.  He said that predestination was the central issue.  But I will return to this later in this blog post. 

Unfortunately, those who follow the theology and apologetics of the now deceased professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dr. Cornelius Van Til, see almost everything in the Bible as apparently contradictory.  Because of Van Til’s adherence to idealism as his philosophical starting point, Van Til rejected the doctrine that logic and propositional revelation is how God lowers himself to our human level.  Instead, Van Ti contended that God is totally incomprehensible or beyond understanding to the human person, by which he meant that man can know nothing God knows except by analogy.  From this Van Til contended that the Bible is analogical revelation and not propositional revelation. 

The distinguishing characteristic between very non-Christian theory of knowledge on the one hand, and the Christian concept of knowledge on the other hand, is, therefore, that in all non-Christian theories men reason univocally, while in Christianity men reason analogically. By this distinction we mean that every non-Christian theory of method takes for granted, that time and eternity are aspects of one another, and that God and man must be thought of as being on the same plane. God and man must be thought of as correlative to one another. God and man work under a system of logic that is higher than both, and that exists in independence of both. The law of contradiction is thought of as existing somehow in independence of God and man or at least as operating in both God and man on the same level.

In contrast to this, Christianity holds that God existed alone before any time existence was brought forth. He existed as the self-conscious and self-consistent being. The law of contradiction, therefore, as we know it, is but the expression on a created level of the internal coherence of God’s nature. Christians should therefore never appeal to the law of contradiction as something that, as such, determines what can or cannot be true. . . .

Cornelius Van Til.  An Introduction to Systematic Theology. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1979).  Chapter 2.A.2.  [Logos Bible Software edition.  The page numbers didn’t show when I copied the quote.]

Of course, Van Til is using a propositional statement and the law of contradiction to deny Gordon H. Clark's view of revelation as propositional and subject to the law of contradiction.  Worse, Van Til is essentially and explicitly denying that the Bible is true.  Whether this was his intention or not is not the issue.  The fact remains that Van Til has openly denied the Bible is the direct revelation of God in written form.  Secondly, Van Til misrepresented Clark's view since Clark held that God is in the simplicity of His being Logic itself.  The eternal Logos is the second Person of the Trinity.  The law of contradiction is not something external to God to which God is subject. (John 1:1).

It is often contended by the Van Tilian camp that univocalism is the doctrine of modernists who make logic a magisterial lord over the Scriptures.  While this is somewhat true because the modernists used rationalism to explain away the inspiration of the Bible, biblical inerrancy, and the supernatural miracles of the Bible—including the virgin birth and the deity of Christ in His incarnation as a human being--in regards to the Fundamentals of the faith it is a non sequitur.

If the Bible is not univocally the very words of God, the implication is obviously neo-orthodoxy, not Reformation Christianity.  But liberals do not accept the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration or the doctrine of absolute biblical inerrancy.  For example, the modernists in the early part of the 20th century rejected the virgin birth on the basis that miracles in the Bible do not make logical sense in regards to modern science and empirical observation.  So in the Auburn Affirmation the liberals in the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America denied the fundamental doctrines of the Bible including the supernatural conception of Jesus Christ and his natural birth from the virgin Mary, his physical and bodily resurrection, and the absolute truth of the Bible because of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures.  Later the new modernists or the neo-orthodox liberals who followed the teachings of Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann and other irrationalists adopted a similar view when they said that the Bible only “contained” the word of God but was not the actual words of God.  

Dr. Gordon H. Clark, in contrast to Van Til and his followers, said that the Bible is literally the very words of God in written form and to deny this is to invite equivocation, ambiguity, and sophistry on the part of those who wish to hide their liberal leaning views.  Clark pointed this out in his remarks on the Auburn Affirmation in his book, What Do Presbyterians Believe?

With the introduction of modernism into our churches in the nineteenth century and with the coming of neo-orthodoxy in the twentieth, an appearance of loyalty to the Bible and to the Confession has been attempted by emphasizing certain words in the standards, by failing to mention others, and by misinterpreting the whole.  Thus unbelieving ministers made the double claims that they themselves accepted the Confession as originally intended, while the fundamentalists were inventing theories never before heard of.

Against the fundamentalists, who insisted on the inerrancy of the Bible, the modernists asserted that the Confession does not say the Bible is inerrant.  And today neo-orthodoxy loudly insists that the word of God is found in the Bible, perhaps only in the Bible, but that not everything in the Bible is true.  These modernists could appeal to the Shorter Catechism, Question 2:  “What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him?  Answer:  The word of God, which contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.”  Does it not say that the word is contained in the Scriptures?  Somewhere, but not everywhere, between Genesis and Revelation, the word of God is to be found.  This is their contention.  But if now we wish to know whether or not this was the view of the Reformers, whether not this is the position of the Presbyterian standards, and whether or not it is the teaching of the Scriptures themselves, which the standards summarize, we need only read other parts of the Confession. . . .

Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  What Do Presbyterians Believe?  (Trinity Foundation:  Unicoi, 1965). Pp. 15-16.

In fairness to Van Til, the doctrine of Scripture as analogical revelation is not exactly the same as the neo-orthodox view that not everything in the Bible is inerrant or inspired by God.  However, the practical result of denying propositional revelation and the law of contradiction is irrationalism.  If all Scripture is paradoxical or apparently contradictory, does it not follow that nothing in the Bible is rationally understandable and therefore cannot be systematically arranged into a dogmatic system that is logically consistent?  

I should also point out that the fundamentalists mentioned by Dr. Clark in the above quote were “B. B. Warfield, William G. Moorehead, E. Y. Mullins, and a score of others” who wrote articles in “twelve booklets called The Funamentals.”  (Clark, ibid.  P. 14).  Yet Dr. Michael Horton disparages “fundamentalists” in his writings, among whom Horton includes Dr. Carl F. H. Henry and Dr. Gordon H. Clark:

. . . We must recall that the Bible was generated in the context of a covenantal drama.  The script includes the speaking parts of unfaithful covenant servants, whose speech is nevertheless judged and corrected by the covenant Lord with the unfolding dialogue.   . . .
Similar to the early Christological heresy of Docetcism, which denied the reality of Christ’s full humanity, is a well-established historical tendency that one may discern in church history to downplay the humanity of Scripture.  Some ancient theologians spoke of the biblical writers as mere “flutes” on which the Spirit played or “secretaries” through whom he dictated his revelation.  Such analogies became literal theories in fundamentalism.  J. I. Packer refers to the comment of J.W. Burgon:  “Every book of it, every chapter of it, every word of it, every syllable of it, every letter of it, is the direct utterance of the Most High.” 16  W.A. Criswell expressed the same view:  “Each sentence was dictated by God’s Holy Spirit. . . .  Everywhere in the Bible we find God speaking.  It is God’s voice, not man’s.”17  Fundamentalism and Protestant orthodoxy are distinct traditions, and nowhere can this be more clearly seen than in their differing emphases concerning biblical inspiration.

Dr. Michael Horton.  The Christian Faith:  A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way.  (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2011).  Pp. 161-162.

The first point to be noticed in Dr. Horton’s comments is on page 161 where in contending that there are erroneous human remarks recorded infallibly and by the inspiration of the Bible he asserts that the Bible is a covenantal “drama”.  This description leaves one wondering if Horton accepts plenary verbal inspiration, propositional revelation and absolute biblical inerrancy.  And in fact in his comments on page 162 he uses the same tactics as the liberals by accusing the “fundamentalists” of thinking that God did not inspire human authors as instrumental means of writing His very words.  In short, Horton is equivocating here since B. B. Warfield himself asserted that the Bible is literally the very words of God.  The doctrine of dictation does not mean that God literally took control of the minds and hearts of the biblical writers as if their personalities had no part in what was written.  Rather the doctrine of dictation means that the biblical writers were so superintended by the Holy Spirit that even though what they wrote was written in their personal style and their words, their words were also the very words of God.

When evaluating the relationship of God’s activity and that of 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. 
Horton, Ibid. P. 162.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark gave a thorough critique of Thomas Aquinas’s view of Scripture and revelation as analogical.  His examination of the Thomist view shows that the doctrine of analogy makes for a view that truth is two fold, not univocal.  If there is more than one truth or more than one logic, the door is opened wide for the abuses of equivocation, sophistry, and dissimulation because the obvious implication is that there is no such thing as absolute truth and if there is absolute truth God alone can know it.  Neither here on earth nor in heaven will a human being be able to understand or comprehend anything God knows at any single point because  God is the Creator and creatures,  according to the Van Tilian philosophy of idealism, can know nothing God knows at any single point.

The notion of analogy begins quite simply and innocently in Aristotle. He notes that when we call a book a medical book, and when we call an instrument a medical instrument, and when we call a man a medical man, the predicate medical does not bear exactly the same sense in the three instances. The term is not equivocal, as is the case when we call Argos the dog of Ulysses and when we call Sirius the dog in the sky; but on the other hand, the term is not strictly univocal. It is analogical. 

This simple distinction was elaborated by the Scholastics and the Neoscholastics into a complicated theory, in which, it would seem, the original situation no longer serves as a solid basis. The motivation and intricacies of the theory are seen most clearly in the arguments for the existence of God and our knowledge of him. God, according to the Thomists, is an absolutely simple being; but a simple, eternal, and immaterial being cannot constitute an object proportionate to our human understanding. Simplicity and eternity are not factors in our world of experience, and therefore we have no positive concept of them. To say that God is eternal means nothing more than that God is not temporal. What eternity positively means remains unknown to the human mind. What man has in this instance may be called negative knowledge. 

Similarly, when we call God wise and when we call a man wise, the term does not bear the same sense. God’s wisdom is not distinct from his essence or his being; but the wisdom of man is. In general, there is no affirmation whatever that can be made of God and of man in the same sense. The reason for this impossibility is not only that the predicates do not bear the same meaning in both cases, but that, far more radically, the copula is bears two different senses. In God essence and existence are identical: What God is and that God is are the same. In every case other than God this is not so. Accordingly, when we say God exists and when we say man or dog exists, the term exist does not mean the same thing. Therefore, no term, not even the copula, can be used univocally of God and man. 

Now, if the only alternative to univocal predication were equivocal predication, knowledge of God derived by abstraction from experience would be patently impossible. When words are used equivocally there is no definite relationship between the meanings, and knowledge of God would be in a state similar to a knowledge of Sirius that would be based on an experience of Ulysses’ dog. To avoid this fatal difficulty, the Thomists are forced to find some intermediate between univocal and equivocal predication, and they appeal to analogy. Between Argos and Sirius there is no resemblance, but in the case of God, man resembles God, they say, though God does not resemble man.17 This resemblance permits us to attach some meaning to the statement God is, so that we are neither in complete ignorance, nor limited to negative knowledge, but have an analogical if not a univocal knowledge. Thus empiricism in its Thomistic form attempts to escape the limits of experience.

Gordon H. Clark. A Christian View of Men and Things.  (Kindle Locations 4528-4550). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

The problem with Van Tililans is that they not only reject experience but they also reject propostional revelation and the internal logical consistency of the biblical revelation.  Irrationality seems to predeominate and Horton’s refusal to define his terms or rationally harmonize his views with Scripture or define what he means by the term qualitative demonstrates adequately that he has no clear commitment to divine truth or divine revelation. 

Moreover, if there is a difference between God’s providence and the human agency involved in the writing of the Scriptures, would not that difference be an actual difference between the definition of God as an absolute and timeless being and the definition of a human being as limited to the realm of the created universe, created time, and discursive thinking?  Since God is timeless, omniscient and never learns anything new, how would God not know what the biblical writers would write?  Furthermore, since God can indeed control the minds, wills, thoughts and actions of humans without violating their psychological agency, intellect or volition, how does it follow that fundamentalists are advocating “mechanical dictation”?  (Proverbs 21:1).  B. B. Warfield said that the Scriptures are the very words of God but denied that this is mechanical dictation:

The process of revelation through the prophets was a process by which Jehovah put His words in the mouths of the prophets, and the prophets spoke precisely these words and no others. So the prophets themselves ever asserted. “Then Jehovah put forth his hand, and touched my mouth,” explains Jeremiah in his account of how he received his prophecies, “and Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth” (Jer. 1:9; cf. 5:14; Isa. 51:16; 59:21; Num. 22:35; 23:5, 12, 16). Accordingly, the words “with which” they spoke were not their own but the Lord’s: “And he said unto me,” records Ezekiel, “Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them” (Ezk. 3:4). It is a process of nothing other than “dictation” which is thus described (2 S. 14:3, 19), though, of course, the question may remain open of the exact processes by which this dictation is accomplished. The fundamental passage which brings the central fact before us in the most vivid manner is, no doubt, the account of the commissioning of Moses and Aaron given in Ex. 4:10–17; 7:1–7. Here, in the most express words, Jehovah declares that He who made the mouth can be with it to teach it what to speak, and announces the precise function of a prophet to be that he is “a mouth of God,” who speaks not his own but God’s words. Accordingly, the Hebrew name for “prophet” (nābhīʾ), whatever may be its etymology, means throughout the Scriptures just “spokesman,” though not “spokesman” in general, but spokesman by way of eminence, that is, God’s spokesman; and the characteristic formula by which a prophetic declaration is announced is: “The word of Jehovah came to me,” or the brief “saith Jehovah” (נאם יהוה, neʾum Yahweh). In no case does a prophet put his words forward as his own words. That he is a prophet at all is due not to choice on his own part, but to a call of God, obeyed often with reluctance; and he prophesies or forbears to prophesy, not according to his own will but as the Lord opens and shuts his mouth (Ezk. 3:26 f.) and creates for him the fruit of the lips (Isa. 57:19; cf. 6:7; 50:4). In contrast with the false prophets, he strenuously asserts that he does not speak out of his own heart (“heart” in Biblical language includes the whole inner man), but all that he proclaims is the pure word of Jehovah.

Warfield, Benjamin B. The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Revelation and Inspiration. Vol. 1. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008. Print.  Pp. 19-20.  Chapter I, Section  III.

While in other places, Horton speaks approvingly of Warfield, here Horton disparages Warfield as a fundamentalist by implication.  Horton seems to be outright denying that God is in absolute providential control of what was written in the Bible.  Can it not be that God can control human agency through secondary means without violating the human will yet what is spoken or written through the prophets is the very words of God?  Or is the Bible just a covenantal drama or an inspired story as the neo-orthodox theologians contend?  Is God the author of Scripture or is He not the author of Scripture?  

Basically it boils down to this.  Since all knowledge is propositional, it follows that the Bible is propositional revelation.  Propositional revelation, as the late D. Broughton Knox once said, is the only revelation there is.  Even Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Son of the living God cannot be deduced or adduced from empirical experience.  His confession is divine revelation.  And so the argument is that we do not prove the Bible is true by empirical evidences, historical evidences, or by rationalism.  Rather we accept the Scriptures as the axiom.  Since everyone starts with unproven axioms—whether they admit it or not—we as Christians are on solid ground by basing the Christian worldview on the axiom of Scripture.   The apologetic approach is not demonstrating the truth of the Bible by reason, experience, or history but rather showing the absurdity of the many contradictions in other worldviews based on other axioms which cannot produce an epistemology that is internally logical, consistent, harmonious, and without contradictions.  Christianity is the best worldview precisely because it is divine revelation from God who is Logic.  (John 1:1, 9).  Van Til and his many followers have unwittingly opened the door to compromise, equivocation, and neo-orthodoxy.  

While it is true that some of Clark’s students—including Edward Carnell and Paul Jewett—later went into apostasy, the reasons were not that they continued in what they learned from Dr. Clark.  On the contrary, the reasons for their rejection of biblical authority were that they also rejected Dr. Clark’s rational and logical emphasis on the law of contradiction, propositional and systemic epistemology, and deducing from Scripture by good and necessary consequence all the doctrines of the Christian faith.  They rejected Dr. Clark’s view that all truth is innate in God’s eternal mind.  If we know any propositions that are true, God must know those same truths since He is omniscient.  This does not mean that we know everything God knows.  But if God knows that Jesus is the Son of the living God, we can univocally know that proposition on that single point even if we cannot know every single proposition that can be deduced from that one proposition.  (Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).  Holy Scripture is not an analogical revelation but a univocal revelation from God in propositional form.  Scripture is the Word of God.  (2 Timothy 3:16).

All the truth of the revelation of Scripture existed in God's mind before He ever created.  God predestined the Bible would be the way we could know Him and His will.  Not one word of it fails.

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