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

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

John Frame's Rejection of the Bible as Logical and Propositional Revelation

. . . The purpose of apologetics is to produce as detailed a system, detailed a system as possible to meet the systems of logical positivism or mechanism in physics, or other non­-Christian systems. And the only way that you can have any systematic knowledge is to begin with indemonstrable axioms.   -- Dr. Gordon H. Clark

John Frame’s Rejection of the Bible as Logical and Propositional Revelation

It is amazingly time consuming to transcribe audio into a readable transcript.  However, sometimes the time involved is worth the effort in order to bring greater clarity to the Clarkian Scripturalist point of view.   This is most easily demonstrated by showing how Clark’s deprecators misrepresent his position.  It is difficult to discern whether the misrepresentation is deliberate or unintentional but the straw man must be deconstructed either way.  One of the foremost proponents of the apologetics of the late Dr. Cornelius Van Til was one of his students, Dr. John Frame.  In an audio interview with Dr. Frame posted on YouTube under the title, “What Is Presuppositional Apologetics?:  An Interview with John M. Frame, D. D. [2006],”  Dr. Frame says the following:

Student:  Dr. Frame, how would you differ from Gordon H. Clark and for Van Til?

Dr. Frame:  Well, I don’t think I differ from Van Til much at all but uh some people think that I do.  I use different terminology from and uh I think that Van Til was a little bit confused on some points uh….   For example, the way that he uh tried to describe detail uh the opposition between believer and unbeliever.  I think he is right about that opposition but I’m not entirely sure that he described it in the best possible way.  If you get book on Van Til, you’ll notice that there are a few areas where I think that uh his thought can be improved but in general I think it’s pretty good.  Gordon Clark is also … was also a very fine thinker.  Of course both these men are with the Lord now.   Uh but Gordon Clark was uh a very sharp philosopher uh a very logical thinker uh, a very clear writer uh.  I think a clearer writer than Van Til.  But uh I think that Gordon Clark uh… Well what Gordon Clark tries to do is to say that uh Christian faith is kind of like uh uh an axiomatic system of geometry and that the Bible is like an axiom.  And uh from the Bible you can prove other things uh about the Gospel.  But there’s no way to test the Bible.  You see Clark called himself a presuppositionalist as Van Til did.  Uh Clark says there’s no way to prove the Bible uh except by showing that it’s logically consistent and showing that it uh is rich enough to answer the questions which uh we have about God and ourselves and uh our need of salvation.  Now uh I think the problem with Clark is that uh that he uh almost sets up logic as having an authority equal to or greater than the Bible.  Now when I say that I’m not trying to deprecate logic.  Usually Clark’s disciples say I’m disparaging logic or that I’m looking down on logic or that I want to be fideistic or irrational.  There’s nothing like that at all.  Logic is something wonderful.  It’s a great gift that God has given to us.   But uh, uh I think that uh human logic is fallible.  You know.  We make mistakes.  In our logical reasoning just as we make mistakes in our seeing and our hearing and our touching so we make mistakes in logic.  Uh, and uh even people who are professional philosophers who have worked out systems of logic, even they have made mistakes.  So no human logic is absolutely infallible.  And uh only God, heh, has a perfectly, uh perfectly infallible logic.  And I think that Clark and even more his disciples uh, have tended to, uh, to say that, uh, unless you agree that, uh, Clark’s system of logic or Aristotle’s system of logic is absolutely infallible, uh, you, uh, you really despise logic.  And, uh, I don’t think that’s right.  Uh, and uh, I think that only the Bible is infallible, uh, only the Bible is God’s word, uh, to us and we need to, uh, to you know, put logic in its place.  Now of course the Bible needs to be read in a logical way.  The Bible is full of therefores.  Uh, the Bible recommends all kinds of logical arguments to us.  Uh, but, uh, human logic does not have the same authority as God’s revelation does.  

[The question and answer transcribed occurs from the 59:25 minute mark to the 1:03:44 minute mark in the YouTube video.]

It will take some time to unpack the errors in this audio statement by John Frame.  However, it seems to me that despite his superficial laudatory remarks about Clark that Frame persists in saying that Clark elevates logic above Scripture and that Clark thought he himself was infallible in his use of logic.  Frame is wrong on both points and he ought to know better if he indeed has any training in philosophy or logic at all.  At first glance, Frame’s critique of Clark seems on the mark.  But is Frame’s own apologetic method based on mere human logic and fallibility?  If the Bible is not inherently logical, how would anyone read the Bible and understand anything it has to say?

At the outset Frame confuses Clark’s view of the Bible with geometry.  The Christian faith is not like an “axiomatic system of geometry” but rather the Christian faith is a system of propositional truth which is logically deduced from the propositional revelation recorded in the Bible.  Even where direct propositions are not readily seen in Scripture, such as in metaphors and analogies, there are logical propositions embedded in the text.  For knowledge to be possible knowledge must be coherent and systematic where all the parts of the system fit together in harmony.  Language, for example, would be completely meaningless without grammatical rules and standard usage.  Word definitions and syntactical constructions all work together to convey meaningful propositional statements to the human mind.  All knowledge must be propositional in order for thinking to occur.  The fact of the matter is that everyone starts somewhere.  Even Frame, earlier in the lecture said that everyone uses circular arguments.  Unfortunately, this would mean that everyone is using a logical fallacy of circular reasoning or the petitio principii.  But an axiom is not a circular argument or the petitio principii for the simple reason that axioms by definition are not demonstrable or provable.  Even in geometry there is no way to prove the axiom that a straight line extends into infinity in two different directions.  It is an axiom of geometry from which theorems can be made and demonstrated.  But the axiom itself is indemonstrable.

As used in mathematics, the term axiom is used in two related but distinguishable senses: "logical axioms" and "non-logical axioms". Logical axioms are usually statements that are taken to be true within the system of logic they define (e.g., (A and B) implies A), often shown in symbolic form, while non-logical axioms (e.g., a + b = b + a) are actually substantive assertions about the elements of the domain of a specific mathematical theory (such as arithmetic). When used in the latter sense, "axiom", "postulate", and "assumption" may be used interchangeably. In general, a non-logical axiom is not a self-evident truth, but rather a formal logical expression used in deduction to build a mathematical theory. To axiomatize a system of knowledge is to show that its claims can be derived from a small, well-understood set of sentences (the axioms).

From:   Wikipedia:  Axiom:  As Used in Logic and in Mathematics.  [Emphases mine].

John Frame misunderstands Clark when he says that the Bible is “like” an axiom.  I do not see how taking the Bible as a starting point for an epistemological system makes the Bible “like” your usage of the term axiom.  Saying the Bible is like an axiom is something similar to saying the Bible is like a book.  Either the Bible is a book or it is not book but it is not “like” a book at all.  Either the Bible IS an axiom or a logical starting point for your logical epistemological system or it is NOT your axiom.  Using the word “like” in a simile is not a proper use of the literary term simile if you are making a tautological statement like, " A simile is like a simile."  In addition, Clark never tries to prove the Bible from logic.  On the contrary, Clark uses the axiom of Scripture to establish an epistemological system which makes the Christian worldview possible.

Moreover, Clark viewed the Westminster Confession of Faith as a dogmatic system of propositions which is logically deduced from the propositional revelation in the Bible.  Since propositions can be arranged into a logical system it follows that the Westminster Confession is a summary in systematic form of a very limited number of propositions deduced from the Bible by good and necessary consequence.  (See WCF 1:6).  So Frame is wrong again when he says that Clark tries to prove the Bible is true by using logic.  What Clark does is to show how the Bible is logically consistent, coherent and harmonious without violating the law of contradiction.  Clark says that the law of contradiction is basic to logic.  A and non-A cannot both be true at the same time.  One is true and the other is false.  For the Bible to say anything meaningful to us it cannot contain actual contradictions or violate the law of contradiction.  Does the Bible say to commit adultery and not commit adultery and both are true?  Of course not.  It is not true that Clark makes logic equal to Scripture or above Scripture because it is from Scripture that Clark deduces that God is Logic (John 1:1); man thinks logically because God is logic.  Furthermore, the Logos is the light that enlightens every man with the ability to reason and think logically (John 1:9).  Scripture is embedded with logic and propositions because God breathed out the Scriptures and God in His simplicity IS Logic.  (2 Timothy 3:16; John 1:1; John 10:35).  

But can the Bible be “tested”?   Yes.  The Bible can be tested to be logically consistent and without any contradictions by solving apparent contradictions through rational explanations.  This is only possible if one accepts the plenary verbal view of the inspiration of Scripture and the absolute inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  The students and advocates of Van Til’s theology claim to believe the Bible is primary and that the Bible is infallible and inerrant and fully inspired.  But their theology is inconsistent since they deny that Scripture is propositional revelation and inherently logical.  For Frame the Bible is inspired only in the sense that it is revealed through mere human logic.  Van Til said that all Scripture is apparently contradictory and that human logic is created, not innate in the image of God in man as a creation of God.  Also, Van Til denied that Scripture is univocally the very word of God but is instead only an analogical revelation of God.  Van Til thought he was correcting the theology of Thomas Aquinas but in reality he was adopting Aquinas’s two fold view of truth as analogical, which Aquinas borrowed from Aristotle.  Some of Van Til’s followers, including Scott Oliphant, go so far as to say that the Bible is not propositional revelation because that would make the Reformed view Thomistic.   However, the real debate between Van Til and Clark was over the univocal versus analogical view of truth in Scripture.  Van Til’s view, according to Clark, amounts to irrationalism and neo-orthodoxy.   For Clark, the Bible IS univocally the very word of God.  For Van Til the Bible is not really God’s word but something revealed through mere human logic, a created logic.  Worse, Van Til viewed Scripture as analogical and at best the Westminster Confession of Faith is an analogical system of dogmatic theology, not a system of propositional truth deduced from Scripture.  For Van Til what the Bible says is mere human knowledge and nothing God revealed in the Bible is what God knows because man can know nothing, absolutely nothing, that God knows.  Does God know that Jesus Christ is the savior of all mankind, those elected from all eternity?

It is true that Francis Turretin distinguished between ectypal knowledge and archetypal knowledge, the latter being known only to God.  It is also true that Turretin acknowledged both propositional revelation and analogical statements in Scripture.  But Turretin was influenced by Thomas Aquinas and the Van Tilians are imbibing Thomistic skepticism by way of Turretin.  But this is an aside which I will have to address in future posts.  The real issue here is whether or not God is Logic.  If God is simple and everything predicated of God in Scripture is who God is in His simplicity, without body, parts or passions and that God is eternally immutable (WCF 2:1), then it logically follows that logic is not “human” logic nor is logic created.  Rather logic is God’s very nature.  Just as God is love so God IS logic.  Logic is how God thinks and it is also why man is God’s image and therefore thinks rationally and logically.  This is by no means elevating logic above Scripture.  Instead it is a statement deduced from the Bible that God’s logic is not created because God is Himself Logic.  (John 1:1).

Another error Frame makes here is saying that Clark claimed that his system of logic is infallible or that Aristotle’s system of logic is infallible.  This is an equivocation at best.  If all logic is fallible then logic itself is in error.  Since God IS Logic, it would follow logically that God Himself can err.  That’s obviously false.  What Clark said was not that humans cannot err or that he himself or Aristotle could not err.  On the contrary, Clark openly acknowledged that he had make mistakes in logic before.  Aristotle erred as well when he tried to prove the unmoved mover.  Frame has obviously not read Clark carefully because Clark never claimed infallibility for himself or his system of apologetics.  What Clark did say was that it is possible for humans to produce infallible documents.  That does not mean that a human is himself infallible.  The Apostle Paul was only infallible when he was inspired of God to write Scripture.  In other situations he obviously could and did err.  Suppose for example that someone wrote out the multiplication tables to 100 without making any mistakes.  Would that not be an infallible document?  But can I as a human being make mistakes or commit errors?  Obviously I could mistakenly overlook something in writing out the multiplication tables.  But if I did not make such a mistake the resulting document would be without error and infallibly so.  It follows therefore that much of Aristotle's system of logic is without error even if Aristotle himself was a fallible human being and did make a few mistakes here and there in his philosophy.

The problem with Frame is he thinks the Bible is not logical revelation and he thinks that the Bible is not subject to logical consistency.  That’s also why Frame agrees with Van Til that all Scripture is apparently contradictory.  In other words, all Scripture is apparently in error if we follow Frame’s logic to its conclusion.

In closing I will quote Clark from a question and answer session at the end of his lecture, “A Contemporary Defense of the Bible”:

Questioner: Ok, my problem is that if, it seems to me that if you’re going to be uncertain of something then you’re a skeptic. So unless you’re saying that we all must be skeptics, and if I understand your writings correctly, it is only in the system of faith that has come out of the Reformation, or the Scriptures, that we have any certainty that we can have certainty of knowledge, that we can know truth.

Clark: You said two things. One of which I sorta agree with and the other I don’t. As I just finished saying, certainty doesn’t impress me. Because, as I say, I just used a facetious example, but you can think of all sorts of examples of people being certain of the most ridiculous things. But as a matter of truth, that is quite different. I am interested in truth, I am not interested in certainty. That is just a psychological quirk. And furthermore, as I have said, the problem of apologetics is to present a detailed system of truth. So that it all fits together. I don’t say that a person can achieve this perfectly. I’m quite well aware of that. We all make mistakes. But our aim is to produce an intelligible system. And this requires axiomatization in my opinion. And the axioms themselves are the teachings of Scripture. So I would be interested in truth in the insisting on absolute unchangeable truth. But people have been certain that the moon is made of green cheese.

Audio:  Trinity Foundation:  A Contemporary Defense of the Bible.  (See: MP3 Download Lectures).

As further evidence that Clark did not claim that humans are infallible:

Section 5 even uses the word infallible. [WCF 1:5]. It says that our full assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of these books is the work of the Holy Spirit. Can there be error in infallible truth? To the same end Section 9 teaches that the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself. Can it now be maintained that the Presbyterian standards admit the existence of error, of mistakes, of false teaching in the Bible? And if not, what can be thought of Presbyterian ministers who do not believe in the full truthfulness of the Scriptures? Though they may believe that the word of God is to be found somewhere in the Bible, and perhaps only in the Bible, yet what can their ordination vows have meant to them, if they reject the very basis on which all the remainder of the Confession rests?

Clark, Gordon H.  Articles on the Westminster Confession of Faith.  (Kindle Locations 100-107). Kindle Edition.

Here Clark affirms the full inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, which Frame cannot do since the Bible is apparently revealed in mere “human” logic.  The Word of God is breathed out by God and cannot therefore err through human logic.  But if the Bible is not mere human logic in the propositional statements written there, what kind of logic did God use in inspiring the biblical writers and what logic did the biblical writers use to write down the infallible and inerrant words?  If the words of Scripture and God’s knowledge do not coincide at any single point then the obvious conclusion is that nothing in the Bible is what God knows.  Does God know that David was the king of Israel?

And Clark acknowledges the noetic effects of sin:

It is the heart that thinks. Sin thus interferes with our thinking. It does not, however, prevent us from thinking. Sin does not eradicate or annihilate the image. It causes a malfunction, but man still remains man. The Bible stresses the malfunctioning of the mind in obviously moral affairs because of their importance. But sin extends its depraving influence into affairs not usually regarded as matters of morality – arithmetic, for example. One need not suppose that Adam and Eve understood calculus; but they surely counted to ten. Whatever arithmetic they did, they did correctly. But sin causes a failure in thinking, with the result that we now make mistakes in simple addition. Such mistakes are pedantically called the “noetic” effects of sin. But moral errors are equally noetic. When men became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts were darkened; when they professed to be wise, but became fools; when God gave them over to a reprobate mind – their sin was first of all a noetic, intellectual, mental malfunction. Regeneration and the process of sanctification reverse the sinful direction of the mind’s malfunctioning: The person is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.
Gordon H. Clark.  In Defense of Theology.  (Kindle Locations 1086-1095). Kindle Edition.

For Dr. Clark, epistemological systems are the basis for every worldview and the Christian worldview begins with the Scriptures as the axiomatic starting point for the Christian system of knowledge:

Clark:  . . . As I mentioned last night too, the purpose of apologetics is to produce as detailed a system, detailed a system as possible to meet the systems of logical positivism or mechanism in physics, or other non­-Christian systems. And the only way that you can have any systematic knowledge is to begin with indemonstrable axioms. Even empiricism makes the unproven assumption that experience can give you truth. And that assumption, which cannot be proved, is an assumption that I just reject. And instead of saying sensation connects us with reality I say we are immediately connected with the mind of God. We live and move and have our being in Him. And God illuminates our minds and gives us our ideas.  

In conclusion then I say that not only does Frame misunderstand Clark but he completely misses the whole point of the Bible as our final authority.  Without  the image of God as taught by the Bible it would be impossible for humans to think or understand the Bible at all.  Man is the image of God.  (1 Corinthians 11:7). It is because God is Logic that we can accept the Bible as Scripture and understand what it says.  John Frame’s comments above blatantly contradict the doctrine of biblical infallibility and the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration.

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