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, August 22, 2020

Divine Simplicity, Divine Mutualism and the Clark/Van Til Debate



I am not particularly a fan of Ian Anderson and the rock and roll band Jethro Tull anymore but back in the 70s it was cool.  It was disappointing to learn that Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull have now gone commercial.  The band is now selling hand sanitizer at price gouging and exorbitant prices of all things.  And the title track for the commercial?  You guessed it.  Aqualung.  I guess a homeless beggar smearing shabby clothes with a runny nose is in dire need of hand sanitizer.  But how to afford $9 for an 8 ounce bottle? 

I bring up Jethro Tull for the sake of a conversation starter.  Another album that sold well in the 1970s was War Child.  On that album Ian Anderson the poet asks the question if God is playing chess or is He only playing a game of solitaire?  Anderson grew up in the not so conservative Anglican church so his rebellion against God is based on his rather meager understanding of high church Anglo-Catholic theology, apparently.  Anderson’s question, however, relates directly to the problem of evil, predestination, and the divine immutability of God.  According to the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark, all the propositions in the system of propositional truth in Scripture are in harmonious relationship to the other parts of the system.  In short, one cannot divorce the issue of common grace from the issue of absolute predestination or from the doctrine of the incarnation or the doctrine of God.  All of the parts of the system of doctrine in Scripture relate in some way to the other parts and there are no stand-alone aggregates or isolated venn diagrams.

Of late an interesting controversy within the Van Tilian school of apologetics and theology has developed and the participants in the debate have carefully drawn out their battle lines.  On the one side are those who defend the classical and creedal view that God is a simple being who is tri-personal, immutable, and without passions or parts.  On the other side, the defenders of God’s mutualism argue that in order to relate to humanity God must in some way condescend to man’s finite existence.  The problem here is that there is an apparent contradiction or paradox between God’s transcendence and His immanence in governing His creation by way of providence.  How can an absolutely immutable and changeless God who has no potential to be actualized govern a constantly changing temporal existence within the space-time continuum of creation?  After all, did not Dr. Cornelius Van Til emphasize the Creator/creature distinction as the main emphasis of his apologetics and theology?  Does a God who is pure act have any potential?

I get a bit peeved, however, when I hear Van Tilians continually misrepresenting Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s views.  Although I sometimes struggle to see what Clark is trying to say in his often Socratic remarks, I do think I have a better understanding of Clark than most of the Van Tilian critics since I have read most everything that Clark has written or at least as much as I could lay my hands on.  Last night I came across a discussion on Dr. Jordan Cooper’s YouTube channel where he had Dr. Lane Tipton as his guest.  Tipton repeats the same tired old accusation against Gordon Clark that Clark has violated the Creator/creature distinction by saying that the Bible is univocally the very words of God and not just an ectypally or analogically mediated revelation whereby God condescends to the creature’s level by means of a tertium quid or through covenantal properties.  Scott Oliphant has opened up a firestorm by using the incarnation of Christ as a model for his contention that God makes covenant with man by way of a covenantal relationship known as covenantal properties.  In other words, God must be changed by this assuming to Himself this tertium quid of covenantal properties.  But is Oliphant really going beyond Van Til as James Dolezal, Lane Tipton, Camden Bucey and Jeff Waddington have contended?  I do not think so because if you take the Van Tilian view that all Scripture is essentially contradictory and that Scripture is not univocally God’s propositional revelation but is instead an analogical and ectypal revelation of God whereby God condescends to man’s creaturely existence, then you have to say that that God exists in a two-fold way that implies that God changes in ectypal revelation but not in His unknowable secret being which exists only in the archetypal mode of God’s nature.  This is precisely why Gordon H. Clark rejected the Thomistic view of truth as two-fold, that is that the Bible is analogical truth and not the same propositional truths that God knows in His essence or being.

On the Jordan Cooper YouTube channel, Lane Tipton reads from Van Til to show that Van Til says God is immutable and self-contained.  42 minute mark.  But this does not fly with me because I know that Van Til waffles back and forth between Barthianism and classical theism.  Van Til’s rejection of logic as a merely human logic shows that Van Til can in one breath affirm immutability and then affirm mutability.  Van Til’s followers are continually ignoring their own contradictions.  While Gordon H. Clark did acknowledge that there are some paradoxes in the Bible, he insisted that there must be a logical solution to these apparent contradictions or paradoxes.  Scott Oliphant’s covenantal properties theory is basically just taking the doctrine of analogical truth to the next level since a totally transcendent God could not interact with His creation whatsoever without violating the Creator/creature distinction.  And let us not forget that the issue of epistemology enters into the debate because a totally transcendent God would also be unknowable.  And since God is a simple being and all that is in God is also God Himself,  the implication is that whatever God eternally knows in propositional form is also God’s eternal being.  In Van Tilian terms this would mean that God cannot be divided into ectypal and archetypal categories because God is all that He is without any division of parts whatsoever.  The problem is that not only is Oliphant’s covenantal properties a tertium quid but so is the analogical revelation view.  Either we can know something of God through special revelation on singular points of univocal special revelation and innate knowledge through the image of God or we can know nothing that God knows whatsoever.  There is a reason that Van Tilians in general favor divine mutualism and the reason is that they can affirm outright contradictions based on Van Til’s theology of paradox and that all Scripture is apparently contradictory.

The problem does not begin and end with the Van Tilians, however.  J. Oliver Buswell and his protégé, Dr. Robert L. Reymond, both advocated for divine mutualism.  Dr. Reymond went further and said that God has passions and emotions and responds to human emotions.  Reymond tried to soften this by saying that God cannot be manipulated by His creatures but this ignores the fact that God is eternally immutable.  In fact, Reymond affirms a contradiction which he calls “dynamic immutability.”  You can read Reymond’s view on pages 177-201 in his systematic theology.  However, a short quote will show how he confuses human categories with the immutable and eternal Creator:


An objection often raised against God’s decretal immutability is this: if God always acts in accordance with his own foreknown eternal purpose, which is unalterably fixed, if he is ever constant in his fidelity to his own eternal decree, how do we explain the fact that the Scriptures will speak of God as being “grieved” over some prior action on his part or of his “changing his mind” and expressing a willingness to chart a course of action other than the one he is on? Are his “grief” and his “changing his mind” also aspects of his dynamic immutability, and if so, what then does “immutability” mean? And how does this square with the unalterable fixity of his eternal decree?


Reymond, Robert L.. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: 2nd Edition - Revised and Updated (Kindle Locations 3641-3646). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.   [Page 180.  Hardcopy edition.]

Did not God alter his course away from his earlier unconditional declaration of judgment? And if so, where then is his immutability?

 A fourfold response may be given to these questions. First, where, upon a superficial reading, the biblical text seems to suggest that God did in fact alter his course of action away from a previously declared course of action, one should understand that his “new course” is only his settled, immutably certain response—in keeping with the principles of conduct respecting himself which he himself enunciates in Jeremiah 18:7–10—to a change in the human response to his holy laws:

If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. (emphases added)

In other words, God always acts the same way toward moral evil and the same way toward moral good. In his every reaction to men’s responses to him, the immutable moral fixity of his character is evident. If men and women alter their relations to him, he will always respond in a manner consistent with his immutably holy character. This being true, God does not deem it necessary to attach to every promise he makes or to every prediction of judgment he issues the conditions for human weal or woe. They are always to be understood as in force, though they may be unstated. They are always operative so that whatever men do, God responds accordingly. And if the biblical interpreter does not realize this—that these conditions are operative even though unstated—he may conclude that God has broken a promise or has failed to carry out a predicted judgment.


Reymond, Robert L.. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: 2nd Edition - Revised and Updated (Kindle Locations 3663-3677). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.  [Pp. 180-181].


Unfortunately Reymond vacillates back and forth between the apparent contradictions between God’s decretive will and His providential will in governing the creation and His creatures.  Reymond insists that God actually does change His mind in reaction to the willful actions of His creatures even if God’s decretive will is unalterably immutable.  In his favor, however, Reymond agrees with Dr. Gordon H. Clark that God knows the future in every detail because He has foreordained and decreed it to be so, not because God needs to learn something new.  (Pp. 184-191).  

However, in contradistinction to Clark, Reymond affirms that God must have emotions, otherwise He is eternally frozen:


. . . To say then that God is unchangeable, that is, “immutable,” must not be construed to mean that he cannot and does not act. The God of the Bible is portrayed as acting on every page of the Bible! He is not static in his immutability; he is dynamic in his immutability. But his dynamic immutability in no way affects his essential nature as God (that is, his “Godness”); to the contrary, he would cease to be the God of Scripture if he did not will and act in the ways the Bible ascribes to him. But he always wills and acts, as Isaiah declared, in faithfulness to his decrees: “In perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago” (Isa. 25:1). Berkhof correctly concludes:

The divine immutability should not be understood as implying immobility, as if there is no movement in God.… The Bible teaches us that God enters into manifold relations with man and, as it were, lives their life with them. There is change round about Him, change in the relations of men to Him, but there is no change in His Being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of actions, or His promises.42

Thus whenever divine impassibility is interpreted to mean that God is impervious to human pain or incapable of empathizing with human grief it must be roundly denounced and rejected. When the Confession of Faith declares that God is “without … passions” it should be understood to mean that God has no bodily passions such as hunger or the human drive for sexual fulfillment. As A. A. Hodge writes: “we deny that the properties of matter, such as bodily parts and passions, belong to him.”43

We do, however, affirm that the creature cannot inflict suffering, pain, or any sort of distress upon him against his will. In this sense God is impassible.  . . .


Reymond, Robert L.. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: 2nd Edition - Revised and Updated (Kindle Locations 3617-3631). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.  [Pp. 178-179.]

Reymond may have equivocated on these points but it seems to me that Scott Oliphant’s attributing a tertium quid to God in the form of condescending covenantal properties goes well beyond what other divine mutualists like Buswell, Reymond, Berkhof, and Packer have said.  It is indeed troubling when open theism and process theology is being openly taught at an allegedly Reformed seminary like Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA.

Addendum:  Dr. Gordon H. Clark said that since emotions are sensations of the body, it would impossible for God to have any emotions whatsoever.  That's because God is a spirit and has no body.  (John 4:24; Deuteronomy 4:15-16; Luke 24:39).  According to Clark, emotions are passionate outbursts and to say that God has such would mean God's disposition toward the elect would be in constant flux and change.  Malachi 3:6 and James 1:17 would refute this.


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