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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, March 16, 2012

The Continuing Saga of Mike Horton's Systematic Theology: Part Three

For some time now it has been fashionable to deny what is called “propositional revelation”. The term has been coined by those who are opposed to the concept, and by it they appear to mean that revelation is not given to us by God in the form of truths couched in words, or propositions, but that all the revelation that God has given has come to us primarily as acts and events.  Dr. D. Broughton Knox.  (Propositional Revelation:  The Only Revelation).





The Continuing Saga of Mike Horton's Systematic Theology: Part Three


In the last installment I promised to examine Horton's theory of God's graces as His “acts” or “energies”. (See Part One, Part Two, Part Four). He draws this theory from Eastern Orthodoxy, which is itself semi-pelagian. In other words, Horton sees grace as God's “actions” rather than His gifts to us. Although it is true that God does effectually act, providentially guide every single event and human action, it is not true that God is simply what He does. God's predetermined plan or secret decrees matter as well. At this point Horton's presupposed dogma that we must not speak about God's inner being or secret decrees becomes obvious. For Horton God's absolute unknowability extends to propositional truth, special revelation, and any idea of a subjective appropriation of objective, propositional and doctrinal formulations of the truth. For Horton the Van Tilian mantra is stated many times over that God cannot reveal to the creature any univocal truth whatsoever and at no single point does God reveal anything to the creature that is absolutely true. Absolute truth in Horton's opinion is only possible for God in His archetypal knowledge and therefore all truth for the creature is ectypal and analogical. While it is true that the creature cannot intuitively or directly know God due to the Creator/creature distinction, it is questionable to assert that absolute truth is an incommunicable attribute of God. If so, then the implication is that God's written words, the Holy Scriptures, are in fact relative and subjective, not objective.

Unfortunately, this would imply that Scripture is not God's very words to man or God's very thoughts given to man on man's creaturely level. Moreover, this dispute goes all the way back to the Gordon H. Clark and Cornelius Van Til controversy in 1944. (See: The Complaint and The Answer). Horton continually spouts off the Van Tilian dogma of “at no single point” does God's Word coincide with God's univocally given Scriptures. For Horton Scripture is one big metaphor or analogy rather than being the fully inspired words of God given through human agency. This can be demonstrated in several quotes at different points in his book:

“We know God by his works, not in his hidden essence.”

We will return several times to this crucial distinction of Eastern theology between God's essence and energies. As I will argue more fully, Western theology—following Augustine and Aquinas—did not recognize this distinction and insisted that the only reason we do not behold Good in his essence at present is our bodily form. Although the East was as susceptible as the West to the influences of Platonism, its essence-energies distinction reckoned more fully with the Creator-creature difference and often guarded against the pantheistic tendencies evident in Western mysticism. (39)

In this respect, the Reformers reflect the East's emphasis on God's incomprehensibility (in his essence) and God's self-revealing condescension (in his energies). As we know the sun only as we are warmed by its rays, we know God only in his activity toward us, not as he is in himself. (40).

(Mike Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Christians On the Way, p. 52).


Here is another example of where Horton contradicts himself. He disparages Augustine and Aquinas as too western yet he affirms that the Van Tilian doctrine of analogy as he sees it is drawn from Aquinas:

Following Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), our older theologians therefore argued that human knowledge is analogical rather than either univocal or equivocal (two terms are related analogically when they are similar, univocally when they are identical, and equivocally when they have nothing in common). (45). (P. 54).

It becomes obvious that Horton is hopelessly self contradictory here. He states many times over his bias that God is only known through the big story, the narrative, the historical acts of God, and the “drama” as it unfolds:

A modern myth is that we outgrow stories. When someone asks us to explain who we are, we tell a story. Furthermore, we interpret our personal narratives as part of a larger plot. . . . The Christian answers these big questions by rehearsing the story of the triune God in creation, the fall of creatures he made in his own image, the promise of a redeemer through Israel, and the fulfillment of all types and shadows in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus Christ. The Apostles' and Nicene creeds are not just a list of key doctrines; they are a confession in the form of a story, our shared testimony to the most significant facts of reality. (P. 14).

. . .What we witness in our contemporary Western cultures is not so much a renunciation of metanarratives but the dominance of a new one. . . .

. . . . The Christian faith is, first and foremost, an unfolding drama. Geerhardus Vos observed, “The Bible is not a dogmatic handbook, but a historical book full of dramatic interest.” (8) This story that runs from Genesis to Revelation, centering on Christ, not only richly informs our minds; it captivates the heart and the imagination, animating and motivating our action in the world. (P. 19).

But according to Horton, God cannot reveal himself directly and univocally in words on the creaturely level since words are inherently subjective and “at no single point” does God reveal himself univocally—not even in special revelation:

At no point is goodness exactly the same for God as it is for Sally. The difference is qualitative, not just quantitative; yet there is enough similarity to communicate the point. (P. 55).

Thus, we need not accept the false choice between an encyclopedia of propositions that correspond univocally to God's mind and a merely human testimony to Christ that is related only equivocally to God's Word. (P. 182).

Therefore, creaturely knowledge will always be revealed, dependent, accommodated, ectypal, and analogical rather than coinciding with God's archetypal knowledge at any point. (P. 210).

Ironically, Horton cannot be consistent even here. He repeatedly falls back into appeals to propositional truths as a “direct identification” with God's Word even though he denies that Scripture is directly God's Word. For Horton God's Word is merely a subjective analogy. But in refuting Barth he cannot consistently affirm the Van Tilian theory of analogy:

. . . as we have seen, Barth tends to collapse inspiration into illumination in a single event of revelation in which God addresses an individual personally. The Scriptures are for Barth the normative Christian witness to revelation, but it is difficult to see how in his view the Bible could be more than first among equals—quantitatively but not qualitatively distinct from the church's interpretation. So, in spite of his noble labors to place the church back under the norm of Scripture (Deus dixit! [“God has said!”]), the ontological rationale for doing so remains questionable. Indeed, his refusal of any direct identification of God's Word with creaturely words of Scripture reflects the dualism of “Spirit” and “letter” that we discover in radical Anabaptist, pietist, and Enlightenment thinking. (P. 183).

Try as he might, Horton cannot pull off the magic trick he is attempting here. To assume a mediating position between neo-orthodoxy and conservative Reformed orthodoxy is in effect to concede the point to the liberals, modernists and the neo-orthodox. Basically, for Horton theology is always subjective and relative. This is why he must choose an eclectic approach to systematic theology as a combination of the following:

I. MODELS OF REVELATION
Dulles offers the following models:
  • Model 1: Revelation as Doctrine (God as Teacher)
  • Model 2: Revelation as History (God as Actor)
  • Model 3: Revelation as Inner Experience (God as Guest)
  • Model 4: Revelation as Dialectical Encounter (God as Judge)
  • Model 5: Revelation as New Awareness (God as Poet)

Identifying revelation chiefly (if not exclusively) with true propositions, model 1 is associated with conservative evangelicals and neo-Thomists (2) (P. 113).

This eclectic approach continually uses ad hominem and straw man associations against Horton's perceived theological enemies. For Horton Carl F. H. Henry, Gordon H. Clark, and all Scripturalists are essentially dogmatic, anti-intellectual “biblicists” who have more in common with Roman Catholic “neo-Thomists” than with Van Tilian confessionalism. Ironically, Horton wishes to say that the confessions leave certain questions open and does not require subscription (P. 214). But Horton seems to dogmatically assert that only Van Til's theory of analogy is confessional and Horton himself requires subscription to his irrational contraditions via his semi-neo-orthodox Van Tilian theory of analogy, which is a modern innovative re-interpretation of the Thomist view.

Horton even repeats the error of liberals in saying that a former pope advocated the theory of mechanical dictation as the way God inspired the Bible:

Pope Leo XIII in 1893 went even further by espousing the dictation theory of inspiration, and successive popes during the twentieth century condemned the view that inerrancy was limited to that which is necessary for salvation. (P. 174).

It seems obvious from the statement that Horton does not believe that every word of Scripture is inspired. He confirms this by saying:

With equal clarity, Luther and Calvin can speak of Scripture as free from error. (69). However, it would be anachronistic to put post-Enlightenment questions to pre-Enlightenment figures. The Reformers could simultaneously affirm the inerrancy of Scripture—even to the point of using the unfortunate language of dictation—while pointing out apparent discrepancies in the text. (P. 174).

Basically, for Horton anyone who agrees with the Reformers' unfortunate emphasis on Scripture as the very words of God is a "biblicist" or a "fundamentalist". For Horton only an eclectic assimilation of factors can give any legitimate knowledge of God. He even goes so far as to endorse Donald Bloesch's theology to a degree, even though Bloesch is an outspoken neo-Evangelical advocate of Barthian theology. (Pp. 183-184). Horton disagrees with Bloesch's critique of Warfield but in the end cannot bring himself to divorce himself from Bloesch due to Bloesch's affinity with Van Til's theology:

There have been valiant attempts to reconcile Barth's doctrine of Scripture with the church's traditional view, among which that of Donald Bloesch is especially notable.(104) He allows that Barth's formulation too sharply separated the Word from the words, yet argues that “in his emphasis on the revealing work of the Spirit [Barth] is closer to the intention of the Reformers than is modern fundamentalism in this regard.”(105) Bloesch realizes that Protestant orthodoxy “sought to maintain a dynamic view of both revelation and inspiration” and eschewed fundamentalism's tendency to deny its human aspect.(106) He correctly observes the correlation between fundamentalism's mechanical view and belief in “the univocal language of Scripture concerning God, which contravenes the position of most theological luminaries of the past who held that human language concerning God is either metaphorical or at the most analogical.”(107) (P. 183).

Here we can see Horton's continuing self contradictions. First he tells us that the Reformers “unfortunately” used the terms of “dictation.” He then reverses himself and says the Reformers taught the Van Tilian theory of analogy. This sort of inconsistency is truly amazing. Although Horton claims that revelation comes from outside the believer in the form of an analogy of Scripture and is therefore “objective”, the implication is that this analogy is entirely experiential, existential, subjective and relative. (P. 219). He inconsistently labels the conservative Clarkian view as subjective, inside-out, univocal knowledge. (Ibid.). Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that Gordon H. Clark's view was meant to preserve the objective nature of Scripture while Horton's view endorses the Barthian view by way of dissimulation. If Scripture is not the very words of God—even if organically inspired and not by mechanical dictation as Horton incorrectly attributes to the Clarkian view—then the inference that can be logically drawn is that Scripture is not God's words or Word but merely a vessel of transmission that is existential and subjective. This is the implication of Horton's position despite his denials to the contrary. For Horton the Bible contains God's Word but cannot be directly identified with the very words of the Bible. He only mentions the doctrine of inerrancy as a concession to Old Princeton theology (pp. 176-78) and mentions the Chicago Statement On Biblical Inerrancy only in passing. (P. 184).

Ironically, Donald Bloesch adopted a form of Barth's universalism by asserting the idea that there would be a second chance in hell rather than eternal punishment.  Those who refuse to repent in hell would suffer eternal torment and those who repented would be saved.  But who would be stupid enough to refuse to repent for eternity?  (See:  Is There Salvation After Death?)   Horton would rather endorse Barthianism than to admit that the Bible is univocally the very words and thoughts of God or that propositional truth is the primary means of God's special revelation.  (See also:  Propositional Revelation:  The Only Revelation).

As time is limited, I will pause here and return to this issue in a future post.

Charlie

Addendum:  For further evidence of Horton's eclectic approach I offer this quote from page 87:

This supports my contention in the introduction that theology is the lived, social, and embodied integration of drama (story), doctrine, doxology, and discipleship.  I am suggesting that hearing the covenantal Word of our Lord is the source of that dethronement of the supposedly sovereign self and of the integration that subverts the disintegrating logic of Western dualism and individualism.  [Emphasis in italics in the original text].


Obviously, receiving one's identity from one's God, through a story that one hears, is different from determining one's own identity through idols that the worshiper has created and therefore controls.  (Horton, The Christian Faith, p. 87).










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