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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 09, 2012

More Problems with Horton's Systematic Theology: Part Two





More Problems with Michael Horton's Systematic Theology

[See also Part Three].

As I noted in part one of this review, I am reading my way through Mike Horton's, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011). In part one I noted that instead of starting with the doctrine of Scripture, Horton begins by explaining his epistemological presuppositions regarding the starting point for theology or studying God. Unfortunately, Horton's presupposition begins with a postmodernist, existentialist view of the doctrine of special revelation. For Horton the semi-neo-orthodox theology of “analogy” dominates such that for Horton the Bible is not really God's words but qualitatively different truths for God and man respectively. According to Horton, God cannot reveal propositions to man in any direct way, not even in the Bible. This means effectively that man cannot know truly any propositions from God since propositions for God are known qualitatively in a different way from the propositions known by man. According to the presuppositional theology of Cornelius Van Til, from whom Horton is drawing this theology of Scripture, the Creator/creature or archetypal/ectypal divide is of such a grand divide that at no single point can God reveal anything whatsoever in any univocal way.

Moreover, the practical result of Van Til's theology is that the Bible is not God's very inspired words but rather an analogical representation of God's words in human form. The real position of Mike Horton and other Van Tilians like R. Scott Clark is, for all practical purposes, a view that makes the Bible merely contain God's words in analogical, mystical form but not really God's Word in truth. Truth for Van Til is not absolute but rather a bifurcation of subjective, relativistic truth from the point of view of the creature such that the creature can never truly know even one proposition as God knows that proposition. In other words, God cannot reduce special revelation to a common point of understanding so that at that one point of understanding man can know what God intends to reveal on a creaturely level. In short, the implication of the analogical view is that the Bible is a merely human book. The Bible cannot truly be inspired of God or truly divine because at no single point does God's thoughts coincide with our thoughts—even on a creaturely level. This implies that God cannot know anything from our creaturely perspective, which implies that God is less than omniscient. 

Gordon H. Clark contended that even though God knows everything intuitively without the mediation of human sense perception and that God knows everything there is to know exhaustively and without limit, humans only know what they know via logic and the divine image in man. The image of God in man is intellect and thus the special revelation of God is revealed via the mind, which is synonymous with the “heart” in most places in Scripture. The heart is the totality of the inner being of man, including emotions, will, and the intellect. (See: Genesis 27:21; Exodus 4:21; Deuteronomy 2:30; Joshua 22:5; Job 38:36; Psalm 4:4; 19:14; 77:6; 119:11; Proverbs 2:1, 2; 3:5; Matthew 12:34; 15:19; Mark 11:23; Luke 2:19; Acts 4:32).

The fatal error of Van Til's views, here advocated by Horton, is that man cannot know anything with certainty. Only God knows absolute truth. Therefore, the implication of Horton's view is relativism whether or not he wishes to acknowledge this implication or not. Van Tilians vacillate or equivocate back and forth between fundamentalism when it suits them and neo-orthodoxy when they wish to obfuscate some point of doctrine with which they disagree.

Horton, for all practical purposes, confuses the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration with the mechanical dictation view. He seems to infer that if anyone believes inspiration extends to every single word of Scripture then necessarily they are advocating the mechanical dictation view and cannot possibly hold to an incarnational or organic model of inspiration:

1. UNDERVALUING THE HUMANITY OF SCRIPTURE: THE DOCTRINE OF TEMPTATION

Similar to the early christological heresy of Doceticsm [sic], 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.

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. In this way it may be seen that the role of human authors in producing the Scriptures is entirely their own activity and entirely God's. (Christian Faith, p. 162). [Doceticsm should be spelled as “docetism”].

Moreover, the Scripturalist position is not that "agency" is the same thing for God and for the creature.  The Scripturalist view is that the "proposition" is univocally the same proposition in God's mind and the creature's mind because God has revealed it on the creaturely level via a logical and propositional truth claim.  Furthermore, the sovereignty of God does not deny that God is in absolute control of everything that happens even down to human moral choices.  If so, then the doctrine of inspiration is impossible because God could not literally control what the actual words would be but left that completely up to the human author.  How God controls every word and every moral action without violating the will of free moral agents has not been fully revealed to us in Scripture.  However, that it is true without crossing over into making humans mere automatons is the teaching of Scripture.  (2 Peter 1:19, 20, 21; Hebrews 1:1, 2, 3).

The implication from the quote in Packer's Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984) is that the verbal plenary view is the mechanical dictation view and therefore only the concepts and doctrines of the Bible are inspired, not “every word”. Although it is true that not everything recorded in Scripture is meant to be understood as normative or as God speaking a command or promise, everything in Scripture is an infallibly and inerrantly inspired record of even ungodly statements and comments. But according to the Apostle Paul these things are written for us as examples and therefore are still part of the inspired Word of God, contra Mike Horton's view (1 Corinthians 10:6-11). Horton deliberately creates a straw man argument to discredit the Scripturalist view of Gordon H. Clark as if all Clarkians are somehow pejoratively “fundamentalists”. I can only conclude that Horton wishes to lump everyone who disagrees with Van Til's theology as “fundamentalists”.

It is fairly easy to discredit Horton's view since the Chicago Statement On Biblical Inerrancy says that inspiration extends to every word of Scripture without adopting a mechanical dictation view of inspiration:

Article VI

We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.


We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.

It would seem then that either Horton is unaware of what the Chicago Statement says or that he deliberately has created a straw man argument that would seem to bolster his fallacious Van Tilian theology of analogy. In fact, the Chicago Statement says the following which would appear to discredit the semi-neo-orthodox view that Scripture is not the very words of God:


Article IV

We affirm that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.


We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God's work of inspiration. (Ibid.).

Furthermore, the Chicago Statement On Biblical Inerrancy endorses the doctrine of an incarnational view of inspiration and not a mechanical dictation view, which Horton implies is true of the idea that inspiration extends to every word of Scripture and not just the normative concepts recorded in Scripture:

Article VII

We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.


We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.


Article VIII

We affirm that God in His Work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.


We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.


Article IX

We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.


We deny that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God's Word. (Ibid.).

Obviously, Horton's underhanded attack against the Scripturalist theology of Scripture as extending inspiration down to the very words of Scripture is meant as an ad hominem against those who hold to this view. Horton not only misrepresents Gordon H. Clark and Carl F. H. Henry but he appears to disagree with the Chicago Statement, implying that Horton rejects the affirmations and denials there because they appear to be the work of  “fundamentalists”.

Apparently, Horton takes an ad hoc approach to the doctrine of inspiration. When it suits his purposes he affirms propositional truth claims and inerrancy:

The preservation of human agents from error while their free agency remains intact is already presupposed in a biblical doctrine of God's sovereignty. God restrains sin and error in myriad ways every moment, yet without violence to creatures. . . . .

Given their high view of God's sovereignty in providence, signs of the Bible's humanity and historical conditioning, far from impeding, actually deepened their confidence in the inspiration of Scripture. (Christian Faith, p. 164).

But in another place Horton says that it is impossible that God can directly reveal any propositional truth that is the same for God and for man on man's level:

. . . However, Christianity teaches that because God exists, there is absolute (archetypal) truth, even if our knowledge of that truth is—and remains into eternity—finite, creaturely, and accommodated revelation from God. (Ibid., p. 73).

This is all well and good. However, Horton wishes to say that any idea of a univocal propositional truth at any single point is impossible. For Horton, then “accommodated revelation” excludes revelation on a creaturely level! The doctrine of Gordon H. Clark's Scripturalism is that univocal truth is accommodated to the creaturely level but that it is the exact same thought God inspired and directly mediates to us in fully inspired words—which by the way is not in contradistinction to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy! Horton wishes to mediate between “fundamentalism” and “liberalism” but in the end creates a neo-evangelical view that is essentially a mediation between the biblical doctrine of inspiration as understood by classical Reformed theology and the Evangelical movement as a whole and the doctrine of inspiration held by the neo-orthodox theologians that human words cannot possibly be a special and direct revelation from God. I cannot understand how Horton's view is for any practical purpose any different from the view he supposedly rejects:

In many ways, postmodern skepticism about the possibility of language conveying transcendent truth and meaning reflects the exhaustion of modern rationalism, a sense of having had high hopes dashed. If we cannot have absolute (archetypal) knowledge, then we cannot have relative (ectypal) knowledge. If we cannot know as God knows, then we cannot even know as creatures. As a result, in Nietzsche's words, “Interpretation,' the introduction of meaning—not 'explanation' . . . . There are no facts, everything is in flux, incomprehensible, elusive; what is relatively most enduring is—our opinions.” (131) Modern philosophy merely mined Christian doctrines and transformed them into “concepts” and “categories.” In truth, they are merely metaphors. (132) “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions.” (133) Metaphors do not refer to extralinguistic “reality” but merely to other metaphors. (Ibid., pp. 73-74).



For the record, the following is Gordon H. Clark's view of biblical inspiration. First he quotes from Ed L. Miller's God and Reason (Macmillan, 1972) and then comments himself:

Often associated with the propositional view of revelation is the traditional doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures . . . . One view, sometimes called the “dictation” theory, holds that the writers of the Bible were, like typewriters, completely passive or even oblivious to the promptings of the Spirit. . . . This interpretation, or at least one version of it, was emphatically embraced by Pope Leo XIII in his 1893 encyclical Providentissimus Deus. . .

This recognition and account of Dogmatism is on the whole most excellent. At the very least it is an honest acknowledgement that there is and has been such a view held; and this acknowledgment contrasts with the silence of some other authors. The one part of Miller's account that must be emphatically rejected is his statement that the pope emphatically embraced the view that the writers of Scripture were like typewriters, oblivious of their surroundings and condition. Although the author completely misunderstands the pope. Similarly it would be difficult to find a single Protestant theologian who held such a view. If there be one, however, the stenographer or typewriter dictation theory has never been the traditional or majority view. [Gordon H. Clark, Christian Philosophy (Unicoi: Trinity Foundation, 2004), p. 19].

It seems to me that Horton and other Van Tilians have an ax to grind since the most of them never bother to investigate the firsthand sources for Gordon Clark's theology or other theologians like Carl Henry who follow Clark's view of Scripture as the propositional truth claims that bind men's consciences.

Since time is limited here I will take a pause. However, in the next installment I would like to take a look at Horton's adoption of the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of God's “energies”.

See Part Three.

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