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, September 14, 2014

One Point: Van Tilian Political Correctness, Logic, and the Priesthood of Believers

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said,`You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1 NKJ)"The bottom line here is that the Van Tilians are the ones who agree with Satan.  They ask the same question that the serpent asked in the garden:  "Hath God really said?"--  Charlie J. Ray

For a heads up, I want to let my readers know that this article will be an editorial opinion and not necessarily exegetical or systematic theology.  That being said from the get go, I want to issue a complaint against the ivory towers of Van Tilianism, neo-legalism, and various other miscreant theological aberrations within the general umbrella of what is generally known as Calvinism.  

First of all, I want to admit up front that I am not omniscient nor have I ever claimed to be omniscient.  I operate within my own limitations as an individual person who thinks propositionally.  In fact, my thinking is often subject to mistakes and logical errors.  I have never been trained formally in logic or philosophy other than a few classes in college and seminary; so I do make mistakes.  I am often forgetful and lose a train of thought.

But since all men are subject to these noetic effects of sin, even theologians whose professional occupation is teaching and writing theology and biblical exegesis are in the same situation.  This is why I wonder why people like R. Scott Clark and Mike Horton think that their opinion trumps the priesthood of believers.  The last I checked the Protestant Reformation does not teach the Anabaptist principle of subjective leadings to an ever changing truth.  The Reformers also did not teach lone ranger views of the priesthood of believers.  They outright rejected solipsism or any view of the liberty of conscience that made the individual the center of authority in matters of biblical interpretation.  Solo scriptura is therefore out. 

But where does that leave us?  Sola scriptura rejects the church as an infallible magisterium or interpreter of Scripture; thus the papist view that the pope and the church have an equal authority with Scripture is out.  Moreover, the Protestant Reformers certainly believed in scholarship.  The Reformation did not begin as a grass roots movement.  It began with humanist scholars who began to read the biblical texts for themselves.  Using logic and consistently critical methods they saw that Rome's views on doctrinal issue were not biblical but had been derived instead from human traditions.  Furthermore, the Latin Vulgate was shown to be an unreliable translation from the original Greek and Hebrew majority texts available to the Reformers.

The Reformers were out to educate the public.  The first thing they did was to translate the Bible into the vernacular languages of the people.  That's because the Reformers believed that even a common man, a plow boy could read the Bible for himself and see that Rome's traditions were wrong.  That's because the Bible is a logical revelation and logical propositions can be logically arranged to fit into a logical system that fits together into a whole system of theology (John 10:35).  The Scriptures cannot be broken.  Out of that grew the conviction that the system of theology in the Bible should be summarized into an extended creedal statement.  The Westminster divines were so committed to this principle that Scripture is perspicuous, plain, and logical that a culmination of that effort was the Westminster Assembly and the the documents we know as the Westminster Standards (Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechism).  But notice carefully that the Westminster Assembly of 1647 did not reject the priesthood of believers.  Their goal was to put the Bible in the hands of the common man.  The Bible alone is the Word of God in their view.  (2 Timothy 3:16).  Even a child or a redneck plowboy can understand the plain and perspicuous Scriptures and be saved (2 Timothy 3:15).  That is because Scripture is logical and the God who inspired Scripture is Logic (John 1:1).  Man is the image of God (John 1:9; Genesis 1:26-27).

What is amazing to me today, however, is that modern Reformed scholars in the Van Tilian camp are now directly challenging the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, that Scripture is so plain that even a child can read and understand the essential and plain passages of the text and be saved (2 Timothy 3:15; 2 Peter 1:19-21).  Instead, the Van Tilians claim that all Scripture is apparently contradictory.  This is nothing more than neo-orthodoxy, of course.  The Bible is not really the word of God because at no single point does the Christian know anything that God knows.  This, of course, begs the question:  why would God reveal anything at all if it is impossible to know anything God knows?  The Van Tilian out for this question is analogical knowledge.  We don't know anything God knows except analogically.  So God didn't really reveal logical and propositional truth.  He only revealed glimmerings of irrational truths that don't make sense in the human mind.  To try to understand God's Word is really just a form of Arminian rationalism, according to the Van Tilians.  So why have seminaries or train men to think if it is all just rationalism to try to understand God's Word logically?  Without logic there can be no communication whatsoever.  That's because the law of contradiction is absolutely necessary for communication and understanding.   Van Tilians know this because they are always contradicting the views of the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  However, an analogy is not a logical proposition.  Dr. Clark rightly pointed out that unless an analogy or metaphor has a logical proposition behind it, then it is conveys nothing meaningful or understandable.

Van Til's views are therefore a direct repudiation of the inerrancy, infallibility, perspicuity, and reliability of Scripture.  In its place, Van Til places the authority of church synods that have a higher authority than Scripture.  After all, without the minister the lay man cannot read and understand the Bible.  For Van Til and his followers the priesthood of believers is subject to Van Til's final authority.  In short, disagree with the papal authority of Van Til and you are politically incorrect and black listed.  The name of Gordon H. Clark is anathema in the Reformed world today.  Dare to disagree with R. Scott Clark and you will be permanently banned from commenting on his blog or elsewhere. Dare to disagree with Westminster Seminary East or West or any other Reformed seminary promoting Van Tilian paradox and you are immediately unemployable as a minister in any of those churches.  In fact, I wonder why any orthodox Reformed minister would want to be ordained in a denomination where the theology of irrationalism prevails?

I am not rejecting confessional theology.  Obviously, Dr. Clark did not do that either.  He held that the Westminster Confession of Faith is the best summary of the propositional revelation in the bible that has ever been produced.  But I am saying that even a lowly lay person can study and read the Bible and use the Westminster Standards as a guide to understanding the system of theology that has been expositionally and exegetically drawn from the clear warrant of the Holy Scriptures.

In short, the Van Tilians have no authority over classical Calvinists.  The Bible is the final authority, not R. Scott Clark or Mike Horton.  They will ridicule and use the abusive ad hominem fallacy, of course.   They falsely accused Dr. Clark of hyper-Calvinism, rationalism and other things.  The bottom line, however, is that Scripture alone is the Word of God.  When a theological tradition bases its theology on an axiom other than Scripture, namely the Van Tilian axiom that "all Scripture is apparently paradoxical," the end result is skepticism, neo-orthodoxy, theonomy, the Federal Vision, the Auburn Avenue error, etc.  Most of this originated with Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Gerhardus Vos, and other Reformed theologians whose theology logically culminated in the Auburn Affirmation, which ironically led to the formation of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the first place.

Sean Gerety asked a question his book, Can the Presbyterian Church in America Be Saved?  He pointed out the conflict between logical contradictions and the Van Tilian view that all Scripture is apparently contradictory.  This leaves the Van Tilians free to read the equivocations of the Federal Visionists with charity.  Lane Keister of the Green Baggins blog could not bring himself to say that Doug Wilson is an enemy of the Gospel.  The same thing is true of R. Scott Clark and Mike Horton.  Their commitment to irrationalism is so great that even though they disagree with the neo-legalism of Richard Gaffin, Jr. and the Federal Visionists, their commitment to a false charity given to false teachers is greater than their commitment to the Bible.  Furthermore, since neither Horton nor R. S. Clark actually believes the Bible is unequivocally and univocally the very words of God, they leave themselves open to skepticism.   To Horton the Bible is an inspired myth that is factual and R. S. Clark says that to say Scripture is the very words of God and univocally God's logical and propositional revelation is to promote a quest for an illegitimate intellectual certainty (QIRI).  (See:  Religious Uncertainty: Recovering the Reformed Confession and A Critical Review of Pilgrims on the Way).  In short, truth is subsumed under the rubric of loyalty to a seminary or a denomination rather than loyalty to the system of theology revealed in Holy Scripture and summarized by the Westminster Standards. 

According to R. Scott Clark, the temptation of Adam and Eve was not about believing God's logical command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of the knowledge of good and evil.  It was about a quest to know things just as God knows them:

QIRC is an acronym: Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty. It has at least two aspects. The first is the ancient, sinful desire to know what God knows, the way he knows it. That is what the Evil One offered to us in the garden (Gen 3). He suggested to us that our kind, holy, and righteous Creator God was was afraid of us, that, if we would only trust him, the devil, we could know what God knows the way he knows it. As you may know, that sale went horribly wrong because it was horribly wrong from the beginning. It was a lie and when we signed that contract with our own blood.   (From: The QIRC-er Must Be Right, by R. Scott Clark.

The problem with R.S. Clark's premise is that it is flat wrong.  The problem is not a quest for illegitimate knowledge.  Did Adam know God's command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  Or was the command somehow apparently contradictory?   Did God issue a command in the form of logic that would require the law of contradiction to be properly understood?  And did Adam know God's words just as God understood these words?

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said,`You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1 NKJ)

The problem is not that the serpent was tempting Eve with knowledge.  He tempted her to reject the plain teaching of God's Word.  The Word was not yet written but it was nevertheless the very words of God told her by Adam.  And it is even likely that God Himself instructed Eve since both Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8).  Of course, the promise that you can be like God is a continuing problem in the cults.  But that is certainly not what the Westminster Confession teaches, contra R. Scott Clark.  (See:  Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6).

Furthermore, is it an illegitimate quest for knowledge to believe that the Bible is univocally the same words God knows?  Of course, we only know what is revealed (Deuteronomy 29:29; Romans 16:25-26).  But is it illegitimate to know God's special revelation in Scripture?  According to R. Scott Clark, it is illegitimate to know anything God knows, therefore ruling out special revelation.  We can only analogically guess what God knows--even when God reveals His thoughts in the Bible.  By Van Tilian reasoning it is illegitimate to question anyone's interpretation of the text because to inquire into the meaning of the text is to seek to know what God knows just as God knows it.  So Scott Clark is the one agreeing with the devil, not the Scripturalist.  The Scripturalist agrees with the commands of God because those commands are univocally the same commands in the mind of God and in the mind of the man who hears or reads God's revelation in spoken words:

Chapter I

Of the Holy Scripture

I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable;[1] yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.[2] Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church;[3] and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing;[4] which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary;[5] those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.[6]

Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.1.

In light of these compromises regarding the authority, inspiration and authority of Scripture, I would like to ask Dr. R. Scott Clark how he can with a straight face oppose the Federal Vision if it is not a logical contradiction to the system of theology logically and univocally revealed in Scripture and summarized on a warrant from Scripture in the Reformed confessions we know as the Westminster Standards, the Three Forms of Unity, and the Anglican Formularies?  After all, Scripture is inherently and apparently paradoxical, according to R.S. Clark.  These apparent contradictions are only resolved in God's mind and it is a violation of the creature/Creator distinction to say that Doug Wilson is a false teacher or that Richard Gaffin, Jr. or Norman Shepherd have contradicted the Gospel in any way whatsoever, right?

The bottom line here is that the Van Tilians are the ones who agree with Satan.  They ask the same question that the serpent asked in the garden:  "Hath God really said?"

Just asking.


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