A Theological and Scripturalist Defense of Gordon H. Clark's Two Person View of the Incarnation
By Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.
In the previous blog post I mentioned the problem of the kenosis view of the incarnation as advocated by theological liberals. The liberal doctrine understands correctly that is it impossible for God to change or to literally become a man. Such a view would make the eternal God finite and less than omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. However, to say that Jesus Christ emptied himself of deity to become a man is problematic as well. A mere man could not possibly pay for the eternal punishment due to elect persons. It was necessary for Christ to be both God and man for the simple reason that a divine being cannot suffer our trials and temptations or identify with the human situation. Christ had to become man. But in order to satisfy God's eternal justice this man must also be fully divine.
Unfortunately, some Evangelicals, namely Millard Erickson, Henry Thiessen, and several classical Pentecostals, have advocated the sub-kenosis view that although the eternal Logos or eternal Son of God retains his full divine nature and essence nevertheless laid aside his divine prerogatives or the free exercise of his incommunicable divine attributes during the thirty three and a half years of the incarnation. This presents several logical contradictions as well as several theological problems. Pentecostals have an agenda to try to justify their synergistic view of miracles as a cooperation of human will with God's will in causing supernatural signs and wonders to happen. This makes God finite since, according to this view, God cannot do miracles without human cooperation or permission. Pentecostals want to de-emphasize God's sovereignty to justify their signs and wonders theology and their view of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second or third definite "work" of grace. Some charismatics, including Benny Hinn, say that that Jesus was a man like us and the only difference is that Jesus was a Spirit-filled man who is filled with the Spirit beyond measure. Jesus, according to this heretical view, had no divine nature but is merely a Spirit-filled man.
Needless to say, this is another ancient heresy usually identified as adoptionism. Moreover, adoptionism is the heretical view that Jesus was human and only became divine at his water baptism at which time he was subsequently baptized by the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven. (See Matthew 3:15-17; John 1:32-33).
According to the apologetics and epistemology of the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark, the Christian worldview is a theological and philosophical way of knowing unchanging truth and the systematic propositions that can be deduced from the axiom of Scripture. He also held to apriorism in that he said that man knows the truth by the enlightening of the Logos, the eternal Word of God. (John 1:9). For Dr. Clark theological and philosophical realism, not empiricism or veridicalism, consists in knowing propositions that are deduced from Scripture and from the innate reason in man as the image of God. Since God is Logic and the way God thinks is logical and propositional, man also knows and thinks logically and propositionally due to his being the image of God. It is for this reason that I contend that Dr. Clark's views did not radically change when at the end of his life he wrote The Incarnation.
Be that as it may, it does seem that in his earlier writings Dr. Clark had not yet worked out the apparent contradictions in his view of the incarnation. He says that there is an apparent contradiction in the incarnation. Although earlier in his book, The Atonement, Clark said that God cannot die (p. 50), after giving several Bible verses that establish that Jesus came to earth to die for the sins of God's elect ( John 18:37; John 18:31-32; John 19:6-7, 10; Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29) he says:
Such passages summarize the significance of the Old Testament ritual. The lamb was chosen to die. Christ was the lamb chosen before the foundation of the world. Therefore he came to die. [Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Matthew 13:35; Ephesians 1:4].
Furthermore, the idea of God's coming to Earth and dying is such an incongruent combination that if God really became incarnate and actually died, we are compelled to conclude that such a death must have been a major part of God's plan. Surely God was not overwhelmed by Pilate's power: "You could have no power at all against me unless it had been given you from above." Therefore the necessity of the Incarnation lay in the death of Christ. Christ came to die.
Some theologians—among whom were Rothe, Dorner, and Martensen—argued that such a stupendous event as the death of God could not be contingent on the accidental and arbitrary act of Adam's sin. . . . Adam's sin was not an accident or arbitrary act. When those theologians argue that the stupendous event of the death of God must have been part of God's original plan, they indeed state the truth. But this in no way implies that the plan did not include Adam's sin, that this sin was an accident God somehow could not prevent, or that Christ's death was not directly related in the divine plan to the occurrence of sin in the human race. Creation is no more a part of the divine plan than is sin; and to relate the Incarnation to the former only rather than to the latter—or to some other divine necessity, as these theologians do—is a construction motivated by a rejection of the Scriptural doctrine of predestination.
Gordon H. Clark. The Atonement. 1987. Second Edition. (Hobbs: Trinity Foundation, 1996). Pp. 52-53. [Bold emphasis is mine. CJR].
Since all the propositions in a logically coherent and consistent system of truth, which is deduced from the axiom of Scripture, are in harmony and are in coherence as a part of the whole book, it is impossible to separate the doctrine of the humanity and divinity of Christ from the doctrine of the atonement, the doctrine of the trinity, and the doctrine of God's eternal predestination. The scope of the whole fits with the all the parts thereof. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it:
5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverend esteem of the Holy Scripture. (1 Tim. 3:15) And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: . . .
WCF 1:5 Of the Holy Scripture.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
I would contend, however, that Dr. Clark is not contradicting himself in these comments but simply acknowledging the truth that Christ is both God and man. How the incarnation is fully defined is another matter. But to say that God cannot die and then to say that God died is not a contradiction since we know that Christ only died in his human nature and therefore only in the sense that Christ died in his humanity can we say that God died. God cannot literally die, nor can God change in any way whatsoever. God is eternally immutable or unchangeable. But because of the incarnation and the fact that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, it can be said that God died only because the man Jesus Christ died as a human being. In fact, Dr. Clark says this earlier in same book: "Christ is proved to be a man, not only because he got tired and thirsty, but because he died. God cannot die. In fact, it is precisely because God cannot die that Jehovah became a man." (The Atonement, p. 50).
Unfortunately, even usually sound Reformed and orthodox theologians often contradict themselves. The late Dr. Robert L. Reymond agreed with the doctrine of the immutability of God but insisted that this immutability does not contradict God's having feelings and sensations. Reymond attempts to get around this theological problem by saying that God is both immutable and dynamic in how He deals with mankind in that same immutability. But if God changes whatsoever that would contradict God's eternal immutability or eternal unchangeableness. According to Dr. Gordon H. Clark, God's plans are eternally unchanging as well as God's being completely impassible. That's because God's mind is not discursive as man's mind operates by one thought passing to another thought. Instead, God knows everything there is to know as one eternal now. He knows all the propositions there are to be known all at the same time and therefore God never learns anything new.
I will need to quote extensively to show why Dr. Reymond is wrong. Dr. Reymond took exception to the classical view of God's immutability and disagreed with Dr. Clark. After quoting several passages of Scripture which indicate the unchangeableness of God, (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Psalm 102:26; Malachi 3:6; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 6:17-18; Genesis 15:8-18; James 1:17), Dr. Reymond says:
By what they have said about his immutability, as a consequence of their understanding of God's eternality as involving timelessness, classical theists have sometimes portrayed God as One virtually frozen in timeless immobility or inactivity (this is one example of the theological mischief which accrues to the ascription of timelessness to God). These theists correctly argue that since God is a perfect being, he is incapable of any ontological change, since any change must be either for the better or for the worse. He cannot change for the better since he is already perfect, and he cannot change for the worse since that would result in his becoming imperfect. The same holds true, it is incorrectly argued, with regard to any motion or activity on his part. Any movement must either improve his condition or detract from it. Therefore, he remains in an "eternally frozen pose" (Packer's characterization) as the impassible God. But this is not the biblical description of God. The God of Scripture is constantly acting into and reacting to the human condition. In no sense is he metaphysically insulated or detached from, unconcerned with, or insensitive or indifferent to the condition of fallen man. . . . .
. . . To say then that God is unchangeable, that is, "immutable," must not be construed to mean that he cannot and does not act.
Dr. Robert L. Reymond. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998). P. 178.
Needless to say, Dr. Reymond is attributing human qualities to God. Almost no one except the Mormons would deny that God has no physical body since He is a pure spirit and omnipresent. But apparently many Evangelicals, while rejecting anthropomorphisms, insist that God has emotions and bodily sensations and therefore they do not see the passages in Scripture that attribute passions to God as anthropopathisms. I have a hard time understanding Dr. Reymond's insistence that God moves since he never defines what motion is or how an omnipresent God can move from one place to another?
But even worse, Dr. Reymond rejected the section in the Westminster Confession of Faith that says God has no passions. The Westminster Divines were following the theology of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who formulated the 42 Articles of Religion in the Church of England during the English Reformation. His 42 Articles were later reduced to 39 Articles of Religion.
CHAPTER II—Of God, and of the Holy Trinity
1. There is but one only, (Deut. 6:4, 1 Cor. 8:4–6) living, and true God, (1 Thess. 1:9, Jer. 10:10) who is infinite in being and perfection, (Job 11:7–9, Job 26:14) a most pure spirit, (John 4:24) invisible, (1 Tim. 1:17) without body, parts, (Deut. 4:15–16, John 4:24, Luke 24:39) or passions; (Acts 14:11,15) immutable, (James 1:17, Mal. 3:6) . . .
I. Of faith in the Holy Trinity.
THERE is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. Article 1.
Dr. Reymond disagrees when he quotes Louis Berkhof:
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 purposes, His motives of actions, or His promises. Berkhof. Systematic Theology, p. 59.
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."
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, p. 179.
Several errors pervade Dr. Reymond's position. He asserts God's immutability but then says that God's immutability is "dynamic". So it would appear that Reymond both affirms and denies immutability since the word dynamic, according to Reymond, means God does change according to human time and "reacts" to human feelings, problems, and the human situation. But this denies the doctrine of God's one eternal purpose. There is a teleological purpose in everything that happens and this purpose is God's one eternal will which he has predestined unchangingly before creation of time or humanity. (Isaiah 25:1; Isaiah 46:9-11; Isaiah 45:7; Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 14:27; 2 Chronicles 20:6; Job 9:12). God knows the end from the beginning and everything that comes to pass is exactly what God eternally willed before creation. (Isaiah 46:9-11; Ephesians 1:11). His eternal plan is unchanging and the same plan predetermines both election and reprobation. (Romans 9:11-13; 1 Peter 2:8; Proverbs 16:4). Nothing happens by chance with God. (Proverbs 16:33; Acts 15:18).
As this article has become too long, I will pause here and discuss more of Dr. Clark's rejection of the liberal doctrine of kenosis in the next article.
See previous post at Incarnation Part 4
To hear Dr. Robert L. Reymond's lecture on God's Immutability and God's Infinitude (Omnipresence), click on the highlighted hyper links. As a post note, it is unfortunate that dr. Reymond accepted the three points of common grace, despite other good points in his theology including the emphasis on propositional knowledge and understanding the Scriptures. Dr. Reymond was also a supralapsarian so it is difficult to understand how he could err so egregiously on the doctrine of God's immutability.
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