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

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Hyper-Calvinism, Part 2

Hyper-Calvinism, Common Grace, Libertarianism and the Simplicity of God (Part 2)

[See:  Part 1]

Common Grace

The reader will have to forgive me if I take an ad hoc approach to my blog posts as my time is limited and I do work a full time job.  My posts are sometimes sporadic for that reason.  However, at this point I would like to consider the three points of common grace and why I think Herman Hoeksema, David Engelsma and other fine Protestant Reformed theologians have correctly assessed the problem with common grace and why it leads to skepticism and even liberalism.  For one thing, the doctrine of common grace presupposes that all men are basically good except that they are partially depraved due to Adam’s original sin.    Obviously, this undermines the view that humankind or mankind has been totally depraved or totally corrupted by the curse of sin since the rebellion of Adam as the federal head of the human race.  (Romans 5:12-21).  Whenever mankind has tried to use his knowledge it is usually to build idolatrous edifices to reach heaven and to assert his own sovereignty over creation apart from submission to Almighty God.  The biblical example is the tower of Babel but in modern times technology, empirical science, secular philosophy, and political science have all been used to usurp God’s sovereignty and to deny God’s very existence.  (Genesis 11:1-9 KJV; 1 Timothy 6:20 KJV; 2 Timothy 3:7 KJV).

For one thing, common grace undermines the doctrine of total depravity.  Total depravity does not refer to the degree of an individual’s wickedness but to the extent of the corruption of sin in the human nature.  The human nature or being includes the human body and the soul.  Within the soul there are the further distinctions between the volition or will and the intellect and the emotions.  However, the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark would say that the emotions are strictly a result of bodily sensations and would not include the emotions as part of the human soul.  Although I somewhat agree that the body produces emotional reactions and sensations, I do recognize that there is interaction between the soul or heart of man and the physical body and these emotional responses do affect the mind or soul.  Moreover, Clark further contended that since God is a spirit (John 4:24) it logically follows that man is a soul living in a body and that the soul is the image of God, not the human body.  Some have falsely accused Clark of Gnosticism on this account but that does not follow since it is the Bible which says that the soul lives on in a disembodied state after death until the resurrection for the final judgment of both the elect and the reprobate.  (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 KJV).  God does judge what we do in the body and the body is not the source of our sinful corruptions, rather the original sin of Adam brought the curse of total depravity or total inability on man’s soul and the curse of sin is passed on from the souls of Adam and Eve to all their posterity by way of natural generation.  Dr. Clark rejected the view that each soul is created with a sinful corruption by God but rather accepted the traducian view espoused by W. G. T. Shedd in his systematic theology.

. . . the theological argument strongly favors traducianism. The imputation of the first sin of Adam to all his posterity as a culpable act is best explained and defended upon the traducian basis. The Augustinian and Calvinistic anthropologies affirm that the act by which sin came into the world of mankind was a self-determined and guilty act and that it is justly chargeable upon every individual man equally and alike. But this requires that the posterity of Adam and Eve should, in some way or other, participate in it. Participation is the ground of merited imputation, though not of unmerited or gratuitous imputation (Shedd on Rom. 4:3, 8). The posterity could not participate in the first sin in the form of individuals, and hence they must have participated in it in the form of a race. This supposes that the race-form is prior to the individual form, that man first exists as a race or species and in this mode of existence commits a single and common sin. The individual, now a separate and distinct unit, was once a part of a greater whole. Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 16 asserts the commission of a common sin in the following terms: “All mankind, descending from Adam by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression.” The term mankind denotes here the human nature before it was individualized by propagation. This nature sinned. Human nature existing primarily as a unity in Adam and Eve and this same human nature as subsequently distributed and metamorphosed into the millions of individual men are two modes of the same thing.

Shedd, William G. Dogmatic Theology (Kindle Locations 13910-13921). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

It was also Clark’s contention that even the good that men do is sinful because unbelieving men do nothing they do in order to bring glory to God but to glorify themselves or some other idol.  (Proverbs 21:4).  Even the plowing of the wicked is sin.  This would mean that even the scientific advancements made during the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation period over against medieval scholasticism was only beneficial insofar as it protected God’s providential plans for the elect within the church and society.  For those who were reprobate God’s providence worked in the opposite direction.  A good example of that is given by Dr. Theodore Letis where he notes that Isaac Newton upon discovering the issues with lower textual criticism rejected trinitarianism and became a Socinian.  [Due to time constraints I neglected to note where the comment occurs but I am almost certain that Letis’s remark is in this video:  The Quest for the Historical Text, the ESV, and the Jesus Seminar.]

Another modern example would be Friedriech Nietzsche, the German philosopher of nihilism.  Nietzshe’s father was a Lutheran minister.  After a severe illness Nietzsche’s father died and the tragedy left Nietzsche questioning his faith.  Later when he decided to accept a call to ministry Nietzsche attended a Lutheran seminary where lower textual criticism was being taught.  The ultimate result was that the assumption of corruptions in the text and that the corruptions were made by those who wished to support orthodoxy led Nietzsche to reject his Christian faith and become an atheist.  From that point on Nietzsche attacked Christianity and Christian morality and ethics mercilessly until he actually went insane.  He could never find a consistent worldview and moral system to replace the apodictic ethical system of the moral law of God in the Holy Scriptures.  He was also the inspiration for Hitler’s eugenics and the extermination of the Jewish “vermin”.  After all, might makes right, according to Nietzsche.  [See:  Genius of the Modern World:  Friedriech Nietzsche.]

To make it more clear, I do not believe that modern scholarship should be accepted by Evangelicals uncritically.  It could be legitimately argued, as the Protestant Reformed brethren do, that common grace opened the door to liberal lower and higher criticism.  I have not read all of Theodore Letis’s book, The Ecclesiastical Text, but he makes a compelling argument that B. B. Warfield helped undermine Old Princeton by accepting the liberal axioms of Westcott and Hort’s science of textual criticism.  I would contend that this could be partly due to the Stone Lectures delivered by Abraham Kuyper at Princeton seminary in 1898.  [You can download a free ebook version in epub or mobi from monergism.com:  Stone Lectures.]  Although Kuyper himself was a presuppositionalist, his lectures lead evidentialists and the common sense philosophers of Princeton to adopt a rationalist and empiricist approach to defending the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.  The downside is that Warfield, as noted by Dr. Letis’s book, decided that corruptions had crept into the Bible and corrections needed to be made.  Warfield advocated removing huge portions of Scripture as not in the autographs, including the angel stirring the waters in the pool of Bethesda (John 5:3-4), the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), and the resurrection account of Mark’s gospel narrative (Mark 16:9-20).   Warfield reasoned that science alone could prove what was originally in the autographs and it is my opinion that his common sense philosophy, evidentialists apologetics, and his commitment to empiricism as a basis for knowledge predisposed Warfield to question the Scriptures.  Although Warfield set out to answer the more liberal text critics he failed to see that his wholesale adoption of liberal axioms in doing textual critical work would lead to the same skepticism of the radical liberal scholars.  Basically, the Westminster Confession of Faith presupposes that the copies made from the autographs are as fully inspired as the autographs themselves despite their being apographa which mediates the originals.  (See WCF chapter 1).

I am aware of a letter that Letis wrote to Dr. Clark in 1984 that is included in Doug Douma’s anthology of Clark’s letters.  But Clark died in 1985 and may not have answered Letis’s letter.  In that letter Letis acknowledges reading Dr. Clark’s article, “Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism,”  Trinity Review, January-August, 1984.  It’s not clear to me what Letis’s views were then but obviously he was in agreement with Clark that the eclectic critical approach was not based on the traditional and confessional view of Scripture.

Letis supported the Byzantine ecclesiastical text family of manuscripts but unfortunately did not agree that the autographs were inerrant and says that infallibility did not include inerrancy:

Prior to Warfield’s arrival at Princeton, no Princetonian had attained expert status in the young discipline of New Testament text criticism. Germany was the domain of these studies. It is interesting to note that in the absence of this, the founding professor at Princeton Seminary, Archibald Alexander, felt no compunction about admitting the autographs were not inerrant, noting that it is even possible that some of the autographs, if we had them, might not be altogether free from such errors as arise from the slip of the pen, as the apostles and and [“had”]. amanuensis[-es] who were not inspired. [11] Alexander could afford to admit this error, because for him, as it was for the scholastics to whom he was indebted, the primary locus of authority was the in-hand texts at his disposal. For him there was no radical discontinuity between the lost autographs and the text he had before him. Therefore, if the extant text manifested errors the likelihood was strong that they were there originally.

Letis, Theodore. The Ecclesiastical Text: Criticism, Biblical Authority & the Popular Mind (Kindle Locations 327-336). Just and Sinner Publications. Kindle Edition.

Although I agree with Letis’s critique of Warfield, I completely disagree that the autographs could have contained any errors whatsoever.  As Dr. Clark once said, God does not breathe out errors, mistakes, contradictions, myths, fables, or irrational statements.  The lower text critics start with the axiom that Scripture contains errors and irrational statements that the orthodox scribes tried to fix by harmonization and editing the autographs to make the readings more logical, orthodox, and smooth.  But is it so?  As Dr. Clark pointed out, it is just as likely that the scribes who disagreed with the orthodox position edited out orthodox statements that they viewed as either wrong or corrupt readings.  It could just as well be that the later majority text family preserves the original readings from the autographs and the earlier copies were lost.  The earliest dated manuscripts could just be corrupted and redacted manuscripts done by heretics.

The point I wish to make from the above discussion is that unless the Holy Scriptures are the plenary and verbally inspired or God-breathed words of God (Matthew 4:4) we have no basis for Christian theology as derived from the special revelation of God.  Language is propositional knowledge and God determined to give us knowledge of Himself in written language, not through empirical sensations.

Alvin Plantinga’s Foundationalism

Although I am no professional scholar, I have read widely.  One of the Christian philosophers I read in seminary was Alvin Plantinga.  I use the term Christian loosely here because although Plantinga came from a Christian Reformed Church background his theology is not actually Reformed any longer.  Plantinga taught at Notre Dame in the philosophy department for many years and after his retirement he returned to Calvin College to teach as a professor emeritus.  [See:  Biography:  Closer to Truth].  Admittedly, being a full time worker, I have not had the opportunity to read the extensive works of Plantinga so I will limit myself to what I have learned about his view that belief in God is foundational to human knowledge or properly basic to human knowledge.  This sounds a lot like he is saying that knowledge of God is innate in man as the image of God.  Of course, Plantinga does not consider himself to be an Evangelical Christian so he is free to moderate somewhere inbetween fundamentalism and liberalism—if there is any such thing as halfway between truth and error I suppose you could call it middle ground.  This also brings to mind the logical argument for an excluded middle.  However, knowing Plantinga’s exposure to the doctrine of common grace and the emphasis on the sciences as natural revelation, it should be no surprise that he takes a rationalistic view of epistemology.   Although Plantinga rejects the need for proving God’s existence, he also denies that special revelation in the Bible is the axiom or properly basic place to start in doing apologetics.  However, Plantinga’s view of properly basic beliefs does sound a lot like he holds to an axiomatic view of belief in God as the starting point for Christianity:

But foundationalists hold that some beliefs are not based upon other beliefs. (If you think about it for a second, you can see that this has to be true if we are going to avoid an infinite regress or circular belief sets.) Some beliefs are not based upon other beliefs. They are foundational beliefs, or, as Plantinga calls them, basic beliefs. They are not based on other beliefs.  Micah Cobb, Alvin Plantinga’s “The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology” (Summary).

Although this is not a primary source, I believe Cobb’s description of Plantinga’s position is accurate.  In contrast, Dr. Gordon H. Clark uses the Westminster Confession of Faith as the basis for his view that the beginning axiom of Christianity is Holy Scripture, not God.  Moreover God is a secondary axiom of the Christian faith, not the primary axiom and this is precisely because we could know nothing savingly about God without special revelation in the verbal and plenary inspired words in the Bible in grammatical and propositional form.  Clark would agree that the knowledge of God is innate in man because man is God’s image.  (Genesis 1:27; John 1:9). Clark deduces this from the Bible, however, since all knowledge of God begins with Scripture.  (Matthew 4:4; John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21).  According to Clark, man is the image of God:

The image of God in man is asserted but not precisely explained in Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6; I Cor. 11:7, and James 3:9. Something of an explanation comes in Col. 3:10 and Eph. 4:24, where one may infer that the image consists of knowledge or rationality and righteousness or holiness, from which proceeds dominion over the creatures. Romans 8:29 confirms this by describing salvation as a process of conforming the predestined saint to the image of Christ.  Dr. Gordon H. Clark, “Image of God“.

The problem with Plantinga’s view is that he never shows why the Christian belief in God is different from other religions which also have a belief in God or gods.  He also seems to commit the fallacy of induction since absolute truth could never be based on casuistic examples.  Gordon H. Clark, on the other hand, holds the view that knowledge is deductive, not inductive.  Although Clark was accused of neo-Platonic dualism or even gnostic tendencies, the fact is that Clark held to a philosophical view known as Augustinian realism.  That is, in contrast to Plato’s world of ideas, Clark agreed with Augustine’s view that all knowledge is based on logical propositions that are abstractions thought in the mind.  Knowledge must be real because God Himself thinks and is a non-material spiritual being who exists apart from His creation and prior to creation.  (John 4:24).  Man is able to think and do intellectual abstract thinking in logical form because man is the image of God.  Another problem with Plantinga is that he seems to think that contradictory religions all lead to God, which is the natural result of taking the common grace view and is a clear implication of saying that belief in God is properly basic.  If all men have a divine favor with God—albeit a non-saving one—that view ultimately leads to religious pluralism and religious relativism.  Although Plantinga says he is a religious exclusivist, he feels no need to critique the other world religions.  In practice, therefore, Plantinga is not all that exclusivist since he seems to have no problem with not evangelizing the lost and warning them about the judgment to come.  If belief in God is properly basic, which God is properly basic?  The Muslim Allah?  One of the Hindu gods?   How about the Mormon tri-theistic gods?  (Cf. Deuteronomy 6:4; 2 Corinthians 11:3-4; 13:14).  [See:  Pluralism:  A Defense of Religious Exclusivism].  Ironically, those who accuse classical Calvinists of hyper-Calvinism are in fact the very ones who do not reach out to evangelize, persuade, and confront those who have no saving knowledge of the Gospel. 

In the next post I will show that the oxymoron of “reformed” libertarianism is really based on common grace, not a biblical epistemology.  But due to the time restraints  I will return to the issue of foundationalism and reformed libertarianism in the next post.  Please be patient since it takes considerable time and thought to post coherent essays.

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