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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.]

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Monday, May 20, 2019

A Critical Review of God with Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God



A Critical Review of God with Us:  Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God

In my previous post I promised to review a book written by Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The book is God with Us:  Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God, (Wheaton:  Crossway, 2011).  Pp. 319.  As I noted in the previous post Dr. Oliphint has been charged with violating the confessional standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the Southwest Presbytery.  

In the interim since I began writing this review my prediction that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church would not pursue the trial of Dr. Oliphint has come true.  Apparently since he has been teaching this compromise with Open Theism since at least 2011, it is irrelevant if the theology he espouses is out of accord with the Westminster Standards:

May 3, 2019 — The OPC Presbytery of the Southwest addressed charges filed against Dr. K. Scott Oliphint.

    The presbytery ruled the evidence inadmissible citing OPC Book of Discipline III.7.b(4), which refers to “the apparent authenticity, admissibility, and relevancy of any documents, records, and recordings adduced in support of the charge and specifications.” Consequently, the presbytery did not proceed to trial.

    While not cited in the minutes, the applicability of BD III.2 was debated: “No charge shall be admitted by the judicatory if it is filed more than two years after the commission of the alleged offense, unless it appears that unavoidable impediments have prevented an earlier filing of the charge. A charge shall be considered filed when it has been delivered to the clerk or the moderator of the judicatory.”

    The presbytery made no statement as to the orthodoxy of the views expressed in the documents, records, and recordings adduced in support of the charges and specifications.

Sometime later the Southwest Presbytery gave a perfunctory dismissal of the charges without even bothering to spend time evaluating what Oliphint has said in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the book.    The link posted at Westminster Theological Seminary announcing the dismissal of all charges has disappeared as of today.  The article said that the presbytery did examine the evidence and found no theological errors on Oliphint’s part. 

As a way of general introduction to the problem, let me say that behind Oliphint’s error of attributing change to the essence of God is his theology of paradox.  The mistake is inherited from his mentor, the late Dr. Cornelius Van Til.  Continually throughout the book Oliphint upholds the orthodox doctrine as correct.  However, he will then contradict the orthodox doctrine with caveats and attribute the caveats to mystery, incomprehensibility, the ectypal/archetypal dichotomy, and paradox.  It seems to bother Dr. Oliphint greatly that the Open Theists so harshly attack Calvinism.  Although it is his intention to answer the objections of the Arminians, Molinists, and Open Theists, Oliphint in the end winds up agreeing with them while also disagreeing with them.  He goes through many strained arguments to prove that the Bible is true.  The problem here is that he both affirms logical deduction and denies logical deduction throughout the entire book.  The outright schizophrenic approach is enough to make one wonder if Oliphint finds himself conflicted by the Open Theist arguments or even attracted to the Open Theist arguments?  In fact, the opening to the book seems to imply that there are good arguments to be had from the Open Theists since they draw their arguments straight from the Bible.  (Hereafter I will refer to the Open Theist argument as OT).

Another reason I believe Oliphint’s theology went off track is his adherence to the doctrine that God has anthropopathic feelings, which also implies change in the divine essences.  Couple that with his view that logic is created as merely human logic and not an attribute of God’s simple being as affirmed by the doctrine of divine simplicity and you have the ingredients for what can only be called a Barthian paradox.

In the opening paragraph of the introduction Oliphint makes reference to the character of God:

The purpose of this book is to help us to think biblically about who God is.  More specifically, I hope to address some of the conundrums that arise when we attempt to think about God’s character in light of the fact that he has created and has covenanted to redeem a people.  Our focus, therefore, will be first of all on the character of God, in order then to focus on that character given creation.  In order properly to understand the relationship of God to creation, it is necessary, in the first place, to understand who God is quite apart from his creation.   (I cannot give page numbers since I am utilizing an ebook in the NOOK app format from Barnes and Noble).  Position 11 of 319.

The problem here is that Oliphint never defines what he means by character.  If he means character as related to human behavior and the ethical behavior of human beings, then he is confusing the Creator with the creature.  God’s character is that whatever God does is good and right because He is the final authority.  There is no one higher than God to hold God accountable for what God does.  Even John Calvin held this view:

2. There is no such thing as fortune or chance

That this difference may better appear, we must know that God’s providence, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous happenings. Now it has been commonly accepted in all ages, and almost all mortals hold the same opinion today, that all things come about through chance. What we ought to believe concerning providence is by this depraved opinion most certainly not only beclouded, but almost buried. Suppose a man falls among thieves, or wild beasts; is shipwrecked at sea by a sudden gale; is killed by a falling house or tree. Suppose another man wandering through the desert finds help in his straits; having been tossed by the waves, reaches harbor; miraculously escapes death by a finger’s breadth. Carnal reason ascribes all such happenings, whether prosperous or adverse, to fortune. But anyone who has been taught by Christ’s lips that all the hairs of his head are numbered [Matt. 10:30] will look farther afield for a cause, and will consider that all events are governed by God’s secret plan.

Book 1:16:2.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis Battles. Vol. 1. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. Print. The Library of Christian Classics.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark pointed out that those who accept the doctrine of common grace make other compromises with Arminianism that amount to what he called semi-Arminian Calvinism.  In other words, instead of meeting the objections of Arminians head on the promoters of common grace seek to reach a mediating position between Calvinism and Arminianism.  In order to accomplish that Dr. Cornelius Van Til and other adherents to the three points of common grace sought to use a Hegelian dialectical method to accommodate the apparent contradictions in the Bible to a theology that could both affirm and deny the Arminian objections to biblical and Reformed theology.  Ironically, in a recent broadcast I heard from Camden Bucey on the Christ the Center podcast, Bucey points out that minor theological errors are like shooting a rifle at a target.  If the target is near a bad shot can still hit the target.  But the farther away the target is the more likely that a slight misalignment of the shot will result in missing the target entirely.  (Reformed Forum: The Creator-creature Distinction in the Hypostatic Union).  The analogy is fitting because the theology of common grace coupled with the theology of paradox ends up missing the target both near and far.  That’s because to deny the principles of logical consistency, systematic and propositional revelation, and the law of contradiction is to invite outright contradictions in one’s theology and the end result is apostasy, not faith.  

As a side note, the discussion in Bucey’s podcast is fairly accurate and on the mark as far as it goes.  What he and Jeff Waddington conveniently overlook, however, is the problem of definitions.  Nowhere in the discussion do they discuss the definition of what a person is or how Jesus Christ can be one person with two wills and two natures.  Is the one person of Christ a monophysite person?  Does the divine Logos replace the human soul and human mind of Jesus Christ?  That would be Apollinarianism.  These kinds of theological questions are the questions the Van Tilians almost never answer.  Bucey even says that the Nestorian error leads to the idea that Christ could have sinned as the Arminians and Open Theists insist.  Some Open Theists even say that God could possibly sin.  But to the point, Dr. Gordon H. Clark never espoused the heresy of Nestorianism.  Instead he would have affirmed that Christ incarnate would have to be a genuine human being with a genuine human soul and a genuine human personality like any other human being.  The two persons of the dual nature of Christ are united by the complex of propositions both think in common.  This is a much easier way to explain how Christ can be both ignorant as a human being and omniscient as the divine Logos.  Since God cannot be changed by the incarnation it logically follows that Christ is locally present as a human being while being omnipresent as the divine Logos.  In the same way, Christ is ignorant as a human soul or person and omniscient as the divine Logos, the eternal son of God.  Jesus could not sin because God is sovereign over the human nature and human person of Christ and His providence guides all that happens.  Jesus Christ not only would not sin but He could not sin in His human nature because He is fully God and fully human.  Bucey and Waddington basically affirm contradiction and a spiritual form of the Eutychian heresy or monophysite heresy when they refuse to dig deeper into the theology of the issue of Christ being one Person as the Definition of Chalcedon 451 A.D. and the Westminster Confession of Faith affirms.  I do not disagree with the basic proposition that Christ is God incarnate but that does not mean there are no ambiguities in the orthodox creeds and confessions that need to be more fully worked out biblically, logically, and propositionally.  (See also:  Review of The Omnipresence of Christ, by Theodore Zachariades).

Moreover, John Calvin and the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark both affirm that God’s providence governs the moral sins of men and angels and the Westminster Confession of Faith does as well.  It seems to me that the new Calvinists like Dr. Oliphint are so afraid of being accused of promoting a God who is ruthless and harsh in His judgments that they are willing to go down the road of compromise with the heresy of Arminianism and now even the heresy of Open Theism.  If God is mutable whatsosever, including saying that God has emotions, then the doctrine of divine simplicity—the doctrine that God is not a composite of complex parts—is contradicted completely.

Dr. Oliphint constantly uses contradictions in his book.  In the introduction he claims that he is not going to write a book on the doctrine of God proper and then he completely contradicts himself a few sentences later:

As we will see, to begin with God-in-relationship (with creation) is to begin in the wrong place.  We must first understand who the triune God is before we can begin to grasp who he is as he relates himself to creation.  Thus, God with Us will explore God’s character in order, first, to argue and reaffirm that he is independent as the triune God.  Then we will begin to see what is involved when this independent God condescends to relate himself to his creation, as God with us.

So, this is not, in the first place, a book on the doctrine of God (what is sometimes referred to as theology proper).
. . .
On the other hand, given certain biblical and historical truths with respect to the character, attributes, and properties of God, it is incumbent on the church to think about such things carefully in order more adequately to worship him.  The primary purpose of this book, therefore, is that the church might more biblically “think God’s thoughts after him”—that we might understand better just who God is, what he has told us about himself, and how best to think about him.  In that sense, the doctrine of God, or theology proper, will be the subject of every page.

Oliphint, position 11 of 319, Nook ebook edition.

This example of Oliphint’s constant equivocation between two contradictory propositions is evident throughout the book.  Needless to say, two contradictions cancel each other out.  So is Oliphint dealing with the doctrine of God proper or is he not dealing with the doctrine of God proper?  Methinks he is dealing with theological issues and he wishes to soften up the reader to what he is about to introduce in the subsequent pages.

As I have stated many times on my blog, the problem of evil provokes those who object to God's absolute sovereignty to continually attack the biblical teaching that God is the primary cause of all things including both natural disasters or calamities and the kinds of calamities instigated by moral evil.  But Dr. Oliphint’s response to the problem of evil and God’s sovereignty is simply to assert that God has character.  But what does that mean?  Does it mean that God is finite and can do nothing about evil?  Not once in this book does Oliphint refer to the doctrine of providence or mention that God providentially governs both the good and evil actions of moral agents whether the agents are humans or angels.  He seems to find it embarrassing that the Westminster Confession of Faith affirms that God’s control and sovereignty extends to all the sins of both men and angels:

The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God; who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. (WCF 5:4 WCS)

Implied in the statements on God’s character is that somehow God is held to some standard higher than Himself.  But who would hold God accountable to this higher standard?  (Job 40:1-14).

To carry on with the review, in chapter one Oliphint affirms the authority of Holy Scripture as the basis for what we know about God.  He wants to say that the Bible teaches the doctrine of divine aseity and the doctrine of divine simplicity.  But hidden in his assertion of God’s aseity and biblical theology is a foreshadowing of his doubts about the sovereignty of God and his need to respond to the criticisms of the Open Theists who claim that God is constantly changing and adjusting His responses to creation.  Of course the Bible does say that God interacts with His creatures and creation.  But does this mean that God changes or that God somehow adds new properties to His immutable nature as Oliphint will argue later in the book?  To say so is to affirm outright contradictions.  To be sure, there are apparent contradictions or paradoxes in the Bible that need to be logically explained.  Even Dr. Gordon H. Clark admitted that during his interview for ordination by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the 1940s.  But Clark’s view was not that all Scripture is apparently contradictory but rather that since Scripture is God-breathed it cannot contain any actual contradictions and that with enough effort most if not all paradoxes in the Bible have propositional answers that fit with the system of propositional statements deduced from the Bible.  (WCF 1:6).  The Van Tilian approach, however, is that all Scripture is apparently contradictory and only in God’s archetypal knowledge are there any solutions to these apparent contradictions.

Oliphint makes passing mention of WCF 1:6 and logical consistency in his book but as is the case with Van Tilians, he refers to this as mere human logic and that propositional and deductive logic is both true and false.  Oliphint quotes Richard Muller:

The Reformed Orthodox understood the text of Scripture as providing prinicipia or axiomata [that is, foundational principles] from which conclusions could be deduced, as indicated in the hermeneutical principle of the Westminster Confession, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may deduced from Scripture.”

This notion of “good and necessary consequence” is crucial; it is even an obvious and natural component of the way in which we rely on Scripture as our authority, but it may need a little explanation.  Simply put, the “good and necessary” consequences by which we conclude what Scripture says and what it requires of us carry all of the authority of Scripture with them.  Thus, they themselves are scriptural conclusions, in the fullest sense of that word.  But what the divines had in mind, at least, is that the consequences of the truth of Scripture, in order to glorify God, must be both good and necessary.  If a consequence is only good or only necessary, then it does not qualify as something that carries Scripture’s mandate. 
Oliphint, position 52 of 319,  Nook ebook edition.

Did you catch the shift of emphasis that Oliphint makes?  He completely reinterprets the phrase “good and necessary consequence” in WCF 1:6 so that good and necessary are two separate definitions with two different qualifications needed to meet the condition of glorifying God.  But there is another possibility.  That possibility is that good and necessary are one and the same thing and therefore the proposition stands as a hendiadys.  At this point Oliphint goes off into anecdotal examples of deciding what to do in particular situations.  But he completely misses the point that the WCF is speaking to doctrinal issues, not situational ethics or other such nonsense.  We know that Jesus Christ died only for the elect because the Bible is propositional truth and we can deduce that doctrine from the various proof texts in Scripture; we can make that deduction by using reason, logic, the law of contradiction and good and necessary consequence.  The same can be said for the doctrine of the trinity.  The Bible nowhere says specifically and verbatim that God is three persons nor does the Bible use the term trinity anywhere.  Yet we can by good and necessary consequence deduce from the Bible that God is three persons because God is referred to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The only way to reconcile logically the passages that affirm the oneness of God and the passages that distinguish between three persons is the doctrine of the trinity.  Furthermore, the only way to distinguish between the human nature of Christ and the divine nature is by way of the doctrine of the trinity.  It is the eternal Logos, the eternal Son of God who becomes incarnate, not the Holy Spirit or the Father.  (John 1:18; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Peter 1:1; Hebrews 1:1-3).  If the trinity is not true then the logical implications of the incarnation would be modalistic and the conclusion would inevitably lead to a denial of the deity of Christ.

Another problem I have with Oliphint’s book is his glowing appraisal of Clark Pinnock and the Open Theists.  Although he purports to refute and oppose Open Theism, it seems obvious to me that he has a difficult time rejecting what they are saying.   That’s because Oliphint reads the incarnation back into the doctrine of God so much so that he actually compares the incarnation to God’s interaction with creation.  As I said before, he never once mentions the doctrine of providence.  In the older Evangelical theological works there was a distinction drawn between God’s transcendence and God’s immanence.  Some went so far as to say that God was totally transcendent.  Gordon H. Clark strongly disagreed with this contradiction, although Clark plainly admitted that he did not know how a completely immutable God could begin to create; but Clark did strongly refute the proposition that God is totally transcendent because this would render God unknowable and neo-orthodoxy would be the result.

An example of Oliphint’s opinion in regards to Open Theism is that he thinks that his analogy of the incarnation applies equally to the doctrine of God and answers the challenges of Open Theism:

If we begin to think in this way—that the person of Christ gives us a proper way to think about who God is and how he relates himself to his creation—then we are more adequately equipped not only to think about God according to his own revelation, but also to meet some of the challenges that have arisen, historically and of late, with respect to God’s character and attributes.

To mention just one example of those challenges:  Clark Pinnock, commenting on the classical view of an immutable and impassible God, notes the following:  “For most of us todayh, however, this immobility of God is by no means attractive . . . .  I admit that modern culture has influenced me in this matter.  The new emphasis upon human freedom requires that I think of God as self-limited in relation to the world.”  This notion of God, sometimes called open theism (in that God is thought to be open to, and not in control of, the future), has gained a hearing and is even argued to be within the confines of evangelical thought.  John Sanders, commenting on this view, emphasizes the newness of open theism:  Modern theology has witnessed a remarkable reexamination of the nature and attributes of God.”  This reexamination, for open theists, includes the denial of virtually all of the classic, essential attributes of God.

Oliphint, position 12 of 319, Nook ebook edition.

The problem, as we will see later in this review, is that Oliphint’s solution to the apparent contradiction is to affirm both the classical doctrine of God and the Open Theist doctrine of God by redefining God’s eternal will or eternal decree in such a way that the eternal covenant of redemption and the eternal covenant of justification become “covenantal properties” instead of God’s divine and eternal plan.  The problem is that Oliphint’s view of the doctrine of divine simplicity is adjusted so that God can add extra properties to His essence that God did not have before.  This in and of itself is problematic because it makes God mutable instead of immutable.  The doctrine of divine simplicity implies immutability because if God is not composed of complex parts then He cannot add anything to himself, including ad extra covenantal properties.

One of the major problems with Oliphint is that his starting point denies that God is Logic.  Dr. Gordon H. Clark affirmed the doctrine of divine simplicity; since God is logic divine simplicity holds that logic cannot be separated from God as God is not complex but simple.  Logic is not created by God for human beings because this would imply that God didn’t know mere human logic prior to creating it.  It would be a contradiction to affirm that God did not know some things prior to creation.  Oliphint seems to agree somewhat with Alvin Plantinga’s distinction between necessary being and contingencies that are not realized until creation.  What is problematic then is Oliphint thinks God has contingencies in His mind and that God does not think necessarily in logical propositions or logically and systematically:

We should also see that, to construe the argument differently, if God is identical with his properties, it may be (and in fact is the case) that, rather than God being a property, the “property” is first of all a person, or personal, and only afterward a property.  The main reason Plantinga wants to force the identity in the direction of properties is that he is convinced that (at least some) properties are necessarily what they are whether or not God exists.  So, (at least) conceptual priority is given to properties, rather than God, at the outset.  This priority, however, gets things backwards.  If we begin our reasoning with God as a se, then we should recognize that, before God created, there was only God.  There were no necessities along with God that were not themselves identical to him.  Thus, for example, there were no necessary propositions that had to obtain.  There was only God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the one God.  There was no “2 + 2 = 4,” no “all things red are colored”; there was God and his triune, essential character—nothing else.

Oliphint, position 72 of 319, Nook ebook edition.

I think I can confidently say here that while Oliphint perhaps does not intend to say that God is not omniscient, the logical conclusion of his assertion that “there was no ‘2 + 2 = 4’” is that the triune God did not know that 2 + 2 = 4 until after creation.  If God is simple and God is eternally immutable and eternally omniscient then obviously there was no time when God did not know that 2 + 2 = 4 because God is simple, not complex.  God’s knowledge is forever immutable and God never learns anything new.  Dr. Clark affirmed that God thinks intuitively.  He knows everything that can be known in one timeless now.  Man, on the other hand, learns things sequentially and discursively.
Oliphint denies that 2 + 2 = 4 is part of God omniscience and therefore in effect denies that God eternally knows that 2 + 2 = 4 as applicable to the doctrine of divine simplicity:

How do we know . . . that two plus two equals four?  One way is to look at the meaning of the terms.  Four consists necessarily of two and two.  So, it simply could not be four unless two and two were included in it (in some way).  But what kind of necessity is this?  Is it the same necessity that we apply to God’s existence?  It cannot be the case that God and creation, including the necessary laws of creation, are subject to the same necessity.
What seems to be a better, more biblical affirmation is that necessity and possibility are all determined by God himself.  . . . Regarding the notion of necessity, therefore, we must maintain a distinction between God and everything else.

Oliphint, position 73 of 319, Nook ebook edition.

In other words, Oliphint believes that God has contingencies and possibilities in His mind.  While it is true that God knows all the counterfactuals in every situation, it is also true that God has predetermined the actual outcome of every possible situation.  Thus there can be no contingencies in God’s mind since He is eternally immutable in His knowledge and eternally omniscient.  There was never a time when God would not have determined to create the world as it is because of the fact that God is simple and immutable.  Creation is a necessary event because God never changes His mind.
But even Gordon Clark acknowledged there are philosophical and theological problems with the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of providence.  If God is immutable, how could God begin to create?  

But of course, creation can perplex us too.  If God is immutable, how could he change from a state of inactivity to the act of creation?  

Dr. Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe?  1st edition 1965.  (Unicoi, Trinity Foundation), p. 57.

The problem with Oliphint is his constant inconsistency.  Later in the same book he in fact says that God did know logic and that 2 + 2 = 4 was in God’s mind prior to creation:

As I have said, we should recognize that, when God created, that which was created resided first in the triune God’s mind (Heb. 11:3, Rev. 4:11).  What God made, therefore, came from the original, his own thoughts.  He did not create those very thoughts, but what he thought was spoken into existence, and from that speaking, what he thought was created.  That creation, however, was a translation of God’s thoughts.  It could not be identical with his thoughts, in part because thoses thoughts partake of his eternal character in a way that creation could not.  Rather, it was taking the original as it resided in his mind and “carrying it across” as, and into, creation itself.  Creation, then, is God’s translation of what was in his mind from eternity.

Oliphint, position 132 of 319, Nook ebook edition.

I would like to know how something that exists solely as a thought in propositional form can be both uncreated and created at the same time?  Oliphint says that logic and mathematics are merely created along with humans and the universe.  Yet he acknowledges that prior to creation God in His unknown being somehow had ectypal knowledge prior to creating it.  Would this not mean that ectypal knowledge in God’s eternal mind is therefore part of God simplicity and His omniscience?  I could develop this further but in short it boils down to another apparent contradiction in the Van Tilian methodology of apologetics and theology.  Oliphint is now asserting that there is a two-fold truth in God’s mind as if God knows things we know just as we know them and only as He knows them in His omniscient and uncreated mind.  So how could this be ectypal and yet proceed from God’s archetypal knowledge which no man can know if in fact this ectypal knowledge is part of God’s immutable omniscience and therefore inherent in God’s divine simplicity?  The Van Tilian view that there is a twofold view of truth contradicts special revelation of any kind and absolute truth of any kind since humans cannot know anything God knows archetypally.  A better distinction I think is Clark’s view that all knowledge is propositional and systematic.  We cannot know everything God knows but we can know some truths that God knows but only discursively and partially, not without measure or intuitively.

In lieu of going into too many details and writing a book in response to Oliphint I will now go to the heart of the matter and show why I think Oliphint wants to affirm both Open Theism and Calvinism as mutually complementary to each other rather than two opposing and contradictory theological systems.  Oliphint continually affirms that God is simple, immutable, a se or self-existence being, etc.  The problem is that he then hedges and insists that something is added to God’s being in creation.  As I pointed out above, it also implies that God knows ectypal and created knowledge prior to actual creation in time.  How this works is unclear to me since God’s knowledge never increases or decreases prior to or subsequent to creation.

It is a translation (from God’s thought to creation) not simply of things and essences, but of being as well.  . . .  According to W.  Norris Clarke, the medievals objected to the notion that, in creating, God would have created more being.  If such were the case, then God’s infinity would not reach to His being, since “more being” would be at the point of creation.  . . .
Oliphint, positon 133 or 319, Nook ebook edition.

Unfortunately, Oliphint’s assertion cuts against his own position in regards to God’s simplicity and God’s immutable omniscience.  If logic and mathematics are created then it logically follows that God must be somehow creating additional knowledge that He did not know before creation.  Yet Oliphint in direct contradiction says that God had ectypal or created knowledge prior to creation that somehow proceeded from God’s archetypal knowledge into the realm of derived being and ectypal knowledge.  Yet this alleged derived being exists in God’s eternal mind prior to the beginning of created time.  This in and of itself implies that God has some sort of added properties or complexity in His being prior to creation.  Oliphint seems to be saying that God’s univocal being has something extra to His being prior to creation.  (Position 133 of 319, Ibid.).  Oliphint then bifurcates God’s being into two parts which he identifies as the eimi [aseity]/eikon [image] distinction.  He asserts that after God creates there is dependent being and beings.  But how this fits with God’s eternal knowledge is a difficulty he avoids by simply affirming outright contradictions:

That which God thought from eternity, “comes across” at a point in time—“in the beginning”—such that it becomes something that it was not prior to “the beginning.”  What it becomes is not identical with the original; that would be impossible.  The thoughts of God could not be, by definition, created.  But it becomes a proper and true translation or interpretation of that which has always been, that which God has eternally thought.  

Oliphint, position 134 of 319, Nook ebook edition.

So how could an immutable God think mutable and created thoughts prior to creation?  Oliphint apparently never thought of this contradiction.

I cannot deal with all the problems of this book here so I will save those problems for future posts.  But to be clear Oliphint tacitly agrees with Open Theism when he says things like the following:

It may be best, therefore, at least in these discussions, to drop the locutions of literal and  anthropomorphic when referring to God and our knowledge of him, as if some of what we know of God has a direct reference point, and other things that we know are simply metaphorical.  When Scripture says that God changes his mind,  or that he is moved, or angered by our behavior, we should see that as literal.  It refers to God and to his dealings with us.  It is a literal or as real as God being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But we should also see that the God who really changes his mind is the accommodated God, the yaradcum-Emmanuel God, while remaining the “I AM,” nevertheless stoops to our level to interact, person-to-person, with us.  His change of mind does not effect [sic] his essential character, any more than Christ dying on the cross precluded him from being fully God.  He remains fully and completely God, a God who is not like man that he should change his mind, and he remains fully and completely the God who, in covenant with us, changes His mind to accomplish his sovereign purposes.

Oliphint, position 129 of 319, Nook ebook edition.

So how would a simple God be both simple and complex at the same time?  Either God changes His eternal mind or He does not  change His eternal mind.  If God literally changes His mind in anyway it would imply that God is schizophrenic and that God’s ectypal knowledge is mutable and contingent while God’s archetypal mind is completely unknowable and immutable.  While we cannot pry into the omniscience of God and know things intuitively as God does, we can know univocally at certain points of coincidence the exact same propositions God knows because some propositions are deduced from absolute necessity.  There never was a time when God did not know that 2 + 2 = 4 or that the law of contradiction applies equally and eternally at every single point.  If we say that God cannot lie we know that from Scripture and that is an absolute truth that assures us of God’s eternal promises in the eternal covenant of redemption.  The so-called covenantal properties according to Oliphint’s view would not be part of God’s immutable and eternal purposes but rather something God adds extra not only in creation but in God’s so-called ectypal knowledge that somehow proceeds from God’s original and archetypal knowledge prior to creation.  But how can God add ectypal and created knowledge to His immutable omniscience in eternity prior to creation?  These are the paradoxes that Oliphint conveniently ignores or purposely glosses over.

I have more to say about what Oliphint espouses on the doctrine of creation and his remarks on the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ.  But suffice it to say that Oliphint acknowledges that Aquinas affirmed that there were two minds in Christ:

74.  For God to “change his mind” in this context would entail that, included in his covenantal properties, is a covenantal “mind” such that he condescends to us, even with respect to his knowledge and the actions that  proceed from it.  This, again, would be analogous to a “two minds” theory of the incarnation, as argued, for example, by Aquinas (e.g., Summa theologica [sic] 3.5.4).  [Footnote is from chapter 4, (The Son of) God with Us, C. Slow to Anger  See also  Summa Theologica 3.5.4 from the New Advent website.]

This is stunning since in an episode of the Reformed Forum a few years back Oliphint accused the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark of nestorianism.  Now we see Oliphint affirming that there are two minds in God’s triunity:  an eternal mind and an ectypal or created mind that “literally” changes and “literally” has anthropopathic emotions.  But it would appear that Oliphint is inconsistent if he accuses Dr. Clark of nestorianism because even Aquinas affirms that in the incarnation Christ has two minds.  A human person must have a human mind:

Objection 1. It would seem that the Son of God did not assume a human mind or intellect. For where a thing is present, its image is not required. But man is made to God's image, as regards his mind, as Augustine says (De Trin. xiv, 3,6). Hence, since in Christ there was the presence of the Divine Word itself, there was no need of a human mind. . . .

I answer that, As Augustine says (De Haeres. 49,50), "the Apollinarists thought differently from the Catholic Church concerning the soul of Christ, saying with the Arians, that Christ took flesh alone, without a soul; and on being overcome on this point by the Gospel witness, they went on to say that the mind was wanting to Christ's soul, but that the Word supplied its place." But this position is refuted by the same arguments as the preceding. First, because it runs counter to the Gospel story, which relates how He marveled (as is plain from Matthew 8:10). Now marveling cannot be without reason, since it implies the collation of effect and cause, i.e. inasmuch as when we see an effect and are ignorant of its cause, we seek to know it, as is said Metaph. i, 2. Secondly, it is inconsistent with the purpose of Incarnation, which is the justification of man from sin. For the human soul is not capable of sin nor of justifying grace except through the mind. Hence it was especially necessary for the mind to be assumed. Hence Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii, 6) that "the Word of God assumed a body and an intellectual and rational soul," and adds afterwards: "The whole was united to the whole, that He might bestow salvation on me wholly; for what was not assumed is not curable." Thirdly, it is against the truth of Incarnation. For since the body is proportioned to the soul as matter to its proper form, it is not truly human flesh if it is not perfected by human, i.e. a rational soul. And hence if Christ had had a soul without a mind, He would not have had true human flesh, but irrational flesh, since our soul differs from an animal soul by the mind alone. Hence Augustine says (Qq. lxxxiii, qu. 80) that from this error it would have followed that the Son of God "took an animal with the form of a human body," which, again, is against the Divine truth, which cannot suffer any fictitious untruth.

Thomas Aquinas.  Summa Theologica.  3.5.4.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark defined a person as the complex of propositions that he thinks.  Therefore, Dr. Clark’s view is not nestorianism but is rather an affirmation of what Aquinas says in Summa Theologica 3.5.4.  If Oliphint wants to accuse Clark of nestorianism he should include himself in the accusation.  For Dr. Clark a rational soul is the same thing as a person since the Person of the Logos, the eternal second Person of the trinity, is eternally immutable, it logically follows that He cannot be separated from the Trinity because that would change the eternal being of God the Trinity.  It logically follows therefore that the incarnate Christ had both a rational soul and was limited in every way as we are and that the incarnate Christ was in union with the second Person of the Trinity by means of assuming the human nature and the rational human soul into an hypostatic union with Himself without either of the two natures being changed, confused, mixed or separated.  Oliphint’s application of the incarnation as analogous in some ectypal way to the eternal trinity fails ultimately because the incarnation is a one time even in historical time and providence while God’s essence is forever eternal. Thus his bifurcation between aseity and ectypal being is just another paradox that he cannot explain.  The problem is that Oliphint’s paradox is an actual contradiction for the simple reason that there are no contingencies and no ectypal distinctions within God’s omniscient being.  As Dr. Clark once said there are no contingencies in God’s eternal mind:

What the Reformation theologians meant by these terms may be fairly well surmised from a passage in Jerome Zanchius’ book, Absolute Predestination.  The Will of God, Position 11.  He writes:

Position 11.  In consequence of God’s immutable will and infallible foreknowledge, whatever things come to pass, come to pass necessarily, though with respect to second causes and us men many things are contingent, i.e., unexpected and seemingly accidental.

Thus the term contingent refers to man’s way  of looking at events, or more explicitly to man’s incomplete knowledge of how the events were caused.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark, Ibid., p. 64.

Apparently, Oliphint both affirms and denies contingencies in God’s mind because part of God’s eternal mind is eternal and archetypal and part of God’s mind is temporal, changing and ectypal.

I disagree strongly with Calvin Beisner who said that the Clark/Van Til controversy was a big nothing.  The fact remains that Clark was right and the Van Tilians have gone off in dialectical directions in the theonomic camp, the Westminster California camp, and particularly the Westminster Philadelphia camp.  (See:  E. Calvin Beisner, “Reflections on the Christian Apologetics of Gordon H. Clark.”).  Ironically, even a few of the students of Oliphint—who are also admirers of Cornelius Van Til’s apologetics—also agree that Oliphint has gone too far in this book.  (See James Dolezal:  “Objections to K. Scott Oliphint's Covenantal Properties Thesis”).  Even Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania tacitly acknowledged that something is wrong with the book since sales of the book were ceased and outstanding stock was purchased from Crossway publishers by the seminary in order to give Dr. Oliphint time to revise the book and try to remove the problematic passages that affirm that God somehow added to himself ectypal knowledge before creation and after creation that God added incarnational properties to Himself so that God is both essentially immutable and covenantally or creationally mutable with literal changes in temperament, emotions, and will.  In 2018 even Camden Bucey acknowledged that Oliphint’s book implies dialectical theology:

My primary criticisms of Dr. Oliphint’s first edition pertain to the application of incarnational categories to theology proper. In my judgment it is neither theologically appropriate nor tenable to speak of God assuming properties unless we’re speaking about the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the person of the Son. In my view, such would lead to a two-nature theology proper or some form of dialecticism. I think it’s better to speak of divine simplicity, immutability, and the older terminology of relative attributes or perhaps even new modes of relation that God sustains by virtue of his free will. In short, covenantal condescension is relational/covenantal, not ontological. I think we’re forced to make unnecessary theological formulations if we affirm the latter.


And the worst fallout of the controversy is that Jeff Waddington, an ordained minister with the OPC, was fired from his adjunct professorship position at Westminster Theological Seminary after he and another minister filed charges against Oliphint in the Southwest Presbytery of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  While I have problems with Waddington’s Van Tilian theology, he is generally a competent theologian and I do not think his dismissal was justified.  (See:  Twelve OPC Ministers And Elders Ask Westminster Board To Lift Waddington’s Suspension). 

I will in a future post give a more complete critique of Oliphint’s christology as it relates to the issue of Dr. Clark’s final book, The Incarnation, (Jefferson:  Trinity Foundation, 1988).










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