Friday, October 16, 2009

Speculations Hammered: The Word of Truth, Asserted and Vindicated

The following is an essay I submitted to the Trinity Foundation about Gordon Clark's book, God's Hammer:

It is the ground of knowledge rather than the instrumental cause of justification that the modern evangelical community must seek to defend against a post-modern world. This new enemy to the faith is no more threat to epistemic truth than were the religious sophists of the Reformation; rather, its philosophical appeal to atheistic and theistic society alike stems from egoistic seduction. Whether one is an empiricist, rationalist, or existentialist, the popularity of postmodernism lies in its common pledge to the individual: namely, the authority to “[erect] an independent criterion of what is worthy of worship” (Clark 190). Having recognized that the god of this world is focalizing his attacks upon that alone which “cannot be broken” (John 10:35), Gordon Clark compiled a series of articles to safeguard Christendom’s assurance in the inspiration, infallibility, sufficiency, perspicuous and authority of Scriptural revelation.

The Evangelical Theological Society was formed to specifically combat the rising assault on the doctrine of infallibility. The principle statement of the society is as follows: “The Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.” Some professing Christians and even entire denominations (cf. the United Presbyterian church) have departed from this confession, citing that it is either false or an unnecessary constriction. The society and those who agree with Scriptural infallibility should not compromise the doctrine for the sake of feigned unity, but critiques should receive careful attention. If the Bible is contradictory to truth – archaeological, literary, theological, apologetic, or otherwise – it cannot be God’s word, because the Bible claims that God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18).

All epistemological systems are founded on various first principles; the creed of the Evangelical Theological Society is the first principle of Christendom. The purpose of a first principle is to enounce the means by which one purports to derive knowledge. This poses a unique problem: “…if two people do not accept the same axioms, they will not be convinced by the same proof” (Clark 15); hence, to censure one first principle because it contradicts another first principle would be fallacious. One must, therefore, utilize elenctic argumentation in order to invalidate a first principle. As beneficial as elenctic argumentation may be in, say, evidencing atheism as incompatible with moral justice, there are infinitely many first principles one could presume. So, to conclude that one’s first principle is true on the basis that others’ are false would be a committal of the fallacy of induction. This led Clark to deduce that “to show the Bible’s logical consistency is… the best method of defending inspiration” (Clark 15). Given the hostility to Christian fundamentalism, such a demonstration would, perhaps, be as persuasive a testimony as an evangelist could provide.

For one whose first principle is essentially that of the Evangelical Theological Society, the authors of the Bible must claim their written word to be inspired, infallible, sufficient, perspicuous, and authoritative, or else one must acknowledge the first principle is not internally consistent. This, Clark shows, is trivial. Only one who has not carefully studied Scripture could believe otherwise, for the Bible is full of instances which claim the whole canon to have been breathed out by God through the prophets and apostles: Exodus 4:11-12 “The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Peter 1:3; 20-21 “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness… no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

If common axioms such as empiricism and rationalism are not that by which the Christian contends to receive knowledge, the question is begged: how is information accumulated from Scripture? As a theory of language or communication cannot be isolated from epistemology, a Christian must turn to Scripture for this as well: John 3:27 “…a man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” 1 Corinthians 4:7 “…what do you have that you did not receive?” Matthew 16:17 “And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Language is predicated on logic, which is to say that words are symbols people use to convey thoughts. That man is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) equips Christians with a simple answer as to how men can communicate: God is rational, so men are too. This immediately refutes one who supposes verbal inspiration is inadequate due to an inherent inability for man to understand divine revelation. Men understand God’s words because the divinely appointed purpose of language was so that men can understand God’s words. He who believes otherwise must explain by what means he knows communication with the divine is impossible. In fact, he must also explain how communication between men is possible, and this is to demand that he present a full epistemological foundation.

Scripturalistic occasionalism, on the other hand, easily synthesizes the soteriology of Calvinism with fallen man’s repugnance to spiritual truth. Historically, God created man and revealed Himself to man in the garden. Even before sin corrupted mankind, Adam needed God to guide Him; general revelation was insufficient, as it could, at best, only provide apprehensive knowledge about God. Because man fell, the Father made a covenant with man, and had His prophets write it down so that His Spirit would have an object of revelation to which He could witness and to which the elect could, upon regeneration, believe. Christ came and fulfilled the covenant, and so it is written “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Christ’s apostles were likewise instructed to corroborate this fulfillment through written word. Because men are dead in sin until the Spirit regenerates them (cf. 1 John 5:1), men know what is true but suppress it (Romans 1:18-32); hence, until or unless they acknowledge Scripture as authoritative, they cannot justify what they know.

All Christians believe Scripture is authoritative. Some [professing] Christians, however, disregard the need for Scriptural infallibility as it pertains to information perceived to be unrelated to theology. For what reason do these individuals believe Scripture is authoritative if not because it is infallible? One can only assume that in the absence of any attempt to support their belief, their reasons are, like the various arguments they purport against the infallibility of Scripture, founded on emotions and unsound thinking. Allegation of contradictions within Scripture, denial that textual criticism furnishes one with a competent rebuttal to the vituperative conception that one cannot exercise historical-grammatical exegesis without the original autographs of Scripture, arguments from silence (for instance, present lack of archaeological support for a particular biblical passage) – these and other [indirect] attacks upon the doctrine of infallibility serve only to undermine an alleged belief in the authoritativeness of Scripture.

One can even make these criticisms under the guise that Christian doctrine should be taken from Scripture. Dr. James Mays is one such example. Ignoring what is written in Scripture respecting its own inspiration, infallibility, and sufficiency, Dr. Mays, who is not a Eastern or Roman Catholic, fairly represents the community of “Christian” liberalism when he attacks the perspicuity of Scripture on the grounds that it a lacks an extant, infallible interpreter. Would Dr. Mays suggest that the reason “Scripture cannot be broken” (cf. John 10:35) is because men cannot be certain what is the meaning of the content of Scripture? Has Dr. Mays read Psalm 119? Furthermore, arguing on such grounds implies that the necessity of prior, infallible interpreters extends ad infinitum. If this be the case, it is inescapably irrational for him to write any sort of objection to the doctrine of perspicuity which could [apparently] be misunderstood – for one would assume Dr. Mays thinks of his writing as no more perspicuous than that which he claims to be authoritative – as support for the doctrine of perspicuity. Or, if at some point Dr. Mays might explain what he believes is requisite for a source to be self-evidently clear, as well as his reasons for believing such, only then can one examine what justification he has in claiming Scripture needs an infallible interpreter.

Unfortunately, Dr. Mays does not follow his premises to the logical conclusion, and it is unnecessary to speculate further when the witness of the Holy Spirit and the self-attestation of Scripture grant insuperable security to the believer. What statements we can derive from Scripture about the nature of Scripture should be considered doctrinal; as all Scripture is said to God-breathed, and as God cannot lie, the perception that Scriptural information can be unrelated to theology is fallacious. Clark concludes that the authority of the Bible is necessarily predicated on whether or not it is infallible: “If the Bible is mistaken on geography, which ought to have been easy for the writers to put down correctly, it might very well be mistaken on theology, which is much more difficult than geography” (Clark, 121). Of course, one could insert any field of study for “geography” and the point would be the same. The Bible is God’s revealed word, or it is a sham. No middle ground exists.

Those who deny Bible is the word of God yet maintain it contains word of God must not regard the Bible as authoritative, for the real authority would become whatever criterion they would use to discern what is and is not God’s word. If one does not trust that He who cannot swear by anything higher (Hebrews 6:13) is capable of competently articulating His thoughts to men, what “knowledge” one does claim to derive from His word is not necessarily divine revelation. To suppose that man through reason can with more clarity understand God than God’s own self-revelation defeats the purpose of revelation. Thus, those who do not believe Scripture is infallible yet claim to accept all other orthodox doctrines are suspect. Why should other doctrines not be doubted? Again, what is the criterion by which such a person has judged which doctrines to be true and which to be false? The simple answer is: subjectivism.

One attempt to supplant infallibility with a new criterion by which we know what is true was made by a former member of the Evangelical Theological Society: whatever “spiritual need” is most pressing should be given priority (Clark 61). In that case, what could be “true” for one could be false for another. Religion becomes subjective. The decree to evangelize becomes subjective. One could live in sin and dismiss rebuke as equally viable alternative interpretations of Scripture. For what sinner knows what he spiritually needs except through conviction by a trustworthy source? Uncertainty cannot yield certainty. The skeptic, left without an infallible source for the justification of knowledge, must reason autonomously. Sadly, such subterfuge is present in the “apologetic” of many professing Christians.

Several objections to the doctrine of verbal inspiration yet remain currently in favor amongst subjectivists. For instance, in his book, The Inspiration of Scripture, Dr. Beegle criticizes the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration on the ground it doesn’t rely on the scientific method. Notwithstanding the test of internal consistency which Dr. Beegle seems to overlook, it would seem he subjugates God’s word to an empiricist's first principle. As no attempt is made to justify empiricism, however, it is baffling for one to consider what reasons Dr. Beegle might have had for making such a statement.

The dictation theory charges that the doctrine implies God mechanically imposed His will onto men such that they became mere mediums through which His word was proclaimed. This functions as a facade to substantiate a general, underlying incrimination; to wit, that a determinative world-view is incompatible with the doctrine of the will of man. Of course, Christians reject the accusation that organic and dynamic composition of Scripture is incompatible with verbal inspiration, for verbal inspiration must itself be understood within the context of the rest of Scripture. God is sovereign: He made each and every author of Scripture and ordained circumstances such that each author acquired different styles of writing. The idea that a parallel exists between God and His prophets and a boss and his stenographer does no justice to God’s sovereignty. The former is unique in that “an inner union, an identity of purpose, [and] a cooperation of will” inheres in the relationship between God and His appointed (Clark 44).

Another accusation leveled against the doctrine of verbal inspiration essentially declares [religious] language to be entirely metaphorical. Some, such as Mr. Hamilton, believe words are originated mythically despite Scripture rejection of such a concept. Because Hamilton does not substantiate this proposition, one need not bother to respond to his conclusion, that communication between men and God is unintelligible. Most of those who believe in linguistic relativism are existentialists who wish to relieve themselves of the “burden” of defending the doctrine of Scriptural infallibility while yet avowing Scriptural authority. What actually happens is that Scripture is stripped of objective meaning and in place God is said to communicate through metaphor, image, and myth. Curiously, some such relativists think it matters which religion one chooses to follow. But, as Clark notes, “if neither myth is true literally, if both are equally symbolic, is not the one as satisfactory as the other?” (Clark 47) Religious subjectivists have ostensibly believed one myth arbitrarily, or, if based upon religious experience, cannot disallow one from choosing to be a Muslim or Mormon due to a respectively subjective religious experience. A more direct discreditation, however, is observable when one asks what the religious symbolism symbolizes. Let us suppose the crucifix symbolizes the crucifixion. But if there is no literal truth in the crucifixion, what does the crucifixion represent? The argument is self-evidently mired in an infinite regression fallacy.

A final, more radical objection to the doctrine of verbal inspiration is the positivistic idea all abstract metaphysical concepts are arbitrary. Some refer to “human logic” so as to distinguish it, somehow, from “divine logic.” Such a theory is easily defeated, as it cannot support itself without exercising the law of contradiction. To assert “the law of contradiction is arbitrary” is to presuppose the law of contradiction, or else another could consistently construe the assertion to mean “the law of contradiction is not arbitrary.” Interestingly, as it relates to language, this view is rather similar to Van Til’s concoction, analogical knowledge, which suggests that there is no rational basis for communication between God and men. Those who subscribe to the theory of analogical knowledge argue that men and God cannot know the same thing, because men’s thoughts are conditioned on He who has no conditions. This does not follow; that God’s thoughts are higher than our own such that He knows the whole plan and purpose of His will is not synonymous with a rejection of univocal knowledge. If knowledge is analogous rather than univocal, what does it mean for God or man to “know”? Does God not know all things? Why would God ordain to reveal Himself via inept means? Is He not omnipotent, capable of creating creatures who can think after His thoughts in a rational manner (cf. John 1:1-9)? At best, the theory of analogical knowledge is a gateway to subjectivism, as one could justify false conceptualizations by petitioning said concept as representative of biblical truth. Who and how could one refute such a postulation? Analogical knowledge necessarily leads to skepticism, and skepticism, which cannot account for how one knows that one cannot know, is a self-refuting first principle. Thankfully, the Bible nowhere states truth is inexpressible.

In the final article of his book, Clark distinguishes between twin biblical concepts, “time and eternity,” in order to provide a tangible example that one who rejects the infallibility and authority of Scripture is left with a world-view which cannot provide a justification for knowledge. This is a disquisition which, in keeping with Clark’s uncompromising address, requires one to define relevant terms with clarity.

It is of the utmost importance that one recognizes an answer to this obligation cannot be evaded on the ground that man cannot know God or that God cannot know what we experience, for both objections are unbiblical; the first mocks the purpose of revelation, and the second denies God’s omniscience. These objections must resultantly be predicated on reasoning which cannot account for all possible contingencies. One might wonder whether “man cannot know God” is a proposition contingent on the veracity of the proposition “ducks can swim” or “the Protestant canon is fallible.” There are infinitely many such propositions one could posit, of course, meaning that if one is to know that man cannot know God, one must be infinitely knowledgeable. Ironically, man must be God if he is to validly assert that man cannot know God or that God cannot know man. While each false epistemology is self-refuting in its own right – empiricists affirm the consequent, intuit no unknown variables have biased data, etc. – this sole argument destroys natural theology, empiricism, rationalism, existentialism, and any other first principle which shares the commonality of dependency upon man’s capabilities.

Therefore, not only must one must seek to make plain the concepts of “time” and “eternity,” but he must also do so within a context that affords him the assurance that said concepts are accurate depictions of reality. For this reason, Clark chastises scientists who purport to be able to give a definition of time apart from divine revelation. Aristotle, for example, postulated that time is a quantification of a body’s movement from point A to point B. This begs several questions: what is movement, how can movement be measured, and can we know that a given measurement is accurate? Only one who is able to account for all possible variables in an experiment can know that his perception of the results is veridical. To know that which bears influence in an experiment, one must know that which does not. As has been demonstrated, however, one must be infinitely knowledgeable to know that even one alleged fact is true. Such questions, then, are sufficiently representative to display the numerous difficulties empiricists – Aristotle, in particular – face. To this end, the reason secular scientists have not come to an agreement about the nature of time is ultimately due to the misplacement of authority.

Christendom’s failure to unambiguously communicate the concept of time as provided in Scripture is not a point devoid of interest. Clark notes that theologians such as Charles Hodge and Oscar Cullman are just two of many who in part depend upon Aristotle or other extra-biblical sources when attempting to formalize a biblical explanation of time. Providentially, repulsion to this synthesis does exist within Christendom. Augustine was one of the earliest Christians to express the biblical concept of time when he wrote: “It is in thee, my mind, that I measure times” (Confessions). Essentially, time is the changing of ideas. For instance: a second would represent an arbitrary unit measure of the interval between one’s present thought and a thought in one’s past. Because they would have been able to recall the length of a day from memory, the Israelites could have known that the sun stayed up for about a day in their victory over the Amorites (Joshua 10:12-13). God, on the other hand, experiences no temporal succession of thoughts, for God is eternal. His thoughts are immutable.

One can conclude from this the pragmatic fact that a seemingly inconspicuous doctrine can, in fact, contribute much to Christian faith. For example, the clarification in the distinction between time and eternity is such that a doctrine such as eternal progressionism is revealed to be a contradiction in terms. Mormonism is thereby refuted. Another application would be that for God to elect individuals in Christ on the basis of a foreseen faith would require one to believe that God elects in time. Such a conditional election would necessitate a succession of thoughts in the mind of God, as God's knowledge would, in this context, be contingent on the wills of contingent creatures. Additional truths could be extrapolated from this, but one is instead compelled to imagine that Clark’s intention was to show much more information can be drawn from Scripture than one might guess at first glance. For his intelligent eschewal of the idle speculations of the world and for so clearly vindicating the word of truth, Gordon Clark deserves the commendation and thanks of all those who are still running the race.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Ryan said...

See here