John MacArthur sounds downright Clarkian when he writes that The Truth Is Rational.
Cornelius Van Til was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who is well-known today for his apologetic method and his views on analogical knowledge and paradoxical theology. While many uphold Van Til as a bastion of orthodoxy in the Presbyterian church, his view of Scripture as paradoxical – appearing to be contradictory – was actually anti-Confessional.
Now since God is not fully comprehensible to us we are bound to come into what seems to be contradiction in all our knowledge. Our knowledge is analogical and therefore must be paradoxical. -Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 61.
… while we shun as poison the idea of the really contradictory we embrace with passion the idea of the apparently contradictory. Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel, 9.
All teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory. Ibid., 142.
According to Van Til, God’s Word, all throughout Scripture, appears to our human minds to be logically contradictory. Indeed, he even made the claim that to even attempt to demonstrate the logical consistency of certain doctrines (e.g. divine sovereignty and human responsibility) was to fall prey to the error of “Rationalism.” (See The Text of a Complaint)
Is this true? Is this orthodox? Is this Confessional?
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. 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 does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God… (Westminster Confession of Faith, I.v)
According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, all the parts of Holy Scripture, rather than being “apparently contradictory,” logically consent. In fact, the Confession takes this truth as being so obviously foundational that it actually claims it as an argument for Scripture being the Word of God. If “all teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory,” as Van Til claimed, how can “the consent of all the parts” be used to support it as being the Word of God? How would we, being finite creatures, even be able to see “the consent of all the parts,” if Scripture constantly appears, to our minds, utterly contradictory?
Zacharias Ursinus, primary author and editor of the Heidelberg Catechism, had this to say in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism:
The harmony of the different parts of the doctrine of the church, is an evidence of its truth. That doctrine which contradicts itself can neither be true, nor from God, since truth is in perfect harmony with itself, and God cannot contradict himself (7).
Scripture does not contradict itself. Any apparent contradiction we perceive is merely a temporary problem in our own minds. With proper exegesis and the application of logic, we will see, along with Ursinus and the Westminster Divines, that each part of God’s Word perfectly consents in logical harmony with every other part. What cannot be resolved, however, is the teaching of Van Til and the correct view taught by Reformed orthodoxy.
Sean Gerety provides us with another Clark Quick Quote concerning the utter uselessness of the popular cosmological argument for the existence of God.
Towards the end of Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Louis Berkhof includes a section on “The Implied Sense of Scripture” in which he discusses the nature of logical deduction when applied to the Bible and man’s writings. On the whole, I found this section to be helpful, although perhaps in need of some clarification and slight revision.
“The Bible as the Word of God contains a fulness and wealth of thought that is unfathomable. This is evident not only from its types and symbols and prophecies, but also from what it contains implicitly rather than by express assertion. Even in the case of human compositions we distinguish between what is expressed and what is implied. In writings of a superior order, it is often found that the language suggests and involves important truths that are embodied in words. Great minds contain a wealth of knowledge, and whatever they communicate of it is related to and suggestive of that vast store, so that it becomes quite possible to read between the lines. And if this is true of the literary productions of men, it applies much more to the infallible Word of God.
There is an important distinction, however. Man only knows in part, and is not always conscious of what he knows. Moreover, he often fails to see the implications of what he says or writes. It is quite possible that his words contain implications which he did not see and to which he would not subscribe. It may very well be that what can fairly be deduced from his explicit assertions, by means of logical inference or comparison, lies entirely outside his range of though and is, in fact, the very opposite of what he means. Hence the rule, so often forgotten in practice, but yet essential to all fair controversy, that “it is not allowable to charge upon an author the consequences of his statements when not expressly avowed or adopted, even although these consequences may be necessarily involved in the statements.” He may not have contemplated nor even seen them, so that he is not responsible for them, but only for the employment of language which unintentionally implies them. For the same reason it is not permissible to infer a writer’s opinion on a certain matter from incidental expressions, used by him when the matter in question was not under consideration. As a rule it is an unwarranted procedure, to ascribe to an author thoughts or sentiments which he did not expressly utter in connection with the matter to which they pertain. He who does this is guilty of consequensmacherei.
While Berkhof’s main point is certainly true, and evidences the need for charity in theological discussions, I disagree with his statement (which I have emphasized in bold above) that men are not responsible for errors in logic which result in doctrinal error. In I Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul writes,
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
While this passage is commonly understood to refer to one’s works, it must necessarily first be applied to one’s teaching or doctrine. The foundation of Scriptural doctrine has been laid. How one interprets Scripture, and constructs systematic theology, constitutes the “building” on the foundation. In the end, the truth will be revealed, and all error abolished. This is not only referring to fatal heresy, but to any theological error – Note that the one whose work is burned is still saved. In the Last Day, every man’s beliefs will be put to the test. My own errors, small and large, will be burned away, leaving only Truth standing.
It must also be noted that sinful man is capable of lying, even when under oath, and especially when under scrutiny. Thus, in instances of trials in church courts attempting to ascertain a man’s beliefs, it may not always be as simple as getting the accused to verbally confirm a list of affirmations and denials. Certainly, one may knowingly speak with a forked tongue. Thus it is necessary to closely examine the past words of the accused, to see if he is being honest about his own beliefs.
It is possible that Berkhof would have perfectly agreed with what I have just said. I am merely attempting to offer clarification concerning man’s responsibilities.
But in the case of the Word of God, these restrictions do not apply. The knowledge of God is all-comprehending and is always conscious knowledge. In giving man his Word, He was not only perfectly aware of all that was said, but also all that this implied. He knew the inferences that are deduced from His written Word. Says Bannerman: “The consequences that are deduced from Scripture by unavoidable inference, and more largely still the consequences that are deduced from a comparison of the various Scripture statements among themselves, were foreseen by infinite wisdom in the very act of supernaturally inspiring the record from which they are inferred: and the Revealer not only knew that men would deduce such consequences, but designed that they should do so” (Inspiration of the Scriptures, p. 585). Therefore not only the express statements of Scripture, but its implications as well, must be regarded as the Word of God.
Jesus himself warrants this position. When the Sadducees came to him with a question which, in their estimation, clearly proved the untenableness of the doctrine of the resurrection, he referred them to the self-designation of Jehovah at the bush: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”; and deduced from it by good and necessary inference, the doctrine which they denied. Moreover, he reproved their failure to see the implication of that self-designation by saying, “Ye do err, not knowing Scripture” (Matt. 22:29-32; Mark 12:24-27; Luke 20:37, 38). For other examples, cf. Rom. 4:5-12; I Cor. 9:8-10; I Tim. 5:17, 18; Heb. 4:5-9.
We feel warranted, therefore, in laying down the following rule: “The deductions of doctrine made from its (the Bible’s) statements on a comparison between them, if truly drawn, are as much a part of God’s meaning and of His revelation — being indeed virtually contained in it, — as these statements themselves” (Bannerman, Inspiration of the Scriptures, p. 587). It goes without saying that great care must be exercised in drawing such inferences from the written word. The deductions must be good, i.e., truly contained in the inspired statements from which they are ostensibly derived; and also necessary, or such as force themselves upon the mind that honestly applies itself to the interpretation of Scripture. Cf. Westminster Catechism, Art. VI [pp. 158-160].
“It is a settled principle among men that a man of undoubted veracity will habitually express himself in unequivocal language. … And if a really truthful man would not consciously resort to the use of ambiguous language, then certainly God, who is the absolute truth, cannot have given us a revelation that is calculated to mislead.
“All revelation, in order to be understood, must be rational. And it would be the height of inconsistency to think that God had revealed himself in a reasonable manner in nature, but not in Scripture, which is said to constitute his most perfect revelation. It would mean that the truth of the Bible could not be investigated by logical methods, nor intellectually comprehended.
“[T]he Bible is the inspired, and therefore self-consistent, Word of God” (Principles of Biblical Interpretation, pp. 57-58, 66).
On November 3, a friend of mine posted a link via facebook to a recorded broadcast of R.C. Sproul’s “Renewing Your Mind.” The topic was “What is Free Will?” A discussion quickly followed in the comment thread, primarily between myself and a friend of my friend’s, with whom I have interacted online before, but have never met in person. The conversation grew so large that I suggested that we move it to The Sovereign Logos, and he agreed. I am posting all previous relevant comments in the main post, so that any readers may see the context if they so desire. (I have edited comments addressed to other participants, in respect to their privacy.) Continue Reading