Archive for the ‘Van Til’ Category

Reepicheep – Clark and Van Til

October 15, 2012

Over at Reepicheep, it was nice to see images of the cover pages of a couple of Van Til’s books demonstrating that Van Til viewed Clark as a brother in Christ, notwithstanding their significant theological differences (link to post). That does not, of course, make right the mistreatment Clark received previously, but it was encouraging nonetheless.


A Quick Comment on the Van Til / Gordon Clark Debate

May 21, 2009

There is an odd artifact I’ve noticed in discussions between followers of Van Til and those of Clark. For some reason, those in the camp of Van Til take great delight in pointing out that Clark used the term “know” to refer to what we would call “know with absolute certainty.” As such, Clark did not “know” that the woman with whom he was living was his wife. Endless merriment such comments make, particularly when the quotation marks around “know” are removed!

But why? Is it just to goad on the followers of Clark? Is it simply for the pleasure of hearing the sound of “you don’t know that I am even real” or is there a deeper reason?

Surely the reason cannot be that the followers of Van Til think that Clark was wrong, and that Clark could know with absolute certainty that the woman he was living with was his wife. After all, it’s imaginable that his parents-in-law had identical twins, one of whom was given up at birth. By chance, this twin sister discovered her long separated twin, murdered her in a jealous rage, and took her place. We could think of even more implausible options, but this relatively simple account provides one way that a person might be mistaken about such an important issue. Is it probable? No, it’s not (though, of course, Clark was justifiably uncomfortable with such a concept), but the issue is certainty, not probability.

In the end, Clark is right in saying that the only things we can know with absolute certainty are those things that are revealed to us by God (whether through general or through special revelation). The only way to be absolutely sure about something is to obtain that knowledge from an absolutely reliable source.


Paradoxes and the Christian Faith

April 28, 2009

Those following the Reformed blogosphere have no doubt witnessed occasional fireworks over the issue of paradox between my brethren who prefer the philosophy of Gordon Clark (whose most prominent disciple was John Robbins) and those who prefer the philosophy of Cornelius Van Til (whose most prominent disciple was Greg Bahnsen). As one might expect from fireworks, a great deal both of heat and light have been generated, and the occasional spectator has been injured or at least annoyed by some of the falling ash.

What is the primary issue? The primary issues seems to be over the issue of “paradox.” There are places in Van Til’s writings where it seems he simply loves paradoxes, whereas Clark is firmly opposed to paradoxes.

How can the two sides disagree? One area where the two sides disagree is over the semantic range of “paradox.” If one reads Clark, one may get the distinct impression that Clark views “paradox” as only referring to real logical contradictions, whereas those who follow Van Til seem to think that Van Til is using “paradox” to refer only to apparent contradictions.

But is that all? No. Of course, that is not all. Clark more or less explicitly eschews the idea of paradox, where as Van Til (and/or his followers) seem to embrace it. Clark’s followers view the followers of Van Til as irrational, and the view from the opposite direction is of Clark as excessively dependent on human reason.

What are the impacts? Clark and Van Til appear to differ in their understanding of the knowability of God. Van Til, for example, appears to permit there to be “paradoxes” that cannot be resolved with the human mind, but which can be resolved with the divine mind, because men and God think in qualitatively different ways. Clark would reject this, suggesting that any apparent paradoxes are more likely due to error, a lack of human effort, or a lack of revelation to provide the resolution.

To me the approach of Van Til sounds as though it magnifies God (by describing his knowledge as qualitatively different from ours) but it seems to contradict the Scriptural testimony that suggests that God wishes to communicate clearly truth to human beings. If what we know is not qualitatively the same as what God knows, how can anything we know truly be said to be “truth”?

I realize that perhaps this is only an apparent contradiction. However, for us to function, I think Clark’s model is more reasonable: do not posit that there are irresolvable “paradoxes” because this may amount simply to throwing up one’s hands when faced with a challenging problem. We should not welcome “paradox” but rather be concerned by apparent contradictions, because apparent contradictions may be actual contradictions, in which case at least one thing we previously held was false.

For Christians in particular, the lesson is that we should search the Scriptures diligently to confirm doctrines. If the Scriptures contradict the doctrines we hold, we must be careful not to simply wave our hands and call this a “paradox.” Rather we need to carefully investigate whether or not the Scripture really contradicts our doctrine (in which case, our doctrine must change) or whether the initially perceived contradiction was simply apparent.

I have tried to be fair both to Clark and Van Til in the preceding paragraphs. Nevertheless, I welcome those of their contemporary disciples who would wish to disabuse me of my perceptions, should I be in error. I suppose I would consider myself a student of Clark’s to a greater extent than Van Til (having read more books by the former than the latter), and I do not mean to write off everything good that Van Til may have had to say about other subjects by this criticism on the issue of paradox and the difference (alleged to exist) between the quality of man’s knowledge and of God’s.


%d bloggers like this: