The Christian Observer in 1987-1989

I recently acquired a set of issues of The Christian Observer running from 1987-1989. This paper has a long history reaching back over 200 years and has at times been a prominent publication.

I skimmed through these issues and thought it might be interesting to note some of what I found. At this period of time The Christian Observer was a weekly paper. There were a number of editors including Gordon Reed, D. James Kennedy, and Edwin Elliott. To my surprise the paper did not place much limitation on what denominations were to be included in their news section. Not only the Confessional Presbyterian churches like the PCA, OPC, and RPCNA were included, but also Dutch Reformed churches like the CRC and PRC; even the PCUSA was included. Most surprising is the inclusion of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which might be Presbyterian in polity, but not Calvinistic in soteriological beliefs.

In the first issue of 1987 the reader learns that The Christian Observer is returning to print after a twelve-year hiatus. The issues typically include a short simple Bible lesson, some books reviews, and brief pieces on Reformed missionaries in various places in the world. In this period of the paper’s history there are really no confrontational or controversial articles. In fact, as Homer C. Hoeksema writes in a letter to the editor, the issues lack much of substance. Probably the difficulty of publishing weekly contributed to this lack. But also, it wasn’t designed to be a scholarly journal, but a “weekly family magazine.”

I was glad to find a number of my friends mentioned in the issues including Ralph Rebandt, Judy Rogers, David Engelsma, and Paddy Cook.

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Notes on Ronald H. Nash’s lecture series, “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought”

This is a series of 36 lectures given by Ronald H. Nash at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. Though lectures of the same title were given in the Fall of 2001 (and released in 2014 on MP3 CDs), this series on iTunes was given in 1991 (and once sold as a set of 24 audio cassettes).

The following is not a summary of these lectures, but just things I found interesting. The whole lecture series takes just under 28 hours to listen to. This is a significant time commitment. One could probably read three or four good books in the same period. They are good lectures; Nash is obviously very knowledgeable on the subject matter, he’s interesting to listen to, and often quite comical. Of particular interest to me are the statements Nash makes relevant to Church history in the 20th century.

1. Early Greek Philosophers

Nash notes that the class will be using Gordon Clark’s textbook Thales to Dewey.

“Philo is not a great philosopher; lets come right out and admit that. His writings are very confused and confusing, but nonetheless built into that confusing set of writings that Philo left behind there’s some very interesting insights that we will have occasion to look at before long.” (min 12)

“Lets begin to talk about the philosophers we call the pre-Socratics. Now keep this in mind: you’re going to hear a lot of strange names. That might not be all that bad. Some of you, I know, are looking around for new names for the children that you expect to have. You know, James and Jeffery, those names are so common. Just think, you may get some new ideas here. Incidentally my wife and I were always disappointed that we didn’t have another boy because we were going to call him Bubba. But, Bubba never came, and the world will never be blessed by the ministry of Bubba Nash.” (min 15)

Quoting Clark, “The history of philosophy began on May 28, 585 B.C. at 6:13 P.M.” (min 16) “This is a great first sentence.”

“One of the nice things about Gordon Clark’s book is the way in which he keeps bringing home to you the reader the fact that these poor people, as esteemed as they are in the history of philosophy, these poor people were incapable of even conceiving of a God such as you find in Judaism and Christianity. Had some Jewish prophet visited this part of the world and told them about Yahweh, it would have been the biggest news they’d ever heard. It was inconceivable to them that the physical world, the visible world, could have been a creation of a sovereign all-powerful immaterial God.” (min 26)

“Heraclitus seems to have been an obnoxious son of a gun. Everybody in Ephesus hated him, and he hated everybody in Ephesus.” (min 56)

“Incidentally the word word is probably one of its [logos‘s] lesser meanings. When the King James translators rendered logos in John 1 to mean word, they weren’t picking the best word to use.” (min 60)

“We get our word logic from logos. Now I don’t want to stress this too much. I think Gordon Clark, some of you may know, tended to place far too much emphasis upon this. But I think what we can at least get out of it here is that whatever else logos means it carries with it the idea of reason.” (min 1:01:00)

For Heraclitus everything changes but the Logos, the law of change itself.

2. Italian Philosophers

“The view of the soul that you’ll be reading about in Plato’s Phaedo is borrowed directly from the Pythagoreans. It wasn’t a Socratic view of the soul. It wasn’t something Plato dreamed up on his own. He learned it from the Pythagoreans.” (min 4)

“Socrates appears in many of Plato’s dialogues, but in only one of them is he beaten, does he lose the argument. And that is in a dialogue called the Parmenides.” (min 22)

“Parmenides believes that there is a correlation of the structure of the world and the structure of the human mind.” (min 26)

“It won’t be too long in this course before you realize that Gordon Clark is something of a rationalist. He believes that the laws of logic are God-given principles which enable us, which help us, in our efforts to discover the truth about the ultimate structure and the nature of the world.” (min 28)

“As a rationalist, and I happen to be one.” (min 43)

3. Corporal Pluralism

4. The Sophists

“Skepticism is self-defeating. This is a true story. As you know, I live in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Bible-belt territory. I don’t know why they call it Bible-belt territory because nobody knows the Bible there in the Bible belt. But anyway, it is a nice town, a nice community. One day one of my students happened to visit one of the large, liberal, mainline churches downtown. And the sermon topic for that morning, and this is the truth, the preacher that morning, his message was centered around the subject that everybody’s religion is equally true. The essence of tolerance. In religion you can believe anything you want and whatever you believe is true. After the sermon, after the service, the preacher was at the front door shaking hands and my student went up to him and said let me get this straight preacher, you believe that every religious opinion is equally true. Preacher said yes. The student said, Fine, I believe you’re going to hell. Now let me tell you what the preacher said. He said, I think I have to modify my position.” (min 19)

“I can say to you that no one has ever encountered the slightest bit of evidence to suggest that Plato had any actual contact with Judaism or the teachings of Moses or anything else. No evidence at all. And I think it is best to say that there was no contact, since there is no evidence of there being any contact.” (min 47)

5. Plato

Nash talks about his book Christianity and the Hellenistic World. “It is false to believe that first century Christianity borrowed any of its essential beliefs or its practices, i.e. Baptism and the Lord’s supper, from either Pagan philosophy (Plato, Stoicism), or the Pagan mystery religions (the religion of Isis), or from ancient Gnosticism.” (min 19)

“I identify seven beliefs that Plato’s philosophy was intending to oppose. There were seven beliefs in Plato’s day that he opposes in his philosophy. I suggest you learn these seven beliefs, alright.” (1. Atheism, 2. Empiricism, 3. Relativism, 4. Hedonism, 5. Materialism, 6. Naturalism, 7. Mechanism.)

“Plato thought atheists should be executed. Now that’s taking it pretty serious. He is going to eliminate them from his republic, from his city-state. I am not a theonomist, I am not a reconstructionist. I don’t believe that a Christian attitude toward atheism implies execution.” (min 24)

Refuting hedonism: “Once you admit that some pleasure can be evil, you are admitting that there is a higher standard than pleasure itself which we use to judge the morality or immorality of pleasure itself.” (min 30)

6. The Essence of Plato’s Philosophy

7. Plato’s World of the Forms

“A proposition is an eternally unchanging assertion or statement.” (min 14)

“Indexical terms.” “If ever you think you are in the presence of a proposition whose truth value changes, recognize that you are not dealing with a well-formed propositions.” (min 21)

“We can only make sense out of Plato if we realize for him there are lower forms and higher forms.” (min 38) “Some of Plato’s forms have a more natural or closer relationship to things in this world. The perfect circle has an obvious affinity, similarity, relationship to all of the circles that you and I are accustomed to seeing. But perfect goodness, perfect truth, perfect justice are not things that lend themselves very naturally to a kind of mental image.” (min 42)

“I’m going to be arguing, I think later in this course, that if what we grasp is the truth, then what we know must correspond to what God knows, for this simple reason: if God knows the truth and you know something else that differs in some way from what God knows then you just don’t have the truth. Now, the world is full of Christians who want to say ‘well, what we have can be called the truth even if it approximates.’ No, I think we have to go back to that point, which is a point for which Gordon Clark is very famous. If God knows what thing and you know something else then, my friend, what you have ain’t knowledge. It is something else.” (min 51-52)

“I believe that if a proposition is true, then God knows it. Therefore, whenever you and I believe a true proposition we are thinking God’s thoughts after him. One thing that means then is we can define truth as correspondence to the mind of God. Our thinking is correct when it corresponds to God’s thinking.” (min 52)

“I once asked a famous Christian theologian if he knew that one plus one equals two. Fortunately he did. I then asked him if God knew that one plus one equals two, and we’ll carry on that conversation next week when we talk about the law of noncontradiction. … Theologians can say some very strange things.” (min 55)

8. Plato and the Demiurge

“Process Theology, which often passes itself off as a version of Christian thought, is really a revival of this branch of Platonism right here. It is also a revival of certain Buddhist theories. The God of process theology is a finite God, He is a limited God. My friend Clark Pinnock, I’m sorry to say has been playing around with certain elements. If Clark is listening to this, Clark I love you brother and I’m praying for you every night, and I wish you’d get straightened out on this particular theory. My friend Clark Pinnock doesn’t believe that God has perfect and complete knowledge of the future. Now, one reason why he has done that is because he has become an Arminian and he’s afraid that if God has perfect knowledge of the future he’s going to have to give up his Arminianism and go back to being a Calvinist. Actually, I think, if any Arminians thought correctly on this issues they’d realize that they’d better not give up on God’s perfect knowledge of the future because they’re going to end up with a God who is awfully impotent about important matters.” (min 14-15)

9. Plato’s Dualism

“You see friends in the middle of the Phaedo there are three of four arguments that are supposed to prove the immortality of the soul. They’re horrible arguments. They’re terrible arguments. I derive enormous comfort from knowing how bad Plato could reason on occasion. I do. If he could make these stupid blunders it sorta makes me feel better.” (min 25)

10. From Plato to Aristotle

“Aristotle’s philosophy had no real influence during the first Christian century. That is, during the century in which the New Testament was written, nobody with the exception of a few isolated scholars in Alexandria Egypt knew much of anything about Aristotle’s philosophy. Platonism was rampant in the first century. … But there is no chance at all of any of the New Testament writers having any personal acquaintance with the work of Aristotle.” (min 33)

“I have a high regard for Fuller Theological Seminary. Fuller is today the second or third largest seminary in the world. The largest one is Southwest Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth. Fuller is either the second or the third. It and Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville Kentucky fluctuate. For too many years now Fuller Theological Seminary has shown a distressing degree of sympathy for a theological system that really disdains logic, that really disdains the law of noncontradiction. When Fuller was founded in 1947, 48, the founding faculty saw one of their missions in life as combatting the neo-orthodox philosophy of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner. Today, regrettably, Fuller Seminary is a place, and it grieves me to say this, but it is a place where the very neo-orthodox philosophy that was condemned by the founding faculty has now found a home.” (min 38)

“One of the ways it manifests itself is through the influence of a Scottish theologian named Thomas Torrance. Former moderator of the Church of Scotland, former professor of theology at the University of Edinburgh. Presbyterian, but a disciple of Karl Barth. … But, when you look at chapter nine again notice the strange things you find Thomas Torrance saying about logic. For example, he says, ‘God’s logic is different from our human logic.’ ‘God reasons according to cannons and standards of thought that are different from ours.’ And I suppose that Thomas Torrance thinks that by distinguishing between the logic of God and human beings he is exalting God. But he isn’t. What he is doing is turning the God who speaks and shows himself, the God who reveals himself, to make a paraphrase on Carl Henry here, he turns the eminently knowable God of Christianity to an unknowable ‘it’.” (min 39)

“This kind of thinking, if it is thinking, is pervasive in Protestant theology today and Roman Catholic theology today. And it is not pervasive only in Arminian, or Pentecostal, or Charismatic centers. And none of this is intended to be the least bit critical of those movements. Its also present in schools that a lot of us still identify as evangelical. In fact, those of who have read chapter nine know by now that I have a complaint with the great Cornelius Van Til over this very issue. That Westminster Theological Seminary and a lot of fine Reformed thinkers who have come out of Westminster Seminary and a lot of fine Reformed thinkers who have enormous respect for a great man, Cornelius Van Til, have I think been misled on the importance, the essential role that logic, that the law of noncontradiction, needs to play in our understanding of the Christian Faith.” (min 41)

11. Law of Noncontradiction

“What I talk about in The Word of God book is the late Van Til, after Van Til in my judgment came under the influence the Amsterdam Philosophy, the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd and some other people. You see these people taught Van Til, I think he learned it there, that between God and Man there is a boundary. What I’m talking about here is the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, which in my experience with Van Til came to be incorporated in his own understanding of things. Now, in one sense no Christian wants to deny that there is a kind of boundary between God and Man. To deny a boundary between God and Man would seem to deny God’s transcendence, His sovereignty, He is the creator we are the creature. But what the Dooyeweerdians did was expand their understanding of the boundary between God and Man to encompass all of law, all laws. Now, I do not deny that in the case of the laws of nature, like the laws of physics or the laws of biology, they apply only on the lower side of the boundary. The laws of physics do not apply to God on the other side of the boundary because He created the laws of physics. He’s not subject to them the way you and I are. So the laws of physics apply on the lower side of the boundary, they do not apply on the higher side of the boundary. Now, what Dooyeweerd and Van Til did, and I think this is a major mistake, is they said the laws of logic apply only on the lower side of the boundary. The laws of logic apply only to us, they do not apply to God. Now, I’m sure the motive behind all of that was a desire to enhance the power and the glory of God. But the end result of it is to reduce the Christian faith to skepticism and nonsense. Let me set the stage for this lunch that Van Til and I had. And again, he is a godly man. I can still remember a day, you see the pastor of his church was a graduate of my university, Bob Drake. And so one day we went to visit Bob Drake, and Bob Drake and I and Van Til were there. And Bob Drake was just a kid, just a youngster at the time. He was Cornelius Van Til’s pastor and he was just 26, 27 years old. He was just a kid. And I remember Van Til coming up to him and saying ‘Pastor, I’m available to call in the hospital today if you want me to come with you.’ There aren’t many PhDs in Theology that will accompany their pastor on a hospital visit, but that was the kind of man Van Til was. Well anyway, we were having lunch in this Philadelphia restaurant and I decided I would ask Van Til three questions. He probably knew I was going to ask them. Question number one. I said, ‘Dr. Van Til, do you know that one plus one equals two?’ And he smiled and assured me that he did. And so I breathed a sigh of relief. Cornelius Van Til knows that one plus one equals two. Question number two, ‘Does God know that one plus one equals two?’ And he smiled and he said, ‘I don’t know.’ Now get the full flavor of this. Here’s an evangelical Christian theologian who wants to glorify God but who’s way of doing that is telling us that he doesn’t know if God knows that one plus one equals two. Now what could possible lead someone into that kind of trap? The answer: this kind of thinking. You see Van Til had bought the system, he had fallen into the trap of thinking that the laws of logic and the laws of arithmetic only apply below the boundary. They are God-created laws. And if the laws of arithmetic apply only below the boundary, then who knows what one plus one really equals when it comes to the perfect, infinite, infallible knowledge of God. Notice, implicit in this is the distinct possibility that if we really knew what God knows, we might recognize that one plus one doesn’t equal two. In fact, we’d have to say to Van Til that when he answered my first question by saying ‘sure I know that one plus one equals two’ he should have said there too ‘I don’t know’ because according to his own view of things all human knowledge is simply thinking God’s thoughts after God. But of course implicit in all of this is thinking we can’t think God’s thoughts after Him because we don’t know what laws obtain on the other side of the boundary. Well, my third question to Van Til was by now out-of-bounds, but I went ahead and asked it anyways. I said ‘Suppose of the sake of argument that God does know one plus one equals two, and suppose that you and I know that one plus one equals two, is our knowledge identical in this respect with God’s knowledge.’ And Van Til said ‘I don’t know’. Obviously, if he can’t know that God knows that one plus one equals two, there is no possibly way in which any act of human knowledge can be equivalent with any act of divine knowledge.” (min 17-22)

12. Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Categories

Nash defends “personal knowledge” or “experiential knowledge.” He gives the example of playing the piano. “The Bible is calling us to a personal knowledge of Christ that is built upon the foundation of propositional knowledge about Christ.” (min 6) Though he gives examples, he does not give a definition. [This is my biggest concern with Nash’s thought, which I also noted here: https://douglasdouma.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/two-erroneous-epistemological-distinctions/]

13. Aristotle and Dualism

“Process Theology is probably the most serious heresy presently existing within Christendom.” (min 3) “Where have all the liberals gone? Well, most of them have gone towards process theology.” (min 3)

“Process theologians don’t care about the Bible. They get their view of God from certain philosophical ideas and presuppositions.” (min 58)

14. Hellenistic Philosophy

“I don’t think we want to associate Christianity with being anti-pleasure. I think what we want to help people realize that God created us for pleasure and because of sin and stupidity most of us seek pleasure in ways that are counterproductive, and what God wants above all to give us is the greatest pleasure of all which is the pleasure of being in his presence for all of eternity. So don’t set up Christianity as the enemy of pleasure, set it up as the best and truest method of achieving pleasure.” (min 25)

“Diogenes was the first hippie, the first beatnik.” (min 38)

“The word cynic comes from the Greek word for dog.” (min 42)

“Gordon Clark takes great pains in his account of Stoicism to distinguish between the fatalism of the Stoics and a kind of theistic determinism. In a kind of theistic determinism that many people associated with Calvinism or Reformed Theology, there is one major difference from the impersonal determinism of the Stoics. That is, we Christians believe that there is one being who isn’t determined by any mechanical forces in nature. Whatever the extent to which determinism might be true in the rest of the world, it doesn’t apply to God. He is free. You and I might not be free, but God is free. … There’s another difference and I’m not so sure Clark makes this as clearly as I would like. In a true fatalism there is nothing that anybody can do to avoid the outcome. Islam is perhaps the best example of a fatalistic religious system in the world today. At least certain kinds of Islam. … A responsible kind of determinism recognizes that you can never separate an end from the means. Clark talks about this. If God determines some end to occur, that end is never going to occur apart from the means that are necessary to produce the end. … The fatalist acts as if the means play no role at all in the outcome in the end.” (min 48-51)

Paul was not the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. (min 1:08)

Nash contends that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews was a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria. And he postulates that this person is Apollos. (min 1:14)

The epistle to the Hebrews is a refutation of Philo. (min 1:22)

15. Plotinus

“The last time we met I indicated my conviction that the best person in the New Testament to be the author of Hebrews is Apollos. Why is there such resistance to anyone other than Paul as the author of Hebrews among some Fundamentalists Christians. I think that’s waning myself. I know that many years ago when I attended a Fundamentalist Bible school, I was taught that anybody who doubted the Pauline authorship of Hebrews was suspect and liberal and someone you should separate yourself from, and so on. I may be mistaken, but I believe even today in most Fundamentalist schools there is a clear recognition that Paul was not the author of Hebrews. Is anyone here a graduate of some Fundamentalist college like Liberty University or Cedarville College. You weren’t taught Paul was the author of Hebrews? See. Cedarville College is General Association of Regular Baptists. Now those are Baptists who don’t mess around, boy. They are your original fighting Baptists. If Cedarville recognizes that Paul was not the author of Hebrews. …” (min 17-18)

“Gordon Clark was more than a good philosopher. He was a committed Christian believer. And more than that, he was thoroughly at home in both theology and philosophy.” (min 32)

“Paul Tillich was a kind of Plotinian.” (min 52)

16. Augustine – 01

17. Augustine – 02

“Whenever human beings know truth, they know something that exists in the mind of God. That is Augustine’s point. Not only is that Augustine’s point, that is Gordon Clark’s point. That is one of the more important features of Gordon Clark’s theory of knowledge.”

18. Augustine – 03

“The Reformed view on salvation is totally on target. We do not in our present fallen condition have the power to choose anything on our own that would bring us to salvation.”

19. Augustine – 04

“You see, Augustine says, prior to Christianity all previous philosophies of history were cyclical in nature.” (min 11)

“Instead of regarding Augustine as the father of the philosophy of history, we ought to treat the author of the book of Hebrews as that.” (min 14)

“Augustine finally talks about the end of human history and in the process he develops one of the major theories in Christian epistemology. … Augustine is the grand architect of a very important way of approaching all Scripture called Amillennialism.” (min 19)

“All of the numbers in the book of Revelation are extremely difficult to take literally. It seems to me that one of the smartest thing we can do when we approach the book of Revelation is to take all of those numbers symbolically.” (min 24)

20. Medieval Philosophy

“Somebody has said that Eriugena’s philosophy was one of the most remarkable phenomena of the ninth century. Well, I don’t know how significant of a compliment that is because frankly I can’t think of much that happened in the ninth century that’s very important.” (min 20)

21. St. Anselm and the Ontological Argument

22. Thomas Aquinas – 01

“The theory of double truth. What Averroes meant here was simply this: a proposition could be true in philosophy, but its contradictory proposition could be true in theology. So when Averroes would be challenged as a heretic he would say well you have to distinguish what I teach as a philosopher and what I believe as a faithful muslim. As a faithful muslim I believe there is personal immortality, as a good philosopher I believe there is no personal immortality, and both of those propositions are true at the same time and in the same sense. How do you like that? He might have had a job at Westminster Theological Seminary, who knows.” (min 17)

“Oh, me. You know, what do you do when you’re forty years old and your daughter comes home from college and says ‘Daddy, I’m going to marry an empiricist.’ You know, what a tragedy. What do you do at a time like that?” (min 42)

“Now, you have in your textbook Thales to Dewey a typical Gordon Clark chapter in which he goes to work on Aquinas. … I think that’s be the most powerful and damaging criticism of Aquinas’s philosophy you will find anywhere.” (min 43)

23. Thomas Aquinas – 02

Nash agrees with Clark against Aquinas’s theory of analogy. (min 36 and following)

24. 17th Century Rationalism

Nash recommends C. Stephen Evans’s book Preserving the Person as a defense of mind-body dualism.

25. 18th Century Imperialism: Locke and Berkeley – 01

Nash believes Locke’s attack on innate ideas is an example of begging the question. (min 8) Locke defines ideas such that they must be thought; they cannot be unconscious. And thus Locke’s definition avoids rather than refutes the theories of innate ideas of Plato and others.

26. 18th Century Imperialism: Locke and Berkeley – 02

“Do you want to know, that in his own system of metaphysics Gordon Clark was an Idealist very much in the Berkeleyian camp. Now Gordon Clark, I once asked Clark why he didn’t write a book telling the world what he really believed about metaphysics. And Dr. Clark just got a kinda cute little smile on his face and he turned around and he walked away. He didn’t want to write that book, because he thought that too many people would ignore everything else he did. Yeah, he thought that if he told the world that he was really an Idealist of that sort that none of you would ever read every page in Thales to Dewey. That’s what he thought, you see. Now, I have to be a little careful here because Gordon Clark was never an empiricist. I’m not sure he would ever said ‘to be is to be perceived’ I think what he would probably say in the case of God, oh is this good, if I were a charismatic I’d have a mystical experience right now. This next sentence has never passed my lips before. But Gordon Clark would say in the case of God ‘to be is to be conceived.’ ‘To be is to be thought in the mind of God.’ Clark believed that everything in God’s creation, that means planets, stars, comets, rivers, mountains, and you are simply an idea or a collection of ideas or a proposition in the mind of God, and if ever God stopped thinking about you, or any of these other ideas, you would simply cease to exist. Now maybe someday we’ll spend some time talking about that. I don’t know whether that view of things is correct or not. I’m just letting you in on what is an interesting theory.” (min 24-26)

27. 18th Century Imperialism: David Hume

“I myself represented the wrong interpretation of Hume for several decades in my teaching. I probably have taught thousands of students the incorrect view of Hume. Which raises the question, when did I finally get straightened out myself, and the answer is when I started reading Hume.” (min 4)

“The reason why the wrong interpretation of Hume got started in the first place is because a couple of Scottish philosophers, primarily Reid and Beattie. Thomas Reid, and I think it is James Beattie. A couple contemporaries of Hume in Scotland who misinterpreted him in Hume’s own day and somehow that erroneous interpretation has come down through the years.” (min 5-6)

The wrong interpretation: “Hume took Berkeley’s principle and applied it mercilessly to the entire universe. What Hume did was to take the phrase ‘to be is to be perceived’ and it he applied it in ways that Berkeley never anticipated.” (min 6) “Hume doubted the existence of a continuing self.” (min 9) “I call this set of beliefs ‘the philosophical package.’ This is a package of three beliefs that Hume is supposed to have held. He didn’t.” (min 16)

The right interpretation: “David Hume made a distinction between what we can know and what we must believe. Now David Hume really taught that these are three things about which human knowledge is impossible. The real nature and existence of the human self is beyond the boundaries of human knowledge. The real nature and existence of God is beyond the boundaries of human knowledge. The real existence of the external world is something about which we cannot attain knowledge. Philosophy is helpless in providing legitimate knowledge about the self, God, and the world. But to say that we cannot know something is not to imply that we cannot or need not believe something.” (min 17-18) “David Hume was not an atheist. He did not deny the existence of God. His view of God was simply this: philosophy is incapable of proving that God exists.” (min 21)

28. Immanuel Kant – 01

Nash grew up in the Lutheran church.

“…Kant’s unfortunate habit of writing in increasing obscure language.” (min 5) “Starts an unfortunate trend in philosophy.” (min 6)

“Kant’s theory of knowledge incorporates elements of both rationalism and empiricism. Even though Kant ends up being in the final analysis an empiricist. He regards his work as a synthesis of both rationalism and empiricism. And here is what he will end up saying: ‘Human experience will be the content of human knowledge, but human reason will provide the form.’ You can’t have knowledge about from the form and the content, but the form and content are going to come from different sources. The content will be provided by the senses, it will be empirical, experiential, but the form in which that content will appear, that form will be supplied by the human reason, by indeed some innate faculties of the human mind.” (min 16-17)

“There are twelve categories of the understanding. … He was wrong, incidentally, in believing that there were twelve. There may be less, there may be more.” (min 28)

“If my daughter ever came home and said she got engaged to a Kantian I don’t know what I’d do.” (min 41)

“What gets interesting … no it isn’t interesting. But what is fascinating … well it isn’t fascinating either. What we’re going to talk about next week!, are Hegel’s categories.” (min 49)

“Leibniz had developed the preformation theory. … I’ll tell you something else, Gordon Clark is the major defender of the preformation theory in the 19th and 20th centuries. He really is. Nobody has articulated and defender the preformation theory in a more powerful or eloquent way in the last 200 years than Gordon Clark. Now let me tell you wha the preformation theory says. It says that there is only one reasonable answer to the question, why does every human being possess the same categories. You can’t account for this by evolution, you really can’t. Darwinism is hopeless in the face of the rationality of the human race. It makes no sense at all to suggest that the survival of the fittest has brought about a condition in which only people with these categories have survived. You know the whole business of Darwinism. Silly. Now the preformation theory says that the only reasonable explanation for this incredible situation in which every human mind possesses the same categorical structure, is that every human mind is created by another mind that possesses the same categorical understanding, categories of understanding.” (min 54-55) [Note, Clark says in Clark Speaks From the Grave that he does NOT hold to preformation and that Nash is wrong for saying he does.]

29. Immanuel Kant – 02

“What Kant’s grand scheme has done is drive us into skepticism.” (min 8)

“I want to show you how a preformation theorist, remember that word? That’s Gordon Clark. That’s me, I’m a preformationist. How a preformationist can avoid Kant’s skepticism. Here’s how. Kant denied any role for God in creating the human mind, in creating the human world, so he kinda trapped himself into this skepticism in which the real world, the noumenal world is always beyond the bounds of human knowledge. A preformationst doesn’t have that problem Here’s why. A good sensible Augustinian, like Clark, or some other people that I know would tell you that first of all, there is a correlation between the mind of God and the mind of man. The God who created us in His own image, creates us with a structure of rationality that is similar to his own. Now what that means then is, and is one of the points I make in the context of the whole book The Word of God and the Mind of Man. This is what that book calls the Logos theory. Because God has created us as creatures who are capable of knowing the mind of God, we’re not left in the dark, we’re not stuck as creatures who can never have knowledge about God. God has created us as creatures who are capable of knowing His mind and His will and His revelation. But moreover, the same God who created us as rational creatures created the universe as a rational cosmos. Consequently a preformationist doesn’t have a wall existing between some phony phenomenal world and some phony noumenal world. The same God who created the world, created us with a mind that is capable of knowing that world. We’re not trapped in this bifurcation between noumenal and phenomenal.” (min 19-21)

Nash says Kant’s wall appears in Schleiermacher, Ritschl, the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, the neo-liberalism of Paul Tillich and John Hick. “All these so-called big shot liberals of the 20th century, who have one thing in common: a denial of the possibility of cognitive truth about god.” (min 24) “And Kant’s Wall also appears in the thinking of Fundamentalists and Pentecostals who repudiate any role for knowledge or revealed truth and make our relationship with God nothing more than a matter of feeling or blind faith.” (min 24) “Unfortunately, as we show in the book, Kant’s Wall also shows up in the Westminster apologetic of Cornelius Van Til. … When Van Til says that the human mind reaches a wall or a boundary beyond which it cannot go and hence we can never know whether two plus two equals four for God, that is Kant’s Wall appearing at Westminster Theological Seminary. It’s the same principle.” (min 25)

Kant, who was of a Lutheran Pietist upbringing, has a “sort of pietistic irrationalism.” (min 27)

30. Immanuel Kant – 03

Nash rejects Kant because (1) his theory leads to skepticism, (2) he fails to deal with the question of why all humans have the same categories, and (3) Kant’s system is guilty of several major contradictions.

“As you know, the Word of God and the Mind of Man book suggests Cornelius Van Til and his theory of knowledge is a captive to a position that’s very close to Kant’s Wall.” (min 27)

31. Thomas Reid and G. W. F. Hegel

“Reid asked the question Kant refused to ask, ‘why do all human beings have the same belief forming mechanisms?’ And Reid’s answer was ‘because God made us that way.’” (min 6)

“I think this is an extremely interesting view to pursue. In fact it now functions as the foundation of a whole new school of epistemology, called Reformed Epistemology.” (min 7)

“Is Reformed Epistemology a good thing? I’m a Reformed Epistemologist.” (min 11)

“For Hegel the categories have a reality outside of individual human minds. The categories are a feature of objective human reality.” (min 19)

Nash believes that Hegel is often misinterpreted. Speaking on the wrong view Nash says: “Hegel’s dialectic is often taught as though it was a three-step operation. And the three words that are used to indicate these three steps are these: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.” (min 38)

“Hegel gives us all of the reason to reject his own system. Because on his own view of things his own system of philosophy is just one more imperfect stage on the road to the absolute.” (min 54)

“This particular picture of Hegel has been almost an official interpretation of him for 150 years, but there are two problems with it. … There are two reasons why this particular interpretation of Hegel is mistaken. Mistake #1, it leads people to think that Hegel always operated in triads, in groups of three. … Hegel did not always proceed in terms of three steps. … Objection #2: The way I’ve presented Hegel implies that the opposition is some kind of hard fast logical contradiction, black and white, night and day sort of thing. When you look at Hegel’s examples the oppositions are frequently not contradictions at all, they are just different in some minor way on occasion.” (min 55-57) “It seems to be either Marx or certain Marxists who are responsible for this particular (mistaken) view of Hegel.” (min 58)

32. Soren Kierkegaard

“It is a mistaken, I think a serious misreading of Kierkegaard to think of his as an enemy of reason, as an opponent of logic, as an irrationalist, a Christian irrationalist. I guess in saying that I’m disagreeing with Gordon Clark’s handling of Kierkegaard. There are some very good philosophers who have I think done a very bad job of understanding Kierkegaard. To some extent Kierkegaard deserves some of the blame for this because of his style of writing.” (min 4)

“Three thinkers in particular have helped rehabilitate Kierkegaard in our thinking. … C. Stephen Evans … Robert Roberts (his parents ran out of names I guess) … and Merold Westphal.” “Their work has persuaded me that it is really an injustice to think of Kierkegaard as an irrationalist.” (min 6-7)

“We’ve fallen into the mistake of thinking that Barth understood Kierkegaard correctly. Well, Gordon Clark misunderstood him, so did Karl Barth. Kierkegaard, unlike Barth, believed that the Bible contained revealed truth from God. You can’t make sense out of Kierkegaard’s writings without that assumption.” (min 8)

“I’m going to be frank with you, Kierkegaard and his whole family at times were weird.” (min 15)

33. Jean-Paul Sartre

“What Clark leaves you with [in Thales to Dewey] is the idea that philosophy seems to run in a circle. That human beings never learn from the errors of the past. And perhaps the reason why the history of philosophy keeps running in circles, is because human beings keep trying to find the truth while all the time they’re ignoring God’s revelation of the truth.” (min 9)

“There have appeared recently some bright spots in the history of 20th century philosopher. … But those bright spots have occurred in the work of Christian philosophers.” (min 11)

“I definitely do disagree with [Francis] Schaeffer’s analysis of Kierkegaard. I disagree with Gordon Clark’s analysis of Kierkegaard.” (min 15)

Nash notes his Lutheran upbringing was in the Missouri Synod. (min 19)

34. Karl Marx

“We make heroes out of Mahatma Ghandi. This man was a moral vacuum.” (min 3)

Nash recommends Paul Johnson’s Modern Times and his Intellectuals. “This thing [Intellectuals] is dynamite.” (min 4)

35. Friedrich Nietzsche

36. 20th Century Philosophy

Nash speaks highly of Alvin Plantinga’s work.

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Two Erroneous Epistemological Distinctions

In The Word of God and the Mind of Man, Ronald Nash contends for the existence of both propositional revelation and “personal revelation.” Though to this idea of “personal revelation” Nash gives various other terms—including “encounter” and “event”—nowhere does he provide a definition. What he means then by “personal revelation”is impossible to know. It is clear though that for Nash “personal revelation” is not propositional. He writes, “some divine revelation assumes forms that are not propositional.” (p. 45)

But to contend for a “revelation” that is of something other than propositions is an error. Since revelation is a revealing of knowledge, and knowledge is only of propositions (since only propositions can be known), then revelation is, by definition, of propositions; true propositions.

To distinguish “personal revelation” as something other than “propositional revelation” is to contend for non-propositional revelation. But since knowledge is only of propositions, to reveal or to know a non-propositional revelation is to reveal a “non-propositional proposition”—a contradiction in terms.

Nash exclaims,“Orthodoxy contends that the ultimate object of revelation is God, not just some truth about God.” (p. 46) But what is it to know God other than to know some truth about God? How these differ Nash does not explain.

The epistemological theory of Gordon Clark makes better sense. That is, it makes sense. While Clark does not address, so far as I know, the supposed distinction between “knowing God” and “knowing some truth about God” what his response would be is fairly clear from some other examples in his writings. I contend that Clark would not recognize Nash’s distinction as valid. “Knowing God” can only mean knowing some truth or truths about God because only truths—true propositions—can be known.

Now, the “other examples” are of Clark’s repeated denial of a distinction between “believing a message” and “believing in a person.” For Clark “believing in a person” can only mean to believe the message that person says. Since only propositions can be believed in, the only way to make sense of “believing in a person” is to equate it with “believing their words” or “believing their message.”

Just as Clark denies a distinction between “belief in a person” and “belief in the person’s message” so he would deny a distinction between “knowing God” and “knowing some truth about God.” And the reason for the denial is the same in each instance—only propositions can believed or known.

Clark’s denial of the distinction between “belief in a person” and “belief in the person’s message” is a regular theme in his writings. And, I think, it is an important point to grasp. Therefore, as I’ve read through his books I’ve collected his statements on this point:

Mark 1:15 commands us to “believe in the Gospel.” Some people make a distinction between believing a written account believing in a person. This verse undermines such a distinction. Really, when one believes in a person, he believes the words the person speaks—he believes in his promises and his asserted ability to perform. This is what is meant by saying that we trust a person. – Today’s Evangelism, p. 34.

It is wrong to make a sharp separation between the truth of a proposition and a ‘real’ man. The latter depends on the former. He tells the truth.” – First John” p. 61.

What does believing in his name mean? Westcott says, and I quote with approval, ‘it is equivalent to believe as true the message which the name conveys.’ – First John, p. 117-118

Of course Jesus is the living Word of God. We do not for a moment deny it. Of course God has in these last days revealed himself to us in his Son. But if the person of Christ is divorced from what Jesus of Nazareth said, and if the person of Christ is divorced from what God said about him through the apostles, how can we know what Christ has done for us? A mere encounter would leave the terms regeneration, imputation, and justification meaningless. Indeed, if there were no intelligible speech or thought, we could never know whether an encounter was an encounter with Christ the Son of God or whether it was Kierkegaard’s encounter with an idol. The very identification of Jesus as the Son of God cannot possibly be made without intelligible thought. Knowledge by acquaintance, in the anti-intellectual sense of encounter, Begegnung, or Erlebnis, will result in no religion other than some emotional entertainment. Theology there cannot be. – God’s Hammer, Revealed Religion.

There is no antithesis between believing Jesus as a person and believing what he says.” – The Johannine Logos, p. 71.

In literary usage one may say that one believes a person; but this means that one believes what the person says. The immediate and proper object of belief or faith is a truth (or falsehood), a meaning, the intellectual content of some words; and this intellectual content is in logic called a proposition.– The Johannine Logos, p. 72.

To believe a person means precisely to believe what he says. – The Johannine Logos, p. 73.

Posted in Notes on the thought of Gordon H. Clark, Theology | 2 Comments

Review of The Word of God and the Mind of Man by Ronald H. Nash

The Word of God and the Mind of Man, The Crisis in Revealed Truth in Contemporary Theology, by Ronald H. Nash, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1982, 132 pp.

After a few comments, the following is not a review so much as a really long summary of Ronald Nash’s The Word of God and he Mind of Man. It is an excellent book. For the content it is hard to believe it is only 132 pages. There are a few points on which I disagree with Nash, but I generally like where he is going. These long summary notes are primarily for my own reference. If readers of my blog find them valuable as well, that is positive gain.

The most valuable chapters are Chapter 1 on “Hume’s Gap” and Chapter 8 on “The Christian Rationalism of St. Augustine.” It is the latter of these two that I find particularly interesting. I’m under the impression that Nash generally holds to the Augustinian position he elaborates upon. This position differs from Gordon Clark’s in at least three important ways.

1. Nash says Augustine has forms/ideas, while Clark says Augustine has propositions or at least makes propositions the basic element in his own theory.

2. Nash/Augustine have the forms/ideas implanted in the mind of man as part of the image of God. Clark has less innate knowledge for man with most propositions remaining only in the mind of God. Nash’s view is almost like Deism, where God has acted once and has left man alone to be autonomous in his thinking. Clark’s view has man living, moving, and having being in God and thus always dependent on God for knowledge.

3. Nash allows for knowledge of the world by having man compare sensory perception with the forms/ideas. This is a correspondence theory. Clark limits knowledge to revelation and rejects correspondence saying “Suffice it to say that if the mind has something which only corresponds to reality, it does not have reality; and if it knows reality, there is no need for an extra something which corresponds to it.” – “The Bible as Truth.”

Summary of the book:

From the preface we learn that Nash’s goal is to contend that “all human knowledge is possible because of the unique human participation in the eternal Logos of God, Jesus Christ” and that human words are capable of carrying a cognitive word of God. Nash says that the views he will present are in “the mainstream of evangelical thinking about divine revelation and religious epistemology since the end of World War II.” It seems to me, however, that in both that time and today there is barely a trickle of theologians writing on epistemology.

“Following the lead of eighteenth-century philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant, many modern theologians have questioned God’s ability to communicate truth to man and undermined man’s ability to attain knowledge about God.” (p. 11) Nash quotes various thinkers who have rejected the possibility of verbal revelation and have replaced it with mystical inward personal experience as the only way for man to relate to God. To them Nash intends to “offer an alternative theory that makes human knowledge about God possible.” (p. 11)

Chapter 1 is titled “Hume’s Gap: The Divorce of Faith and Knowledge.” “Hume tried to show that most of our pivotal beliefs about reality are matters that human reason is powerless to prove or support.” (p. 19) Most of the important things we think we know are not supported by evidence but rest on instinct, habit, and custom. “In ethics, as in metaphysics and religion, human reason is and ought to be the slave of the human passions, that is, our nonrational nature. This is tantamount to the claim that we cannot have knowledge about the transcendent. This axiom is the foundation of what I call ‘Hume’s Gap.’” (p. 20) “Speculative knowledge claims about certain topics in metaphysics, theology, and ethics should be avoided; such matters should be accepted on the basis of faith, not knowledge.” (p. 20) “His point was that we cannot have any knowledge about God. But it is entirely natural to have faith that God exists.” (p. 21) “But nature does not compel us to go beyond this basic belief in God’s existence and accept the theological claims added by orthodoxy.” (p. 21) Hume denies “the possibility of any knowledge about God in general and the possibility of revealed knowledge in particular.” (p. 22) “Humes’s Gap is the rejection of the possibility of rational knowledge of God and objective religious truth. Hume grounded man’s belief in God in man’s nonrational nature. Hume was a precursor of those philosophers and theologians who insist that religious faith must be divorced from knowledge and who believe that the impossibility of knowledge about God will in some way enhance faith.” (p. 22) “Hume’s Gap appears prominently in the thought of a great many modern thinkers.” (p. 22) (Sarte, Heidegger, Jaspers, Bultmann, Tillich. “Nonevangelical theology since Hume is a chronicle of futile attempts to retain respectability for religious faith while denying religion any right to revealed truth.” (p. 23) “Apparently, about the only thing nonevangelical thinkers can agree about is that God has not spoken, and, indeed, cannot speak.” (p. 23) These tendencies have effected Evangelicals as well. Christian anti-intellectualism may be manifested in a variety of ways: in a contempt for creeds, in a search for God through the emotions, in a dependence upon some kind of mystical experience. Hume would be comfortable in many contemporary churches for he would not hear the truth of God proclaimed and defended.” (p. 23) Nash doesn’t reproduce any of Hume’s argument, and so the reader is left thinking Hume is possibly just making an assertion. Regardless, it seems quite foolish to argue that God—the omnipotent being—is incapable of giving knowledge of Himself to man.

In Chapter 2 “Theological Agnosticism from Kant to Ritschl” we learn of others who have argued against the possibility of knowledge of God. “Kant taught that the form or structure that the human understanding supplies to knowledge exists in the form of categories or innate aptitudes for knowing. Since all human knowledge must be mediated by these categories, men cannot know anything that is not so mediated. The unfortunate consequent of this claim, however, was a radical disjunction between the world as it appears to us (the world modified by the categories of our understanding) and the world as it really is. According to Kant, human knowledge never brings us into contact with the real world, what he called the noumenal world. All we ever know is the phenomenal world, the world as it appears to us after it has been modified by the categories of our understanding.” (p. 27) “Hume had his Gap; Kant had his wall.” “Since God is not a subject of experience and since human categories cannot be extended to transcendent reality, Kant’s God is both unknown and unknowable.” (p. 27) For Schleiermacher, “true religion is found in feeling.” (p. 29) Albrecht Ritschl sought to ground Christian faith in history, but “the Jesus whom Ritschl ‘found’ in history was a Jesus conveniently matched to his own liberal presuppositions.” (p. 32) “Kant’s Wall and Hume’s Gap reappear in the thought of both Schleiermacher and Ritschl. For Schleiermacher, they assume the form of a disjunction between knowledge and feeling. For Ritschl, they become the disjunction between knowledge and value, between knowing a doing, between theory and practice.” (p. 34)

Chapter 3 “The Assault on Propositional Revelation” moves on to neo-orthodox theology. It is not so much the liberalism of Schleiermacher but the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth that has produced the “the theological scepticism of the past sixty years.” (p. 35) Learning from Kierkegaard, Barth’s “totally transcendent or wholly other God was no more able to communicate knowledge or truth than the immanent deity of Schleiermacher.” (p. 36) “This radical otherness of God means, among other things, that the human mind is incapable of comprehending the divine mind.” (p. 36) “Advocates of this view usually begin by drawing a radical distinction between two sense of revelation, propositional revelation (the revelation of truth) and personal revelation. The distinction once granted becomes an exclusive disjunction, and proponents of the non-propositional view of revelation then simply assert the impossibility of any cognitive knowledge about God and insist that God reveals Himself, not through propositions, but through personal presence or encounter. According to this position, man does not require knowledge about God (propositional truth) as a precondition for a personal relationship with God. Revelation is exclusively an event in which God reveals Himself; it is never a disclosure of information about God or anything else.” (p. 36) Advocates of this view included William Temple, Emil Brunner, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, H. Richard Niebuhr, and John Baillie. Nash provides a brief critique at the end of the chapter: “The weakness of the noncognitive approach to revelation lies not so much in what its advocates affirmed as in what they ignored or denied. Ignoring belief that, they emphasized faith in the sense of belief in. But belief in has belief that as a necessary condition.” (p. 41)

Starting then in Chapter 4, Nash moves on from the anti-propositional revelation views to his own position affirming “A Defense of Propositional Revelation.” Nash contends, “Proponents of the noncognitive view misrepresented the alternative to their position.” (p. 43) Nash distinguishes between the views that “all revelation is propositional” and that “some revelation is propositional.” Nash holds the second of these two positions. He then notes that “advocates of the nonpropositional thesis would have everyone think that the evangelical alternative to their view is indeed the extreme claim that all revelation is propositional.” (p. 44) Nash believes that the difficulties with the thesis “all revelation is propositional” are “obvious and overwhelming.” They are not obvious to me though, and thus cannot be overwhelming. Nash holds that “some divine revelation assumes forms that are not propositional.” (p. 45) And he gives the example of God being revealed in “divine acts that have occurred in the history such as the Exodus and the Resurrection.” (p. 45) But what is non-propositional revelation? What of God has been revealed that is not or cannot be put into a proposition? Isn’t this, like Gordon Clark contends, “a phrase without any meaning.” Nash insists “on making a common sense distinction between a revelatory event which cannot be a proposition and any accompanying interpretation which is.” (p. 45) Nash holds that “revelation can be both personal and cognitive.” (p. 46) But what is “personal non-cognitive revelation”? Regardless of the disagreement then between Nash and Clark on this point, they both agree against the liberal and neo-orthodox contention that there is no propositional revelation.

Chapter 5—“A Brief But Necessary Interlude”—reviews what has been said in the previous chapters. Nash also gives some indication of where he is going next—the Logos doctrine. His contention is “the human mind can know the divine mind.” (p. 56)

Chapter 6—“The Christian Logos”—discusses at least part of the solution to how man can known God. “Jesus Christ, the eternal Logos of God, mediates all divine revelation and grounds the correspondence between divine and human minds.” This Logos doctrine, Nash says, was present even in the early church, in the New Testament, and even earlier in Alexandrian Judaism. It is well known that the Logos Doctrine is found in John’s Gospel. Nash notes that it is also evident in the book of Hebrews. But, Nash notes, “too many differences exist” between Alexandrian Judaism and the New Testament to suggest an accommodation. “The Logos of Hebrews and of the Gospel of John is not the metaphysical abstraction of Philo, but a specific individual, a historical person.” (p. 64-65) “Philo’s Logos is not a person or messiah or savior but a cosmic principle postulated to solve assorted metaphysical and epistemological problems.” (p. 65) “A careful study of the Epistle to the Hebrews will make clear that while the writer was obviously familiar with the Platonism of Alexandria, he intentionally set out to contrast his understanding of the Christian message with the philosophy he himself may once have accepted and which his audience may still have found attractive.” (p. 65) “My hypothesis about Hebrews … is that one purpose, if not the major purpose, of the writers of Hebrews was to expose the inadequacy of the Alexandrian mediators.” (p. 66) These mediators he is referring to are “a being or beings who would mediate between God and the world” present both in Old Testament wisdom theology and Platonic philosophy. Nash then notes that the NT “ascribes three distinct but related functions to the Christian Logos.” This “makes it possible to speak of Christ as the cosmological Logos, the epistemological Logos, and the soteriological Logos.” (p. 66) The (epistemological) Logos doctrine is found in the writings of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Augustine.

The way in which Nash approves of “personal knowledge” and his quoting of Carl Henry making the Logos Doctrine apply not only to the connection between Man and God but also between Man and nature, makes me think that Nash has some sort of interest in empiricism. His next chapter might clarify:

Chapter 7 is on “Rationalism and Empiricism.” In another volume Nash defends “inductive presuppositionalism” which he never clearly defined and which appears to be a contradiction in terms or at least a serious confusion. In this chapter Nash rightly notes, “Many of the specific problems about human knowledge of God are extensions of more basic difficulties about human knowledge in general.” (p. 71) Nash then surveys the history of the philosophical debate between rationalism and empiricism. Does the mind begin entirely empty (per empiricism) or with something innate (per rationalism)? The chapter ends without Nash weighing in with his position on the question.

A footnote of Nash’s on page 78 says “It should be noted in passing, however, that Gordon Clark maintains that Blanshard ultimately makes too many concessions to empiricism.” This is really quite funny. And it shows how anti-empirical Clark was; even making the Hegelian Blanshard look moderate.

Chapter 8 is titled “The Christian Rationalism of St. Augustine.” Nash returns to the Logos Doctrine, but also mentions for the first time Augustine’s theory of divine illumination. (p. 79) “The divine light is Augustine’s answer to how humans know the eternal ideas that subsist in the mind of God. … All human knowledge must be explained ultimately in terms of the divine light.” (p. 80) But what Augustine’s theory exactly is, according to Nash, is debated. He references his earlier book The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge. “Augustine meant his theory of divine illumination to explain not only the quality but also the content of necessary truths.” (p. 80) “Any adequate understanding of Augustine’s theory of illumination must take account of the fact that two lights are involved in any act of human knowledge.” (p. 80-81) “Human knowledge is made possible by two lights, the uncreated light of God, and the created, mutable light which is human intellect. Just as the moon derives the light it reflects from the sun, so the rational human mind derives a created ability to know from its origin, God. Human knowledge can be regarded as a reflection of the truth originating in the mind of God. To be more specific, God has endowed humans with a structure of rationality patterned after the divine ideas in His own mind: we can know truth because God has made us like Himself.” (p. 81) “A harmony or correlation exists therefore between the mind of God, the human mind, and the rational structure of the world.” (p. 81) I can understand that because man is made in the image of God that there is that correlation between God and man. But where does Nash (or Augustine, rather) find the correction also with the world? “Augustine came to hold that God had implanted a knowledge of the forms in the human mind contemporaneous with birth. In other words, Augustine’s account of human knowledge replaced Plato’s appeal to recollection with a theory of innate ideas that belong to humankind by virtue of our creation in the image of God.” (p. 84)

His summary at the end of the chapter is worth the price of the book:
“To summarize: The forms or eternal ideas exist in the mind of God (independently of particular things), but in a secondary sense they also exist in the human mind. God created humans with a structure of rationality patterned after the divine forms in His own mind. This innate knowledge is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. In addition to knowledge of forms, knowledge of the world is possible because God has also patterned the world after the divine ideas. We can know the corporeal world because God has given man a knowledge of these ideas by which we can judge sensations and gain knowledge.

“I regard these conclusions as merely an elaboration or logical extension of the Logos doctrine. Augustine is one Christian theist who believed that the claim that the human logos is part of the image of God rests on a sound philosophical and theological ground. He believed that the Logos teaching of the New Testament and the early church fathers entailed a similarity between the rational structure of the human mind and the rational structure of the divine mind. It is possible for the human logos to know the divine Logos because God created the human being as a creature who has the God-given ability to know the divine mind and to think God’s thoughts after Him. The laws of reasons are the same for both God and humans.” (p. 90)

Nash notes in a footnote that he denies the analogical view of Christian empiricists and holds that “human language can have the same (univocal) meaning applied to God that it has when applied to sensible things.” (p. 90)

Taking almost a full day to catch my breath after reading chapter 8, we come to the next chapter.

Chapter 9 returns to the main critique of the book. The chapter is titled “The Religious Revolt Against Logic.” W. T. Stace was a mystic who gloried in contradictions. But then, as Nash contends, Stace has no ground for criticizing others. “Once logic is denied, inconsistency becomes a virtue.” (p. 93) Many Christian theologians have a similar distaste for logic. Nash evidences Barthian Thomas Torrance who “certainly appears to claim that there is a difference between God’s logic and human logic.” (p. 94) The position is self-defeating. Donald Bloesch too takes issue with the belief “that man’s logic and knowledge are identical with God’s.” This view “leads to absurdity.” (p. 96) Nash then comes to Herman Dooyeweerd. “For the followers of Dooyeweerd, the laws of logic, of valid inference, exist only on man’s side of the Boundary.” (p. 97) This “entails that it is impossible for any human being to think meaningfully about God.” (p. 97) Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck embraced the Logos Doctrine, but Dooyeweerdian Al Wolters “rejoices in the fact that the Amsterdam Philosophy of Dooyeweerd has rejected it.” (p. 98) Finally, Nash (rightfully) includes Van Til in this same pattern. “Only recently have I come to understand that Van Til had developed his own version of the Dooyeweerdian Boundary between the human mind and the mind of God.” (p. 100) While Nash gives credit to Van Til for not wavering “from his earlier conviction that humans can have knowledge about God” he concludes, “it is difficult for anyone holding a position like Van Til’s to be consistent.” (p. 101)

“While the assorted rejections of logic found in the writings of Torrance, the followers of Dooyeweerd, and Van Til are (because of their sincere motives) pious nonsense, they are still nonsense.” (p. 101)

Chapter 10—“Reason and Religion”—argues for the necessity of logic and mentions something of the noetic effects of sin. Nash is not only in line with Clark on these points, he quotes Clark directly and favorably.

Chapter 11—“Reason, Revelation, and Language”—makes the case for innate knowledge by arguing that language develops in a child by something more than just sensory experience; there is a contribution from the mind. The views of theologians like Karl Barth who argue that language is unable to convey knowledge are found to be self-defeating. Language, Nash contends, “is possible because humans, created in the image of God, possess innately a priori categories of thought and the ability to use and understand language.” (p. 119) “Human language is adequate as a vehicle for divine revelation and for human communication about God because it is a divinely given instrument.” (p. 120)

The last chapter then is on “Revelation and the Bible.” Nash critiques the views of James Olthuis, Arnold DeGraaff, Hendrick Hart, G. C. Berkouwer, and especially Donald Bloesch. He sees them as not much different from Emil Brunner and Karl Barth.

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GHC Review 56: The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark

The numbered volumes of The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark all published by the Trinity Foundation include the following:

1999. The Pastoral Epistles. Vol. 15.

2000. Thales to Dewey. Vol. 3.

2000. A Christian Philosophy of Education. Vol. 10.

2004. Christian Philosophy. Vol. 4. The combined edition of: [Religion, Reason and Revelation (1961) 1995], [Three Types of Religious Philosophy (1973) 1989], and [An Introduction to Christian Philosophy 1993].

2005. A Christian View of Men and Things. Vol. 1.

2005. Commentaries on Paul’s Letters. Vol. 12. The combined edition of: [Colossians (1979) 1989], [Ephesians 1985], [First and Second Thessalonians 1986], and [Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism (1986) 1990].

2008. Modern Philosophy. Vol. 5. The combined edition of: [Dewey 1960], [William James 1963], [The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (1964) 1996], [Language and Theology (1980) 1993], and [Behaviorism and Christianity 1982].

2009. Clark and His Critics. Vol. 7. The combined edition of [The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark 1968] and [Clark Speaks from the Grave 1986].

That means volumes 1, 3, 4, 7, 10, 12, and 15 have been completed. I recall Tom Juodaitis at the Trinity Foundation telling me that he has interest in publishing at least one more volume in the series, if not everything in due time.

These volumes can in many cases be acquired for less expense than buying all of the original books individually. However, I’ve found that I prefer to cite from the original versions for historical context.

The best thing of this series is probably Clark and His Critics which brings back the material of the hard to find The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark.

For the previous review in this series see here.

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GHC Review 55: Ancient Philosophy

GHC Review 55; Ancient Philosophy

Ancient Philosophy, by Gordon H. Clark, The Trinity Foundation, 1997, 495 pp.

This book is valuable in that it reproduces otherwise difficult to find material. But it is a bit awkward in that in reproducing material from multiple early Clark books, it contains two sections of each the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic Age.

Part I, pages 1 through 255 is reproduced from A History of Philosophy (1941) previously reviewed here.

Part II, A through D comes from articles Clark wrote for Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, A History of Philosophical Systems, ed. Vergilius Ferm, and the journal The New Scholasticism.

Part II, E is Clark’s dissertation, previous reviewed here.

F through K are published articles of Clark’s on Plotinus.

All of the material comes from the earlier years of Clark’s writing.

For the previous review in this series see here.

For the next review in this series see here.

 

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GHC Review 54: Philippians

GHC Review 54; Philippians

Philippians, by Gordon H. Clark, Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1996, 123 pp.

This is the last published commentary of Gordon Clark’s and the last published original material of his as well. John Robbins notes in the introduction that Clark wrote the book “around 1982.” Clark’s correspondence confirms this. In a letter from Clark to Robbins of 9/6/1982, he writes, “Having just finished a commentary on Philippians, I am at a loss to choose another project. Since they have retired me to only one course (3 hrs a week) I have plenty of time.” Over a year later Clark had misgivings about the book. He wrote to Robbins on 11/28/1983, “As the years roll along, faster for me than for you, I would, naturally, like to see as many of my MSS published as possible. One I am not really interested in. Some years ago you encouraged me to write a second edition of my book on Christian Philosophy of Education. You were not able to publish it. It suits me if you throw it in the waste basket. Philippians is also under par. You need not throw it away, but it can decorate a book shelf. The problem, for me, is how can some others be brought out?” But Clark might not have entirely ruled out publishing it, for he wrote to Robbins again on 1/11/1985 saying, You may return Philippians. Whether I revise it or not depends on my schedule. I am spending all my time on The Incarnation now.”

So maybe the volume we have is the “sub-par” draft, or a later revised one.

In Clark’s preface he notes his view of Bible translations:

“If an impatient reader cannot wait to determine the present author’s evaluation of the versions, let it be said that the American Revised Version of 1901 or its later New American Standard edition is the most accurate of all. The King James is second in accuracy and first in style. The advertising campaigns of modern versions have unfairly maligned it. The Revised Standard Version makes some deliberate mistakes, more frequent in the Old Testament than in the New. The New International Version is too much of a paraphrase, but of course much better than the travesty of Good News for Modern Man. This should be sufficient to satisfy initial curiosity.” (p. viii)

Clark writes more about the perseverance of the saints here than anywhere else in his writings. (p. 8 -16) He notes that “the doctrine of perseverance fits in with all the other doctrines.” (p. 16)

The bulk of the commentary discusses grammatical and textual issues, with Clark working through the views of various commentators before providing his own. This, frankly, is not the most interesting approach.

On pages 32-33 Clark has an interesting story about a time he participated in a debate at Gordon Seminary. I’m unaware of this event from all other sources. He says it happened before the merger with Conwell Seminary. That was 1969. So his visit was sometime prior to that.

On page 41 Clark mentions Augustus Toplady, whose theology (and hymn Rock of Ages) he praises in a number of his books. Here he does the same, but notes “I do not agree with his Lockean philosophy.”

On pages 61-62 he critiques the Lutheran idea of the communicatio idiomatum.

Pages 63-66 have comments on the incarnation which foreshadow—but do not yet agree with—his later views in his book on the subject.

On page 74 he discusses the “several aspects” of the term salvation.

On the same page he notes, “The Romish-Arminian position is fundamentally based, not on exegesis of Scripture, but on certain assumptions in secular philosophy.”

I didn’t find much else of particular interest in the volume. Probably this is his “sub-par” version and he did not get to improving it before his death because of other projects he was working on. The cover design certainly is sub-par.

For the previous review in this series see here.

For the next review in this series see here.

Posted in Gordon Clark Book Reviews | 2 Comments