The Clark/Van Til Controversy

K. Scott Oliphint explores the issue of divine and human knowledge as it relates to the Clark/Van Til controversy. Dr. Oliphint is Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary and is the author of several books on apologetics including Reasons for Faith and The Battle Belongs to the Lord.


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195 Responses

  1. Pingback : links of interest/jude 3 news « truth demands confrontation

  2. Mo Se Jun

    I’d like to recommend this episode to a youtube user “RedBeetle.”
    RedBeetle is an extreme Clarkian, uploading numerous videos about so-called Reformed/Calvinistic teachings. He always criticizes Van Til in some inexplicable way. He quotes some sentences or passages from Van Til’s works out of context. He is very very very funny.

    1. gigi

      i watched some of those vids but the guy(RedBetle) makes some good points,he is very explicit and when you remember that Van Till usually talked from both sides of his mouth(very very irrational)…well i think you get the point.
      the guy being “funny” is not the issue,cau you refute his position?

    2. I looked up RedBeetle, and you weren’t kidding. His extremism would be an embarrassment if anybody actually knew about him. James White, though, did mention the RedBeetle in passing in 2011 (RedBeetle has posted the clip on YouTube, seemingly as some badge of honor.) He insists, among other things, that sanctification is monergistic and that R.C. Sproul and John Piper are not true Calvinists.

  3. gigi

    why is it that Van Till(the so called “presuppositionalist”) never formulated the proofs for the existance of God(for years Clark kept asking,but for some strange reason Van Till never come up with any) ?

    “one person,three persons” is laughable and will never cease to be that way no matter how one tries to defend Van Till’s irrational position.

    as for the “unsolicited pamphlet” being “superficial”,dismissal of the said phamphlet is not a refutation of it and Mr.Oliphint should know better!

    next time maybe you should invite a Clarkian to talk on the same subject?

  4. Jonathan Brack

    What function does proof serve in the Christian Apologetic? Is proof foundational or corroborating? What is the definition of proof, is it empirical verification? I think you might of missed the point in the episode where Dr. Oliphint explains that everything is a proof for God’s existence given a renewed mind and a proper presupposition. Instead of pontificating Dr. VanTil and Dr. Oliphint with drive by statements like “one person three person is laughable” and “both sides of the mouth” why don’t you interact responsibly and graciously like a Christian brother? I am sure Reformed Forum would love to have a Clarkian on the program to interact with Dr. Oliphint on the subject, but condescending remarks that assume a definition of “rational” and “irrational” which were thrown around in your above comments are never helpful.

    1. gigi

      NO function at all,the Scriptures is very clear on this issue(the believer already has a new heart,the unbeliever well,unless the Holy Spirit acts will never believe because of a series of syllogisms that usually do not prove the God of the Bible but an idol).
      Jesus,Paul,John,etc. never sat down and tried to prove the existence of God as a common point with unbelievers !

      Just because the deluded T. Aquinas(Anselm too) introduced Aristotle’s pagan ideas into RCC does not mean we have to follow his/their example.

      As for my comment about one/three persons,i did not intend it to be “condescending”,it is funny(to me at least) that Dr. Oliphin too,simply brushed it aside.Van Till’s position on the one/three persons was(still is)irrational and it should be discarded,that’s all.

      I used ‘irrational'(Van Till was very found of paradoxes) because Dr. Oliphin kept asserting that Clark was a ‘rationalist'(which he was not).

      1. Hi gigi,

        While you err on the one side of defending certain of Clark’s view (see some of my other replies here that note this) what you write from the other side against movement-like Vantillians is just as pertinent and true!

        That is, the utterly stupid and even irresponsible and demonstrably false accusations that Clark was a rationalist. Nevertheless, it seems, as long as the lie is mindlessly repeated and repeated, it gains a life of its own, until many believe it, be it due to laziness or whatnot.

        Anyone however even a bit informed – both about what constitutes rationalism, in its technical sense, and also what Clark ACTUALLY believed and copiously wrote about – could never spread such a lie about Clark. And to continue do so with such knowledge would be at best highly irresponsible and at worst malicious and thoroughly unchristian.

        That so many informed people nevertheless continue to accuse Clark of this, strongly suggests they are using the “rationalist” label in a less technical sense, and primarily for its propaganda and pejorative value. They do not seem really interested to actually state Clark’s views as they really are.

        Can I commend you and all to read this free book that covers in much detail just this very issue: http://www.scribd.com/doc/56556977/Biblical-Christianity-is-Reasonable

        Also, can I commend you to see the archives or join http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GHClark_List1 to discuss in more detail.

        God bless,

      2. gigi

        Hi GH Kay
        i do not have to defend any of G Clark’s views,he has done that very well in his books.
        the “rationalist” accusation though is simply a joke and vantilians should just take out of their vocabulary

  5. Obviously we can’t know any particular (about God or things) with respect to how it relates to the entire set of all particulars, so in that respect we don’t know any single particular in the same way in which God knows any single particular since God knows each particular exhaustively as part of the whole. NOTE: That is not to say that we cannot know things or that when we do know things our mind does not intersects the mind of God. When we know truth about A’s relationship to B, we don’t know that relationship as God knows that relationship (in that God knows that relationship exhaustively), yet notwithstanding what we do know about A as it relates to B is a subset of God’s infinite knowledge of that A to B relationship. In other words, our knowledge intersects God’s.

    1. It seems you’re neglecting to incorporate our mode of knowledge. The difference between God’s knowledge and human knowledge is not exclusively a matter of quantity nor exclusively a matter of a thing’s relation to all things. We know things revelationally whereas God’s knows them immediately and exhaustively. I think the language of “intersection” can be misleading because it can lead us into several errors in our doctrines of God and creation. I understand the desire to maintain the possibility of true knowledge, but that’s a concern Van Tilians have as well. I believe it’s answered in Van Til’s understanding of analogy without circumventing the Creator-creature distinction.

  6. Carl

    perhaps you could address how Van Til’s views fit traditional reformed (Calvinistic) distinction between the “light of nature” and the “light of Revelation”. I have asked this question, I believe, on another thread on this forum but it seemed not to warrant a proper answer there.

    For a summary of contradictions (“speaking from both sides”), idealistic leanings, and other problems in Van Til you can use the following old critique from one named D. R. Trethewie. (I don’t know the man, mind you, but what he writes there appears measured and rather discerning as far as I am concerned.)

    This paper should provide you with ample resources to engage in an honest dialog with those who find VT legacy less than constructive in advancing and preserving sound (reformed) doctrine.

    I would personally be most interested, again, to hear Van Tilian expositors speak to the nature-revealed distinction recognized by Calvin and upheld by the WCF, and how they are able to find any useful measure of agreement with this in Van Til. (See pages 12-16, 24ff, 27, 60-63 of the referenced critique.)


  7. Scott Roper

    Thanks for the informative episode. The clarification of our knowledge being analogical to God’s knowledge was very helpful. I have to say, I still find God is three persons (in one sense) and God is one person (in, perhaps, another sense) to be troubling. If one accepts that, why not accept “we are saved by faith alone” and “we are saved by faith and works” simultaneously?

    1. Scott,

      Thanks for the response. There are a couple of things I should add to the discussion. The issue of God as one person and God is three persons is directly a function of the doctrine of perichoresis. Each person of the Trinity fully indwells the other persons exhaustively. A helpful question may be Is there any portion of the Son not indwelt by the Father or the Spirit? Or perhaps even Does the Son know anything the Father or the Spirit doesn’t know? Those are the concerns Van Til was expressing. The Trinity is a fundamentally unique instance of distinctions without separation. We know this by way of revelation, not experimentation or pure logical investigation.

  8. Scott, those are some apples and oranges, don’t you think…well at least I do.

    By the way, what do you call God: an animal, flower, an object…I tend to call God a person. Even if you call God a being, you are implying a person and not a flower or some inanimate object. Do you pray, I’m assuming you do, do you pray to a “what” (i.e. one what, three whos), if so, what is that what?

    You can certainly see that there is nothing wrong with calling God a person (without referencing either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit). BTW: This is not new with Van Til.

    1. Scott Roper


      I don’t think they are apples and oranges, although once you start playing with the law of non-contradiction, apples are oranges and apples are not oranges. I remember on my first day of real analysis, the prof demonstrated how one could prove anything when one starts with a contradiction. My concern isn’t even that extreme, though, as my example is constrained by revelation rather than good and necessary consequence. My concern is that once one allows the term mystery to justify one contradiction, there is no longer any incentive to resolve the other apparent contradictions in scripture–it’s all mystery. Paul says we are saved by faith and not works. James says we are saved by faith and works. Why try to resolve the apparent contradiction? Why can’t both Rome and the Reformed be right?


      I don’t see why Van Til’s concern is not adequately addressed by the historical formula one in essence and three in person.

      1. Scott, you are assuming Van Til is against the laws of logic. You do understand that Van Tillian scholars do not believe this is the case. BTW: Have you read James Anderson’s book Paradox in Christian Theology?

        Secondly, with regards to your question to Camden “I don’t see why Van Til’s concern is not adequately addressed by the historical formula one in essence and three in person.” Van Til does say that is good, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. I see you did not answer my question about God being a person…but can you tell me what an essense is?

      2. I agree with Jeff’s point that Van Til fully agreed with the creeds, though he wanted to develop his point beyond them. It’s also important to note that in Van Til’s one person/three person formula he is employing the philosophical use of the word “person” not specifically the creedal word hypostasis. Frame brings up this point in his short book Van Til: The Theologian. This is where some of the difficult comes in with regard to understanding his point. He isn’t rejecting the creedal formulation. Rather, he is speaking about “person” in a philosophical sense.

    2. Steve M


      You tend to call God “a person”. What do you mean by person? Do you mean the same thing you mean when you call the Father, Son and Holy Spirit three persons? If not, please be specific in explaining the difference. Vagueness is not a virtue.

      1. I’ve actually have given my answer in a round about fashion (certain not technical, as I’m not the man to do such). We pray to God, we praise, God, we love God, we serve God. So God is an intelligent, He speaks, he loves, he rejoices, he judges, etc. etc. We don’t do those things to an essence, unless you are going to say that God is the sum of his essence, perhaps I can go there, but that does not get around the fact that God is a person.

        Steve I’ve been working through these things on and off over a few years, don’t have much time to think about these things given the fact that I’m in seminary. From all that I can understand, and perhaps its not much, I don’t have an issue with calling God a person. It might be helpful if you get a hold of Lane Tipton’s dissertation on Van Til’s Trinitarian theology – he probably does the best job explaining these things. Perhaps WTS his record his class that he teaching at WTS and offer it to the public. Don’t know who to speak with to encourage them to do so.

      2. Steve M


        In the Lord’s Prayer the disciples were instructed to pray to the Father. Christ also somewhere says “if you ask me anything in my name” indicating prayer may be addressed to the Son. I am not aware off the top of my head of instructions to pray to the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that assists us in praying as we ought to the Father and the Son.

        Assuming our prayers are to be addressed to the Godhead, what is wrong with addressing one prayer to three persons (especially three persons in perfect unity)?

        I think my question regarding the specific differences in your definitions of “person” (unless you are using the same for both) was clear and I don’t think you have answered it. Do you have an answer or do you not?

  9. gigi


    Here is Van Till contradicting himself in a space of 2 sentences:

    “My concern is that the demand for non-contradiction when carried to its logical conclusion reduces God’s truth to man’s truth. It is unscriptural to think of man as autonomous. The common ground we have with the unbeliever is our knowledge of God, and I refer repeatedly to Romans 1:19. All people unavoidably know God by hating God. After that they need to have true knowledge restored to them in the second Adam. I deny common ground with the natural man, dead in trespasses and sins, who follows the god of this world”

    (Christianity Today, December 30, 1977, 22).

    1. In the broader context of Van Til’s thought he makes a distinction between epistemological and psychological knowledge. The unbeliever and the believer have no common ground with each other ethically nor in terms of their respective accounts of their knowledge. However, there is a real point of contact between the believer and unbeliever because both types of knowers are made in the image of God. Psychologically, they can actually know things, though the unbeliever does not know them rightly (ethically) nor can he/she give a proper account of that knowledge.

  10. Steve M

    Truth is essential to knowledge. If what we “know” is not true, it is not knowledge at all. If God knows all truth, unless we know something that God knows, we know nothing at all.

    Without defining terms such as “person”, any propositions we make using such terms are meaningless.

    If logic is not eternal, as Van Til held, then one and not one or three and not three can be the same thing. If there are two logics (God’s and Man’s) and two truths (God’s and Man’s), then we can know nothing at all.

    If God’s written revelation does not reveal truth, then Christ’s claim to the Father “Your word is truth” must be false.

    1. Steve,

      I think you’re missing the point a bit. There aren’t two truths. If “logic” is the study of inference, can you really say that God is subject to this? He doesn’t infer. Moreover, the point of contact between man’s knowledge and God’s knowledge does not occur in God’s mind. Since God is simple, he is what he thinks. If we have some part of that mind ourselves, then we must necessarily be God.

      Rather, the point of contact – the real truth connection – is found in what is known. There are not two truths because when we know rightly, we know the same objects, propositions, etc. that God knows. That’s why I have said elsewhere that this debate is a matter of prolegomena and anthropology. Do you agree with these regarding the Creator-creature distinction?

      1. Steve M

        Here is one dictionary’s definition of logic:

        “The study of the principles of reasoning, especially of the structure of propositions as distinguished from their content and of method and validity in deductive reasoning.”

        We both agree that God knows all things. God is truth itself. God cannot lie. The reason that God cannot lie is that His very nature is truth. God does not contradict himself. The reason that He does not contradict himself is not because there is some law outside of Himself to which He must submit. It is because it is not in His nature to contradict Himself. The law of contradiction (or non-contradiction if you would rather) is eternal, because it is part of the nature of God who is eternal. The same is true for the law of identity and the law of the excluded middle. They do not change because He does not change.

        The image of God is reason (logic). Reason is what separates man from the rest of creation. It is the reason that we are without excuse for our sin. My dog cannot sin.

        Van Til held that logic was created, not eternal. God has some sort of logic that is entirely unknowable to us because we are creatures. I don’t believe in two logics and two truths.

        You wrote, “There are not two truths because when we know rightly, we know the same objects, propositions, etc. that God knows.” You seem to indicate that the truth that is the object of our knowledge (and the object must be truth if it is knowledge) is the same truth that is the object of God’s knowledge. I don’t know how this comports with “God’s knowledge and the knowledge possible to man do not coincide at any single point.” Wouldn’t a proposition that we know and God knows be a point of coincidence?

  11. Mo Se Jun

    1. Both believers and unbelievers know God. The knowledge of God is their common ground.
    2. But believers follow the God of Bible, and unbelievers follow the god of this world. So their knowledge and behavior are quite different. There is no common ground between two groups.

    When Dr. Van Til said, “They have common ground,” this sentence indicated 1.
    When Dr. Van Til said, “They have no common ground,” this sentence indicated 2.
    I think that Christians and natural men know that there is a person who have created and ruled the heavens and the earth. This is their common ground. However, Christians correctly know true God who created the universe, and natural men never know who God is, unfortunately…
    So, to let natural men know real God, special revelation, i.e. Bible, is needed. I think this is what Van Til wanted to say.

    1. Steve M

      “The common ground we have with the unbeliever is our knowledge of God”
      “I deny common ground with the natural man”

      It is obvious that these statements are only “apparently” contradictory, thus we should make no attempt to reconcile them. We should just embrace them. Of course we should reject any real contradictions (if it were possible for us to tell them apart from the apparent).

      I am aware that I need to guard against being too logical. That is a very dangerous thing. We must all be sure to mix some irrationally with our logic. Unfortunately, it is difficult for me to know exactly how much irrationality to mix in or why I should retain any logic at all.

      According to Dr. Oliphant everything is the opposite of what it is. Maybe that is a bit overstated. Everything only appears to be the opposite what it is. Maybe everything is simply an analogy of what it is. He doesn’t like the word analogy. The truth man can know is different from the truth God knows but somehow still true. Maybe the falsehoods that we believe are also analogical and therefore not really false. Maybe there is no distinction between truth and falsehood.

      I think Dr. Oliphant is very confused. Maybe he is only apparently confused. I don’t intend to try to determine which is the case, because I would have to resort to the use of logic and I don’t understand when I am supposed to use it and when I am not. I don’t understand when the laws apply and when they don’t. I gathered from his interview that we should put logic aside when it leads us to a conclusion with which he would disagree.

      I was interested in his defense of Van Til’s odd view of the trinity, but without applying logic to the
      scriptures, how do we arrive at the doctrine of the Trinity at all?

  12. Mo Se Jun

    It’s very interesting. Steve, could you explain more about what “apparent” contradictions and “real” contradictions are?
    I want to know more about them.

    1. Steve M

      Van Til holds that there are apparent contradictions in Scripture that we should make no attempt to reconcile, but he denies that there are any actual contradictions. Unfortunately he is not so clear on how we can tell the difference, therefore it is difficult to know when to try or not try to reconcile what appears to be one. This is because actual contradictions and apparent one both appear to be contradictions.

      My own opinion is that a Van Tilian “apparent” contradiction is any contradiction the reconciliation of which leads to a conclusion that a Van Tilian doesn’t like.

  13. gigi

    Steve M

    why do you have to “guard” yourself for not being “too logical”?
    just because Van Til had a ‘distaste’ for Logic does not mean that we should too,as you rightly pointed out,how does one know the limits of one’s irrationality (without denying biblical doctrines in looking for those limits)?

    Van Til fondness of paradoxes gave him ‘immunity'(wishful thinking on his part)to anybody rejecting his irrationalism

  14. Steve M

    Dr Oliphint misrepresents the Clark-Van Til controversy which he and other members of the discussion seem to prefer to call a “debate”. The Complaint was signed by a dozen complainants including Van Til. The purpose of the Complaint was to overturn Gordon Clark’s ordination as a teaching elder in the OPC. The Complaint attempted to do this first on administrative grounds, then on theological grounds. This could hardly be termed a debate. This was an attack on Clark which accused him of holding views which should make him unfit to be a teaching elder in the OPC. To paint it as a debate in which a proposition is stated and one side argues for the positive side and one for the negative is a rewrite of history. If Dr Oliphint actually is unaware of this, one would think he would do a little research before entering into a discussion on the controversy.

    Regarding Clark leaving the OPC, the complainants made it evident that they where not going to let the matter rest with the decision of the Presbytery. They started preparing to go after Clark’s supporters as well. Clark and many of his supporters left the OPC rather endure continued harassment from the Westminster faction.

    1. We predicate “debate” to this issue precisely for the reasons this comment thread keeps growing. The debate has arisen primarily between those who consider themselves in the tradition of Dr. Clark and those who consider themselves in the tradition of Dr. Van Til. The proceedings of the presbytery were not a debate per se, rather the theological discussion that ensued – and continues – is.

      1. Steve M


        No matter how you slice it, creating the impression that the proceedings of the Presbytery were just a discussion that needed to happen is still misleading.

      2. Steve, you may have missed my point. When I call this a “debate” I’m not necessarily speaking of the proceedings in the presbytery at that time, but the theological dialogue that was started at that time and continues even in this thread.

      3. Steve M


        I wasn’t referring to your comment. I was referring to the program and Dr Oliphint’s characterization of the proceedings.

  15. Mo Se Jun

    The concept of “apparent contradictions and actual or real contradictions” in Scripture appeared from “The Protestant Doctrine of Scriptures” written by Cornelius Van Til. Am I right?
    I’m curious to know how that idea about Scripture is related to Van Til’s unique two statements about “common ground” problem.

    1. Steve M


      “The common ground we have with the unbeliever is our knowledge of God”
      “I deny common ground with the natural man”

      Do you not see that these two statements are contradictory? I am not taking the position that these are only apparently contradictory. If you are willing to contend that Van Til is not portraying his beliefs as derived from Scripture, then the contradiction in these two statements has nothing to do with his ideas about Scripture. I think that Van Til is claiming to arrive at these two contradictory statements on the basis of his understanding of Scripture. Therefore, I think the relationship you are asking about is obvious.

  16. Mo Se Jun


    Thanks for a good explanation. I agree with you. Van Til’s two statements came from his understanding of Scripture.
    Anyway, can these “contradictions” be solved? or should we just accept and admit them? Is it only way that we should just embrace them? or should we reject his “contradictory” ideas? What do you think?

    1. Steve M


      I don’t believe these contradictory statements can be reconciled and ,therefore, must be rejected (or at least one of them).

  17. It really is ridiculous that this program pretends to objectively represent Clark’s views when all that happened was that a superficial misrepresentation of Clark’s position was presented. It really amounts to a strawman since at several points Dr. Oliphint either misunderstands Clark or else deliberately mispresents Clark.

    I am not a Clarkian per se, though I am sympathetic to Clark’s doctrine of propositional truth. But then so was Carl F. H. Henry!

    I will be reviewing the discussion on my blog later. But just to mention a couple of points, Oliphint clearly ignores Clark’s response to the Complaint. I read the response and it seems to me that both sides were talking past one another. Clark’s view is not “rationalist”. Oliphint’s reassertion of that accusation is a bit tiring.

    The real problem with Clark is that his philosophical presuppositional position is “philosophical realism”. Anyone who had bothered studying Clark’s book, The Trinity, could have seen this. I wonder how much actual study Oliphint has put into understanding Clark’s “actual” position?

    The one point where I agree with Oliphint’s assessment is that Clark did indeed embrace what appears to be Nestorianism. Oliphint completely misses the boat when he accuses Clark’s view of the Trinity as being impersonal. That could not be further from the truth. If Oliphint had read The Trinity carefully he would have seen that Clark simply redefines “essence” and “nature” as “definition”. Unfortuately, Clark’s redefinition simply introduces another monkey wrench into the works. I don’t find Clark’s re-examination helpful.

    In my opinion, if one wants to examine the weaknesses of one’s own position, then read the criticisms leveled at it by opponents. If I want to understand the weaknesses of Van Til, I can read Clark and others. If I want to understand Clark’s weaknesses, I can read Clark’s critics.

    It seems to me that the ectypal/archetypal distinction is simply a capitulation to Kantian philosophy and Barthian theology! If propositional truth is not true then all we have is incomprehensible relativism and postmodernism, something that Oliphint indirectly acknowledges in his numerous corrections of “misunderstandings” of Van Til’s position in this program.

    The fact is Van Til’s legacy is a mixed one. His students have introduced such heresies as theonomy and triperspectivalism. And it has been rightly pointed out by some Clarkians that Van Til erroneously endorsed Norman Shepherd’s confusing of faith and obedience as “orthodox”. As the complaint indicates, Van Til was quite willing to endorse neo-legalism rather than to uphold the Gospel. One might also point to the Federal Vision controversy as part of Van Til’s legacy. If propositional truth is merely analogical then the confusion of faith and obedience is merely a “paradox” rather than an actual heresy!

    It is also rather silly to pretend that Van Til did not personally attack Clark in the Complaint. The writing obviously reflects Van Til’s personal thoughts. Simply because Van Til hired a couple of hit men does not absolve him of his responsibility in the attack. Ironically, Oliphint acknowledges that Clark was vindicated of all charges.

    If 2 + 2 = 4 is merely analogy, then what is the point of saying anything is true at all? Oliphint’s clever evasion of the issue by attempting to redefine “analogy” in more acceptable terms is unsatisfactory.

    If Clark’s view is overly optimistic in solving apparent paradoxes, Van Til’s paradox leaves all sorts of loopholes for postmodernists, liberals, legalists, and various other heresiarchs. I would say we ought to be more honest in assessing the weaknesses of both men. Oliphint hints at this when he points out that presuppositionalism and transcendentalism are useless terms now. I think he is downplaying the degree of Van Til’s commitment to these terms because he knows both fail.

    Clark’s presuppositionalism is as bad as Van Til’s presuppositionalism for the simple reason that both are tautological and prove nothing to anyone except someone in their own camp.

    And I might point out that both men were not strictly beginning with Scripture but bring to Scripture other presuppositions.

    If your program were interested in a more objective evaluation, someone from the Clarkian side should have been invited to respond. Also, Oliphint totally ignored Clark’s own response in The Answer.

    You can read both documents here:

    The Complaint and The Answer.

    It truly is sad that Oliphint labels Clark as a “rationalist” and then proceeds to totally discount Clark’s body of work. As I said before, Clark’s worst mistake occurred in his last book. But even in The Incarnation Clark’s critique of the orthodox position is a legitimate critique! The problem is that Clark’s solution is unacceptable. I for one will never embrace Nestorianism or Clark’s supposed solution to the remaining problems in the doctrine of the hypostatic union. In fact, I had a huge debate with Sean Gerety and his cronies at God’s Hammer last year over this very thing.

    I do not blindly follow any theologian or apologist. That would include both Clark and Van Til and their students.

    As for Monty Collier or Red Beetle, the guy is obviously not a reliable source for understanding Clark. Collier doesn’t understand Clark or Van Til.

    Charlie J. Ray

  18. Camden Bucey said, “Each person of the Trinity fully indwells the other persons exhaustively.”

    This confuses the divine nature with the persons. Each person shares the fullness of divine essence but each person is absolutely distinct from the other two. If the Athanasian Creed does not show this, I do not know what does. There is no tritheism but your perichoresis sounds like modalism.

    I might point out that Van Til’s theory of special revelation as an “analogy” rather than an actual point of contact with God’s truth sounds a lot like Barth’s existentialism. If the Bible is not THE literal words of God, then it is merely a human document which “contains” an analogy of God’s special revelation and is not in and of itself a revelation of God. Van Til’s position indirectly opens the door to Barthian neo-orthodoxy. That is clearly one implication which Van Tillians refuse to recognize.

    A couple of concrete examples of that would be Tremper Longman and Bruce Waltke, who both deny that Adam was a historical person or that Genesis 1-11 is narrative history in any sense at all.

    The problem with your program is that it refuses to acknowledge honest criticism and valid critiques of Van Til’s theology and apologetics. Van Til was no “genius”. He was simply another theologian who ought to be read critically. At most theologians only get things 75% correct. That would include both Clark and Van Til!



    1. Charlie, are you willing to say that the Father, Son and Spirit do not each fully indwell the Godhead? If you recall in my comments, I spoke of a distinction without separation. Because of his definition of person as a set of propositions, Dr. Clark would necessarily have to conclude that for there to be any real distinctions in the Godhead, the Father, Son and Spirit cannot fully indwell one another. There must be propositions specifically known to each which are entirely unknown to the others. How can my position be modalist when I affirm and retain real and simultaneous distinctions? The alternative presented lends itself to tritheism.

  19. gigi

    the crux of the matter in the “Complaint” was the last point,The Sincere Offer of the Gospel,it is strange that Dr. Oliphint never mentioned a word about it(one wonders how can a Dr. show up for a radio/tv program with his ‘homework’ almost missing).

    The men that signed the Complaint(Van Til included) showed their arminianism masquarading as calvinism(at this point).

    1. Gigi, yes, if one reads The Complaint carefully there are several straw man attacks against Dr. Clark’s real position. In fact, the gracious offer and the three points of common grace deny the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation and instead focus primarily on man’s accountability and even man’s ability. Dr. Charles Hodge’s idea that Christ in some sense died for the non-elect, i.e. common grace, shows the inherent Arminianism of the neo-Calvinist/Kuyperian view.

      We should be skeptical of the triumphalistic attitude of the Van Villians. In fact, we should be equally skeptical of Clark’s claims to have solved all the “apparent” paradoxes. I myself lean in the direction of the classical Calvinist view. I reject neo-Kuyperian theology and the three points of common grace and the gracious “offer”.

      On the other hand, I don’t completely buy the idea that there are no problems that cannot be solved from below. I agree with Clark that there is a direct relationship between God’s knowledge and our knowledge in special revelation/Scripture. But that is true only in the plain texts. The more difficult or problem texts are more difficult. If Clark had been more consistent with acknowledging that we do not exhaustively know ALL of God’s propositional truths even in Scripture, then there could have been a check against some of Clark’s most obvious mistakes–like adopting the Nestorian solution to the hypostatic union. That solution was rejected by the catholic churches for good reason.


      1. I might add that even though Clark’s view of the incarnation is ultimately heretical Clark’s previous views were all orthodox and were not “rationalist”. That is simply a straw man.


      2. gigi

        i most definitely agree that we are to prove all things(1Thess. 5:21),keep the meat and throw the bones.
        i consider Van Til(Bavink too) a failure when it comes to his view on paradoxes(Van Til was just repeating the errors of the ‘fathers’ of modernism/liberalism,F. Schleiermacher and S. Kierkegaard)

        Clark(who was a dogmatist that fully ascribed to WCF) on the other hand was very methodical(paid very close attention to his definition of terms)and a very good exegete,in his books Clark utterly demolished the ‘isms’ of the philosophers starting with Thales…Spinoza,Hegel)

        The unproved assertion of Dr. Oliphint that Clark was a “rationalist”(in a Van Tilian fashion, he did not explain what he meant by the term “rationalist”,strange how vagueness is a praised “quality” for some men) is a dream that Dr.Oliphint needs to wake up from.

        The simple fact that Clark tried(in my opinion he succeed) to give a ‘solution’ is to be commended not viciously attacked.
        Now,i do not think that Clark was ‘infallible’ either,i have some disagreements with some of his views too,but the program was heavily biased and did not present the facts about the “Controversy” but a caricature of it.

        I recommend Clark’s books:
        Three Types of Religious Philosophy
        Thales to Dewey
        Religion, Reason, and Revelation

  20. Charlie,

    You would be correct concerning perichoresis leading to modalism were it not for the doctrine of the personal properties, a doctrine VT affirms fully. In fact, Trinitarian theology, we might say, hinges on holding together the personal properties and perichoresis in harmony and equal ultimacy. The same with the one essence and the three hypostases.

    To me, charging VT with Barthianism is like employing M.G. Kline in support of believer’s baptism. VT’s entire system militates against Barthianism. Your comments show that you are as ignorant about VT as you are about Barth. For VT the Bible is the very speech of God in human form. He takes Warfield’s position here. But, and because of this, it is revelation – it is not God himself. You don’t worship the Bible, do you? The Bible is not the incarnate Logos himself. But, for Van Til, it is revelation – something Barth ostensibly denies.

    1. I might add that I didn’t object perichoresis per se. I objected to Camden Bucey’s confusion of the nature with the persons. All three share one divine nature. To say that each person contains the other persons is to deny the personality. Distinction is absolutely necessary

      1. Charlie, let me reiterate that within the Trinity are distinctions without separation. The Father, Son, and Spirit each indwell the Godhead (and hence eachother) fully. They share one divine essence – or nature as you prefer.

        The language of “contain” has spatial connotations, and therefore I think the biblical language of “indwelling” is more appropriate. If you don’t find that helpful, another way to phrase the perichoretic relation is to say that there are full and exhaustive yet distinct manners of subsistence. Yet this indwelling, though exhaustive, does not obliterate the personal distinctions. The Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten, and the Spirit proceeds. These are real distinctions that belong to the persons.

        I am not confusing the persons and the nature as you claim. Furthermore, this perichoretic formulation avoids the twin heresies of Sabellianism (modalism) and tritheism, which have also been thrown out there.

        Let me ask you a question. Are you comfortable with positing an impersonal essence within the Godhead?

  21. Jim, your response is uncharitable. In fact, I understand Van Til well enough to know that his view of incomprehensibility and the false distinction of ectypal/archetypal knowledge undermines the special revelation of Holy Scripture.

    His view is both Kantian and Barthian in that he refuses to allow Scripture to be the very word of God. Either it is or it isn’t.

    As I pointed out above, VT’s position compromises the doctrines of grace and leads to what is essentially a reaffirmation of the Arminian position. The fact that the OPC and PCA are full of the Federal Vision and Norman Shepherd teaching is proof enough of this.

    This hatchet job is just that–a hatchet job. The response given by Clark and his supporters was not even mentioned in the program. That is in and of itself proof enough that this program had no interest whatsoever in presenting an accurate account of the dispute or its outcome.

    What is more the charge of rationalism was refuted by the OPC in its findings. YET Oliphint insists on repeating his charges based on thin air.

    While I would agree that Clark’s last book crossed into Nestorianism, I’ve found nothing else unorthodox in his views other than being overly obsessed with redefining terms that do not need redefining.


  22. Charlie,

    You don’t know Van Til very well at all. For him, the Bible is, indeed, the very Word of God. It is the very archetype/ectype distinction which sets Van Til apart from both Kant and Barth. For both Kant and Barth, God is absolute otherness and as such time and eternity are conflated. Van Til points out that both Deism and Pantheism have the same problem of falling into a rational-irrational dialectic.

    And by the way, it was the rejection of the a/e distinction which left Clark outside the Reformed tradition on the doctrine of God. The a/e distinction is of the very warp and woof of the Reformed doctrine of God. That has been made clear by Muller and others.

  23. One last thing, Charlie, how can you say that the OPC and PCA are “full” of FV and Shepherd teachings when both denominations overwhelmingly rejected such teachings? As for Anglicanism, I guess they’ve never had problems with regard to the doctrine of Justification, wright . . . er, I mean, right?

  24. Jim, I can say that the OPC and the PCA are plagued with FV because it is a fact that even PCA blogs are following. Wes White and others are posting continually about such things.

  25. Jim, the fact that Clark was exonerated proves that he was NOT outside the Reformed camp–until he crossed the line into Nestorianism. Until then there is absolutely nothing unorthodox about Clark.

    Fact is, it simply proves how far away from the classical Reformed position that WTS, OPC and PCA have moved for such an accusation to be leveled at Clark at all.

    More evidence is that the Protestant Reformed Church has been attacked as “hyper-Calvinist” simply because it has rejected the incipient Arminianism of the three points of common grace and the “free offer”.

    Clearly, the law/Gospel distinction is history for the WTS and the OPC. Only WSC is holding the line and we don’t know how long that will continue. RTS has likewise gone the way of broad Evangelicalism.

    Judaizers always accuse the truly Reformed position of “antinomianism”. The recent debacle with Frank Turk and the Doug Wilson sympathizers in the Reformed Baptist movement are just more evidence of that.


  26. I didn’t say that Van Til was a Barthian. I said that his view is in that direction since his view of incomprehensibility is way overdrawn. It’s about 2 steps away from Barth’s ineffability view.

    Either God reveals truth to us that is exactly what he wants us to know OR we can know nothing at all.

    Van Til’s creature/Creator distinction is so over drawn as to leave the possibility of revelation almost completely gone.

    I can assure you I understand theology well.


  27. Is it any wonder that theonomists think Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox are “conservative” and “orthodoxy” Christians simply because they confess three ecumenical creeds and moralism???


    WTS and the OPC have sold out to moralism and the Gospel is not about grace but about works. The Manhattan Declaration, Evangelicals and Catholics Together?

    Yes, this is the legacy of your idolatrous adulation of Cornelius Van Til.

    Whatever happened to the doctrines of grace and the Reformed standards?


  28. Charlie,

    I’m not sure what to make of your wild-eyed posts here, you seem to have gone into several directions all at once. And, really, I am not sure where to begin (or end!).

    Perhaps its best to stay with the issue about which I originally posted. You still have yet to shown any connection between Van Til and Barth, but rather continue to show your ignorance about both theologians. How can one “overdraw” the Creator-creature distinction? I mean, either its there or its not. Either its absolute, or there is an ontological overlap between the two. My suspicion is that you are angling for the latter position, which is how I understand Clark as well. But the irony here is that – if the overlap is in fact your position – Clark and Barth have far more in common than Van Til and Barth. Both Barth and Clark are guilty of conflating the Creator and the creature (as I argue concerning Barth in my article “Election and Trinity”). In this way, Clark’s rationalism actually has more in common with Thomas and Hegel than it does Reformed Theology.

    1. Steve M


      Charlie’s posts are not “wild-eyed”. They are only “apparently” wild-eyed. You are simply mistaking them for actual wild-eyed posts. As for the connection between Van Til and Barth, I admit that Van Til was in a class by himself. Since he disagrees with himself approximately half the time, I am sure he must have also disagreed with Barth a great deal of the time as well.

      The characterization of Clark by Van Tilians has very little to do with the actual words of Clark, but this is hardly surprising since their view of God has little to do with the words of Scripture.

      You said, “I mean, either its there or its not.” Jim, you are sounding very “rationalistic”. I hope you don’t go overboard on this law of contradiction thing.

    2. Jim, the distance between Clark and Barth is so far as to constitute one end of the universe from the other end. Fact is Van Til and Barth are part of the same Kantian family. Kant’s denial of the possibility of revelation is reflected in Van Til’s misuse of the doctrine of incomprehensibility to justify whatever subjective opinion he wished to assume for the sake of an argument. Ultimately, Van Til’s position deteriorates into subjectivism and existentialism and leads to Arminianism.

      While I disagree with Clark’s view of the Incarnation, overall Clark’s method is superior to Van Til’s position. The current situation with the Federal Vision error, N.T. Wright, New Perspectives on Paul is evidence enough of that.

      The only thing keeping Westminster Seminary CA on track is Kline’s theology of the two kingdoms. How long that will last remains to be seen.


  29. Jim, as if ad hominem makes an argument?

    Please. I have already stated that Barth’s doctrine of ineffability and his rejection of the possibility of revelation in Holy Scripture has similarities to Van Til’s doctrine of incomprehensibility.

    If you can’t understand that, it’s your problem not mine.

    The fact that Van Tillians resort to sort of irrational arguments as those presented by Oliphint in the discussion simply proves that they are full of themselves and completely unable to be objective or fair in their assessment of Clark. It’s too bad there is no one like a Carl F. H. Henry around today to set Oliphint straight.

    As for my going in different directions, those “directions” are in The Complaint. Over and over again Van Til appeals to common grace, the gracious offer, and a what amounts to a capitulation to Arminianism.

    Clark’s view of predestination is straight forward. God reprobates. Simple enough. What’s so hard about that?

    I might also point out that the Protestant Reformed Church has refuted common grace and the gracious offer many times over. Fact is the Law of God commands all to repent. Whether or not those who hear the Gospel have the ability or not is not in dispute. If no one has an ability to repent apart from irresistible grace, then it is obvious that God does NOT desire for everyone to be saved. God does not “offer” them anything. He commands then to repent and believe. He is under no obligation whatsoever to give anyone an effectual call or irresistible grace.

    This is why Van Til’s view is Arminian while Clark is consistently Reformed.

    It’s laughable that Oliphint and crew claims that Clark is a “rationalist” and that Clark’s view is similar to Arminianism. The fact is, Van Til’s view is Arminian:)


    Read Clark’s answer to the complaint.


  30. I have never liked Van Til even before I read Clark. But after reading Carl F. H. Henry’s God, Revelation and Authority and then reading Clark, I have to say that I much more agree with propositional truth in Scripture than some off the wall theology of “paradox” and ineffable mystery. That has more in common with Barthian existentialism than with Reformed theology.

    Calvin always followed logic to its natural end. Only then did he appeal to mystery. Van Til seems to specialize in irrationality, paradox, and mystery.

  31. Paul Manata has been showing that Van Til’s claim that God is a person, is not unique to Van Til, today he posted comments from Bruce Waltke. Others include Charles Hodge, Herman Bavink, Gerald Bray, and G. T. Shedd.

  32. Steve M


    I actually do want to interact with everything you’ve said so far. I only appears that I don’t because I haven’t so far. I will go back and interact with some things you have said. I assume that you will then explain what your problem would be.

  33. Clark deals extensively with the idea that God is one person and three persons in his book, The Trinity. He points out that Augustine held that position at one point and Clark shows why it is wrong.

    God is not one Person. Every Creed says God is three persons, not one. The creeds all say God is one God, especially the Athanasian Creed. How one God can be one person and three persons is beyond me, especially when Scripture nor any of the creeds say such at thing!

    It’s just this sort of silliness that makes it more obvious that modern neo-Kuyperian and Van Tillian theology is at heart post modernist. Oliphint’s having to continually correct the obvious in the remarks made by his students is evidence enough of this.

    If Scripture is merely an analogy and paradox, it leads to silly conclusions like the idea that God is one person and three persons. We can excuse Augustine because the theology of the trinity was still being worked out. There is no excuse for Van Tillians and other post modernist views.

    I might point out as well that appealing to authority is a fallacy. Simply because you can point to other neo-Kuyperians is not proof that your position is correct. The confusion caused by Van Til’s theoory of incomprehensibility and paradox is the facade behind which Gerald Bray can be Reformed while at the same time embracing high church Arminians and “orthodox” Anglo-Catholics can be “brothers” in Christ. It’s the same facade that John Frame uses to say Joel Osteen is a Christian when Osteen is a cult leader from the Word of Faith movement. It’s the same sort of thinking that leads theonomists to convert to Roman Catholicism. Yes, if Van Til’s theory of paradox is true, then what’s wrong with Norman Shepherd’s confusion of faith with faithfulness/obedience? In the end Van Til’s legacy is to destroy the Reformed distinction between Law/Gospel, justification by faith alone/justification by obedience, et. al.

    The blind followers of Van Til do not get it. That much is clear.


    1. Hi Charlie (and similar others), I applaud your desire to uphold what you see as orthodoxy along the lines of Clark and Robbins. Alas……

      All genuine and sincere followers of Clark’s thought and as those who wish to remain logically consistent, as Clark would commend and exhort them to do so, then all such need to change their mind one way or another.

      As I point out to Steve and gigi, it is simply irrefutable on Clark’s *own* connotative definition of a person, that Clark actually had to say, logically was compelled to say the same thing as and agree with Van Till, if Clark wished to remain logically consistent and NOT fall into some heterodox or even heretical conception of the Trinity and Godhead! Even though we know that Clark objected to Van Till’s claim of 1P = 3P.

      It is childishly easy to prove that Clark’s connotative definition of a person logically compels Clark and all who follow his views on this here, must, simply MUST agree with Van Till, whether they like it or not.

      Of course I realise that many movement-like Clarkian followers will not change their mind on this and instead will rather demonstrate their emotive commitment and proclivity to insults and ridicule, that to actually deal with the proof from Clark’s own words that 1P = 3P is and must be so.

      Again, I commend you to see the archives or join http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GHClark_List1 to discuss in more detail.

      God bless,

  34. “Arminianism stemmed from two philosophical principles [fallacies]: that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom or human responsibility; that ability limits obligation. From these principles they deducted: that faith cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; that since faith is obligatory on the all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal.” – J.I. Packer

    Read the Complaint. You’ll see that Van Til wants to reconcile Arminianism with Reformed theology by appealing to “mystery”.

  35. Mo Se Jun


    What I’m now saying is not current issue, but I have wanted to ask you.
    Do you have any plan to deal with this very interesting subject for Christ the Center: Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God? I think this subject would be very interesting and stimulate more constructive conversation and criticism. I will expect for it.

    1. Hi Mo Se Jun and any others interested in the proof of God’s existence so as not to contradict the Bible, as Van Till *always demanded* it must be and can be done, please see this following free book:


      which explicitly discusses this in great detail. It also shows that Clark _agreed_ with Van Till and in fact Clark actually shows how the proof is to be constructed by _biblical_ Christians.

      Also, can I commend you to see the archives or join http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GHClark_List1 to discuss in more detail.

      God Bless,

  36. Brother Ray,

    I would encourage you to slow down a bit, show some respect and love your brother here. I have seen your name now on two blogs posts, the other was quite long and it is clear you rant quite a bit. This is not a good reputation to have. Defending the faith is one thing, it is another to be contentious.

    Agree or disagree with me and others on this, that is not the issue. It is the reputation you carry on the web that I’m concerned about. It appears that you are a pastor or have been, I would encourage you to reflect on your reputation as a TE.

    1. I deal with his article in specific here:


      The problem is, the Western speculation and innovation concerning the Trinity is wrong. The Nicean and Cappadocian Triadology is must stronger, but this would demand you read other authors than you are used to and become introduced to issues that from my studies western theology has not dealt with and it is enough to make you want to pull your hair out.

    2. Steve M


      I looked at that post.

      Van Til:
      … It is sometimes asserted that we can prove to men that we are not asserting anything that they ought to consider irrational, inasmuch as we say that God is one in essence and three in person. We therefore claim that we have not asserted unity and trinity of exactly the same thing.
      Yet this is not the whole truth of the matter. We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person.

      Van Til is saying that in order not to be considered by men to be irrational we assert God to be one and three in not “exactly the same thing”. This (not asserting God to be three and one in exactly the same thing) is not the “whole truth” (is he saying it is untrue or only part of the truth?) of the matter. The context is clear that when he asserts “the whole Godhead is one person”, he claiming to assert unity and trinity of exactly the same thing. His intent is definitely to present the idea that he is defining person in the same way in both cases. I am not taking his assertion out of context. Those who try to argue for different senses of person are not defending Van Til’s position. At least they are not defending this one. He does have a tendency to contradict himself in his own writings, sometimes within a page and sometimes within a paragraph. I am taking for granted that when he makes the ambiguous statement “this is not the whole truth of the matter”, he is saying it is false. I don’t what to get carried away with logic, but when something is not entirely true it is false (law of the excluded middle).

      It is clear (if Van Til is ever clear) that he means to define person in exactly the same way for both unity and trinity. Therefore 1P = 3P

      1. Steve you said, “I am taking for granted that when he makes the ambiguous statement “this is not the whole truth of the matter”, he is saying it is false.”

        I’m not sure why this is an ambiguous statement, it is not to me and others who read Van Til. There is more truth to be know, there is more to be said, etc. etc. Nothing ambiguous about that. Why would you take it for granted that what “he is saying it is false.” It is not the “whole” truth, there is more to it.

        1Cor. 2:2 “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Steve M. This is not the whole truth of the matter (i.e. there is more to the story).

      2. Steve M


        So you are telling me Van Til is saying when we claim that we have not asserted unity and trinity of exactly the same thing that is not the whole truth (it is true that we have not asserted unity and trinity of “exactly” the same thing), but in addition to that we also assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person.

        Are you telling me, Jeff, that this is the very clearest way that Van Til could have stated the point he was trying to make, if his point was that when he said the Godhead was one person, he didn’t mean person in exactly the same sense for trinity and unity? I realize for you Van Tilians this is the height of clarity, but for me it is nothing if not ambiguous. He seems to be saying the opposite. He says that the reason we do not assert unity and trinity of exactly the same thing is in order to avoid being perceived as irrational. Why mention this if he is simply going to assert the same thing (that the unity and the trinity are asserted of not exactly the same thing). He appears to contrast his view with the former, but you are telling me that he is actually agreeing with the notion that we must avoid asserting trinity and unity of the same exact thing. His position is an addition to this concept.

        You have not yet explained to me the difference between the definition of “person” for the unity and that for the trinity. I don’t know if Van Til ever explained this, but he should have if his position is what you are contending. In fact, if he is saying that there is a difference in the quote above between the person he is asserting the Godhead to be and the person of each of the three ( that they are not exactly the same thing), he owes the reader a clearer explanation.

        As for the verse you quote, I am aware of that verse but I am missing the relevance to whether Van Til is ambiguous. Also the phrase “not the whole truth” is not by itself an ambiguous phrase, but the idea that he is saying the previous statement is true but he has more to add does not comport with the tenor of the paragraph.

      3. Hi Steve, gigi and others,

        who are rightly concerned about Godhead is 1P (person) = Trinity is 3 P (persons) seeming irrationality, allegedly popularised by Van Til (CVT).

        Laudably, you all desire to uphold the rationality and orthodoxy of 1 Godhead consists of the Three Divine Persons, the Trinity. All this is in line with the “orthodox” Clarkian view, to put it so crudely. John Robbins further reinforced this line, and ever since most Clark followers just repeat uncritically more or less the same ideas.

        However, on *Clark’s* own connotative definition of what a PERSON is (a definition I personally love, as it is clear, and cuts through so much mumbo jumbo AND solves real problems), it is absolutely irrefutable, yes irrefutable, that Clark agrees with Van Till that the Godhead is a Person, ONE Person, in the exact same sense (i.e. connotative definition) as the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity. It is childishly simple to prove this logically.

        No critically thinking Clarkian can or should dispute this fact on the pain of their own inconsistency or even irrationality. Ironically, many resort just to such a manoeuvre to avoid where Clark leads, simply to maintain their animosity towards CVT regardless of what Clark’s connotative definition demands.

        It is true however that _psychologically_ most Clarkians do not grasp what is irrefutably contained logically in Clark’s works on this, despite the fact that Clark objects to CVT’s formulation 1P = 3P.

        Please, again, if you with to check or discuss this, either peruse the archives or you are most welcome to join the Clark List http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GHClark_List1

        God Bless,

  37. Jeff, labeling me as “contentious” is ad hominem. I am quite sure that James White has been labeled as “contentious” many times.

    Be that as it may, I’m happy to be called by whatever dirty names anyone would like to call me. I intend to stand for the truth no matter what. Jude 1:3.

    As I said, I’m not a Clarkian. I just happen to believe that propositional truth matters. Carl F. H. Henry was a proponent of the same. It seems to me that Van Til’s legacy speaks for itself. You have theonomy, Norman Shepherd, John Frame and Vern Poythress with their triperspectivalism, and other such nonsense. Even Camden Bucey thinks there is no difference between God’s essence and the distinction of personal subsistences within that one essence. Each person is fully God but the Father is not the Son nor the Spirit. How one can confuse one person of the Godhead with the others is beyond me.


    1. “the distinction of personal subsistences within that one essence. Each person is fully God but the Father is not the Son nor the Spirit. How one can confuse one person of the Godhead with the others is beyond me.”

      I know how, start with the essence/divine nature as the hypostatic source of all the persons instead of the Father as the cause and hypostatic source. This way the persons become different modes of an essence, i.e. modalism, i.e. Augustine’s De Trinitate, i.e. Van Til. On the Cappadocian view you start with the Father as the one true God and from him proceeds the son and the spirit. This way you start with 3 absolute hypostasis and then you move to the common numerical nature. Methinks the Cappadocians already dealt with the Trinity and Augustine did much harm with his highly speculative construction.

      Joseph P Farrell annihilates the Western view of the Trinity here:http://www.anthonyflood.com/farrellphotios.htm

      1. Farrell shows how Augustine’s view posits the persons as attributes. It’s quite embarassing to the entire western scholastic tradition. I will be surprised if the forum here even allows my comments to stay here. Wes White couldn’t deal with them so he just deleted them.

  38. Though Charlie Ray may be hesitant to label himself a Clarkian I am confortable to call myslef a flaming Clarkian in my Philosophy. I must agree with Charlie that Clark’s view of the Incarnation, at least as it was interpreted to us by John Robbins at the end of that book was heresy. I have quite a bit of material that Charlie was not read on well enough to convince me of the Orthodox view when we clashed on the issue here: http://olivianus.thekingsparlor.com/christology/my-resolution-concerning-the-hypostatic-union-by-drake-shelton

    Clark did use Cheung’s defintion of person, or should I say Cheung used Clark’s defintion in his book on the Trinity.

    I cannot say that I appreciate all of Clark’s theology, save his comments regarding God’s knowledge which are fanstastic and I can find very little in John Robbins’ theology that I care for and Red Beetle is not even worth the time. Scripturalist theology as it was handed to America by John Robbins is Baptist Hypercalvinism and at least Crampton was consistent enough to make the change. I am guessing Sean Gerety will turn Baptist pretty soon.

  39. Charlie,

    ” You have . . . John Frame and Vern Poythress with their triperspectivalism, and other such nonsense.”

    I am hoping you can help. I’ve been trying to track down a reputable criticism of triperspectivalism (so far I haven’t been able to find any in the scholarly, peer reviewed literature). I am aware that many have made dismissive statements (e.g., that it’s “nonsense”) but have yet to see any sustained, rigorous, and charitable critique of triperspectivalism. Given your claim, which I quote, perhaps you know of the criticism(s) of triperspectivalism that have as-of-yet eluded me.

  40. The Scripturalists view of the Regulative principle has been the issue that has made me the most upset. Clark’s comments about psalmody and instruments in his Ephesians commentary were a laugh. He clearly never read even ten pages on the issue.

    The images of Christ on the T foundation books seem to clearly reflect Robins’ heretical views on Christology. I spoke with Tom J of the T Foundation when I visited there a few months ago and he told me he had never even read the Westminster Directory for Worship. Crampton wrote a horrible refutation of Psalmody to which I replied here.



  41. Dr Clark’s stuff on Philosophy/Epistemology/Metaphysics is top of the line, best stuff ever written IMO, but methinks he left his area of expertise when he wrote theology books. His theology books on Saving Faith and Sanctification I feel confident to suggest to people but that’s about it.

    1. gigi

      could you be more specific about Clark on Saving Faith and Sanctification and what’s your ‘hesitation’ about them?

  42. David Reece


    John Robbins was not a Hyper-Calvinist. Hyper-Calvinism is the belief that Christians ought not to preach the Gospel to all men. John Robbins clearly taught that we ought to preach the Gospel promiscuously to all men.

  43. Also, John Robbins’ lectures about government/economics and religion have serious anabaptist elements. Robbins frequently used Roger Williams’ arguments against the establishment principle. He frequently complained with ?2 Cor 10:3-5 The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Robbins’ anabaptist view of the state was pathetic. I reject the accusation. We (Covenantor types) do not say that the state’s sword positively is effecacious but operates negatively to keep heretics from spreading false teaching. We do ot believe that the state is a means of grace. It is deterent from the wiles of the devil.

    Rutherford says in Free Disputation:

    “5. The question is not whether religion can be enforced upon men by the Magistrate by the dint and violence of the sword, or only persuaded by the power of the word. We hold with Lactantius that religion cannot be compelled, nor can mercy and justice and love to our neighbour commaned in the second table, be more compelled then faith in Christ. Hence give me leave to prove two things. 1. That Religion and faith cannot be forced on men. 2. That this is a vain consequence, Religion cannot be forced but must be persuaded by the word and Spirit, Ergo the Magistrate can use no coercive power in punishing heretics and false teachers.

    For the first, we lay hold on all the arguments that prove the word preached to be the only means of converting the soul, begetting of faith and that carnal weapons are not able, yea nor were they ever appointed of God, to ding down strong holds, nor can they make a willing people: and Lactantuis said well, What is left to us, if another’s lust extort that by force, which we must do willingly? And that of Tertullian. It is of the law or right of man and of his natural power what every man worships, what he thinks he should worship, nor doth the religion of one either do good or do evil to another man, nor is it religion to compel religion, which ought To be received by will not by force: since sacrifices (of worship) are required of a willing mind. In which I observe. 1. Tertullian speaks not of the true Christian religion which is now in question: but of religion in general as it is comprehensive of both true and false religion. Because he speaks of that religion which by the law of nature a man chooseth, and is humani juris and naturalis potestatis: but it is not of the law of man or natural power, nor in flesh and blood’s power to choose the true Christian religion, that election is Supernatural faith Tertullian there and else where often, as also the Scripture. John 6.44. Math. 16.17. Math. 11. 25, 26, 27. 2. Religion is taken two ways 1. for the inward and outward acts of religion as seen both to God and man as Lactantius, Tertullian and others say, so it is most true. Christians ought not with force of sword, compel Jews, nor Jews or pagans compel Christians to be of their religion, because religion is not begotten in any, by persuasion of the mind, nor by forcing of the man. Again religion is taken for the external profession and acting and performances of true religion within the church or by such as profess the truth, that are obvious to the eyes of Magistrates and pastors, and thus the sword is no means of God to force men positively to external worship or performances. But the sword is a means negatively to punish acts of false worship in those that are under the Christian Magistrate and profess Christian society, in so far as these acts come out to the eyes of men and are destructive to the souls of these in a Christian religion, Tis even so (and not otherwise punishable by the Magistrate;) for he may punish omissions of hearing the Doctrine of the Gospel and other external performances of worship, as as these omissions by ill example or otherwise are offensive to the souls of these that are to lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty; nor does it follow that the sword is a kindly means to force outward performances, for the Magistrate as the Magistrate does not command these outward performances as service to God, but rather forbids the omissions of them as destructing to man… These are of a wide difference, to kill blasphemers, and false teachers for spreading heresies and blasphemies; and to compel them by war, and fire and sword to be of our Chritain religion. As I hope to prove, for the former is lawful, the later unlawful. Its true Lactantius speaks of all religion true and false, that we are to compel none with the sword to any religion, but he no where saith that the Magistrates may not kill open and pernicious seducers and false teachers who pervert others, for the Magistrate is not to compel yea not to intend the conversion of a pernicious seducer, but to intend to take his head from him, for his destroying of souls. And Lactantius denies religion after it is begotten, can be defended, that is nourished and conserved in the hearts of people by the sword, but by the word and spirit. Those are far different tormenting and piety (saith he) nor can violence be conjoined with verity, nor justice with cruelty… I. Because the Magistrate cannot, nor ought not to compel evil doers , murderers, adulterers, robbers, liars, to be internally peaceably, chaste, content with their own as well as they must be such externally, no more than he can com- pel them to inward fear, love, faith in God, and to the external performances thereof. But it doth not follow that therefore the Magistrate cannot command external acts of mercy, chastity, self-contentedness, and should not punish murder, adultery, theft, robbery, perjury, for to punish these makes many hypocritically peaceable, chaste, content with their own, true in their word, as well as punishing false teachers and heretics maketh many hypocritically sound in the faith so Augustine contra Petilian.1.3. c. 83.”

    Clark was a professional philosophical Scholar. Robbins was a professional economist, outside of these spheres these men were simply not prepared to speak on issues that they clearly half read, in an attempt to react against Roman Catholicism.

  44. Steve M


    I believe your intellect pales when compared to either Clark are Robbins. In arrogance, however, you surpass them both.

  45. Pingback : reading Scripture » Divine and Human Knowledge: A Theological Controversy

  46. Steve and Jeff

    You will not solve the trinity issue until you familiarize yourself with the original Cappadocian view of the monarchy of the father. I provide arguments in the article I posted.

    You know nothing about me. Arguments Steve arguments; let’s see you answer the arguments.

    1. Steve M


      Jeff and I are doing fine without your “help”. I prefer to reach my conclusions starting with Scripture and applying logic.

      I know this about you: I know you said, “outside of these spheres these men were simply not prepared to speak on issues that they clearly half read”.

      I know from this statement that you consider yourself so knowledgeable that you can stand in judgement of what the issues are upon which these two brilliant men were qualified to speak. I consider that arrogant. That is my opinion. I believe I am entitled to have one.

  47. Steve M

    I remember giving arguments why I said that so until you refute them it’s back to that old problem of an assertion versus an argument.

  48. Steve M

    I consider it arrogant to ignore the Eastern Church and the church of Scotland, two of the most historically significant and comprehensive institutions that have ever claimed to represent the Christian religion. It is obvious to me that these men did not orient themselves with the theologians and authors of these institutions before constructing their theology. If you have not read anything by John of Damascus, Maximus the confessor, Gregory palamas, or the Scottish authors: Rutherford: primarily lex Rex and free disputation which I am completely convinced neither Clark nor Robbins read, you have no business writing theology. Owen and Aquinas are the other big giants but most western writers have read these two. What I have found in American reformed writers is mostly an ignorance of the eastern (also the Cappadocian brothers) and Scottish authors.

  49. Steve m
    I also resent the implication that my suggestion is my opinion. I am simply providing the Cappadocian and Nicean view of the trinity. I am watching you guys bumble through issues that eastern theologians have already settled but you want to sear your conscience in your arrogance you think your group is the only one who has thought through these issues. That is arrogant.

  50. MikeD

    Jim Cassidy said, “And by the way, it was the rejection of the a/e distinction which left Clark outside the Reformed tradition on the doctrine of God.” To be honest I do not know how this term is used in some of the older writers often referred to but thoughts after much ancillary reading and listening is that people often talk passed each other on this. Some use the a/e to mean there is no point of contact in regards to what “All a are b” means for God and man. If this is the case then Clark denies the a/e distinction (and it should be noted, I’m pretty sure, that he never denied it by name having read almost everything he wrote.) Often I hear of the a/e distinction spoken of in terms of quality verses quantity, but these terms are too shallow to capture Clark’s view, and perhaps VanTil’s. Fine, we all agree to a difference in quantity. But as to quality, there are several ways in which Clark would readily agree to a difference but not one that entails equivocation or analogy (which for him was about the same.) For example, Clark would agree that God’s knowledge is not learned nor can it be lost… heck even preschoolers know that. Wouldn’t that pertain to quality? I think so. Here’s this from the Answer to the Complaint: “The manner of God’s knowing an eternal intuition, is impossible for man.” Sounds reasonably close to at least what I think is an a/e distinction. It’s true because God thinks it and always has, we think it because He has taught us His thoughts. Lastly on this, what the a/e distinction often turns into is either a quantitative discussion pertaining to propositions related to “All a are b,” for example, or a deprecation of language or logic. With all due respect, once somebody goes there they are refuting themselves and flirt with eviscerating the faith.

    Jim, you also said, “How can one “overdraw” the Creator-creature distinction? I mean, either its there or its not. Either its absolute, or there is an ontological overlap between the two.” To be honest, brother, this drives me nuts! I hear this distinction mentioned so often, but it’s not a distinction at all… it’s a separation! I heard an account of how VanTil used to draw to separate circles every class for this C-c thing. But can’t we see that this is not a distinction, but a separation?! That’s how it’s overdrawn. Of course God’s ontology and ours overlap. We share some attributes. God has attributes that are communicable, and hHe has communicated, shared them with us in virtue of our creation. Man is God’s image. This is why, I believe, many think of VanTil is slightly Barthian. If God’s ontology and ours do not overlap at all, then He is wholly other and behind that Kantian wall spoken of. I understand the motive is to keep God holy and man, well, man. But to push Him so far into the sky so as to be out of reach, even given revelation, is not what He has taught us to do.

    Camden said, “Because of his definition of person as a set of propositions, Dr. Clark would necessarily have to conclude that for there to be any real distinctions in the Godhead, the Father, Son and Spirit cannot fully indwell one another. There must be propositions specifically known to each which are entirely unknown to the others.” I’m not trying to be disrespectful but the doctrine of perichoresis never seems to make it past “fully indwell each other.” If the fact that the persons of the Godhead has thoughts (notice I did not say “propositions”) that distinguish them implies the falsity of perichoresis (which it seems to me it would as it is so loosely defined), then so be it. For example, Camden, the Son thinks, “I am eternally begotten of the Father,” but neither the Father nor the Spirit think this. Don’t you agree to this? There are other examples if you want to talk more about it but I think even one will do. Please let me know what a denial of perichoresis seems to lead to that’s so bad.

    Perhaps what is to follow is bad taste… please let me know if you think it out of line but it’s not entirely unrelated. Dr. Oliphint has lectures on the doctrine of God available on iTunes U. It’s either on lecture 1 or 2 on the Trinity (at around the 14 min. mark, please do listen to it for yourself) and he has this to say, and I must say that it truly grieves me. I’ll paraphrase but I’m not overstating the case at all! He said that the Scripture logically and necessarily implies tri-theism, but since that’s not good, we must reject it (almost verbatim). Guys, that’s not a paradox, that’s a contradiction and with that view of Scripture, and God, how can we get anywhere? There are other examples he gives so check them out for yourself. One was that the doctrine of election implies that we should not witness, but since God has commanded us to do so we should reject what was deduced and go with the other explicit statement of Scripture.

    1. James

      I have not heard Oliphint’s lecture and I suppose Camden might want to respond to your perichoresis concern. I do want to respond, though, to your first remarks. You may be correct that the quantity-quality distinction oversimplifies matters, but I suspect that this is because many make this argument without a sufficient grasp of what is meant by “quality”. Those who hold to a strong doctrine of divine simplicity (“God without parts” in WCF 2.1) have historically denied that God has “qualities” whatsoever. As one of Aristotle’s ten categories, qualities are among the nine categories of accidents that modify substances (the tenth category). But God is neither properly conceived as a substance (i.e., he does not “substand”), nor does he possess accidents (i.e., he is not composed of substance and accidents). If there is a qualitative difference between God’s knowledge and man’s it is simply in the fact that man’s knowledge is qualitative (i.e., it modifies his substance) and God’s is not. Anyhow, in answer to your question, no, the fact that God’s knowledge is unlearned and unreceived would not “refer to quality” since God’s knowledge is not a quality (after all, it is the nature of qualities to be received by substances).
      You get off on the wrong foot by presupposing that God is some sort of substance in the same way that creatures are substances. In short, you begin with a univocist conception of the divine nature and mode of subsistence. We only speak of God as a “substance” possessing “qualities” in an accommodated (read: analogical) manner because we have no other way to predicate. But our mode of predication is not isomorphic with God’s mode of being and subsistence. It seems that this, more than any other issue, explains the great difference between Clark and Van Til (though neither seems to have formally pointed this out). Van Til assumes an analogy of being and Clark assumes at least some measure of ontological univocity (here, Van Til sides with Aquinas and the Reformed scholastics against Clark). This brings me to your assertion regarding the “shared” attributes and ontological “overlap” between God and man.
      You state, “Of course God’s ontology and ours overlap.” This conclusion stems from the same univocism that leads you to think that God is a quality-possessing substance. Again, God is not one of those things classified within Aristotle’s ten categories. Also, you fail to mention that Van Til not only draws two circles on the board, but he also connects these two circles with two lines (by which the creaturely circle is suspended from the divine). One line represents man’s ontological dependence upon God and the other represents his epistemological dependence. Your point about God’s inaccessibility would be sound if it were not for these two lines. Your concern about Van Til is misplaced in this connection.
      As for the matter of shared attributes, you again presuppose a univocist conception of attributes (much like Duns Scotus did) in which God’s possesses and exhibits attributes in pretty much the same manner as creatures (i.e., as instantiating some modally neutral universal). I would guess that you locate the difference between God and creatures in that fact that God instantiates attributes in a more perfect or infinite way. At least that is what you seem to be doing with respect to the attribute of knowledge (correct me if I am wrong). If this is the case, then, the difference between God and creatures can only be a difference of degrees. The problem with this way of distinguishing between God’s attributes and man’s is that it seems to locate God and creatures on a single ontological chain of being. It is true that God “shares” attributes with creatures made in his image. But this is not the sharing of “ontological overlap” (which seems patently Platonic), but the sharing of likeness or similitude through creation (which seems patently Christian). If the likeness of man to God were an instance of ontological overlap we would have to suppose that God and man were both participants in some third term (like “knowledge”) which functions for both of them in the way that universals function among created things that share properties. Of course, another way of explaining ontological overlap would be to say that in sharing attributes with God creatures actually participate in God in a ontological sense and therefore a little bit of God’s being is ontologically present in every creature that exhibits attributes similar to his (though I’m sure that you would not argue for this sort of ontological overlap inasmuch as it tends toward pantheism).
      All said, God’s being and attributes cannot be univocally shared with creatures. It is only by an analogy of being, by which I mean “created similitude,” that God and creatures can be thought of as “sharing” attributes. I’m sorry if this sort of Creator-creature distinction “drives you nuts.” Sure, God would be much easier to understand if his being and attributes were simply greater instances of the being and attributes common to creatures; it may even put him within “reach.” But then he would not the ontologically sufficient explanation for himself or the world. He would just be another particular within the world, his greatness notwithstanding.

    2. Mike,

      As a point of clarification, are you asking what the doctrine of perichoresis is and why it’s important?

      The point of the Son’s thoughts is interesting. While the Son does have original thoughts that pertain to him alone (e.g. I am eternally begotten), the Father and the Spirit each know those thoughts. The Son is not privy to private information. As James has alluded to, this is an entailment of the doctrine of simplicity. If we were to diagram knowledge within the Godhead, the commonly used symbol of three partially overlapping circles would not suffice. There is no aspect of the Father that is not fully indwelt by the Son and the Spirit, of the Son by the Father and Spirit, or of the Spirit by the Father and Son.

      Perichoresis does not simply speak to divine knowledge, but also pertains to divine ontology. Perichoresis is the word that encapsulate how the Father, Son, and Spirit relate. All three persons distinctly subsist in the essence of the Godhead. And since God is simple, this necessitates a full subsistence/cohabitation/inwelling/sharing, etc. of knowledge. It’s an important doctrine because a denial of perichoresis would mean, among other things, that the Son is not fully God.

      1. MikeD


        Thanks you for the reply. I was looking for a brief definition and negative consequence of its denial so thank you for that. I hope you do not mind some engagement with your reply.

        You said, “The point of the Son’s thoughts is interesting. While the Son does have original thoughts that pertain to him alone (e.g. I am eternally begotten), the Father and the Spirit each know those thoughts. The Son is not privy to private information.” To be clear, the Father and the Spirit know that the Son thinks “I am eternally begotten,” and they also know that the Son is eternally begotten, but neither think, “I am eternally begotten.” Thus there is a difference in the thoughts of the three persons of the Trinity. Bear with me on this for I’m kinda hammering this out. I appreciate you comment that the Son is not privy to private information and that’s why I would not classify the statement, “I am the Son,” as propositional information (as was noted in my first post). That is, it is not an object of knowledge, it is neither true nor false. How can this be? The statement “x + 2 = 5” is not a proposition. Without the addition of a statement like “x = 3” or “x = 6”, the statement remains open and neither true nor false. When taken in conjunction with either of the above statements, “x + 2 = 5 and x = 3” for example, it is now deemed to be true, and hence, propositional. My contention, at this point, is that the Father and Spirit can lack the thought, “I am eternally begotten,” and still be omniscient seeing that it is not an object of knowledge as indicated, the proposition is open unless one supplies the “I” with a specific person. The Son can think, “I am eternally begotten,” and still be omniscient seeing that it is not a false statement. This allows for a distinction in their minds that is non-propositional, thus allowing individuation (distinction of persons), but does not negate unity of essence seeing that all three have the divine mind, that being one of complete and perfect knowledge of all true propositions. In anticipation of the question as to what it would mean for a person to think a thought that is neither true nor false, we do it all the time and I do not think it unreasonable to think the same of the persons of the Trinity. For example, if I say to my son, “Close the door,” clearly I formulated the thought prior to revealing my will to my son. God likewise has given many commands, imperatives are not propositions, and so it may be said that God thinks many non-propositions. Again, this does not impinge on omniscience.

        You also said, “As James has alluded to, this is an entailment of the doctrine of simplicity. If we were to diagram knowledge within the Godhead, the commonly used symbol of three partially overlapping circles would not suffice. There is no aspect of the Father that is not fully indwelt by the Son and the Spirit, of the Son by the Father and Spirit, or of the Spirit by the Father and Son.” I’m not sure a picture is the best way to go about our formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. How exactly would we visually represent the atonement for that matter? But in being a good sport I’ll say that a plain ol’ circle cannot account for the personal distinctions within the Godhead. In logic when you have one circle and two terms in the circle, it is an “All a are b and, all b are a” proposition, in effect, equating a and b. This is unitarianism. Imagine the traditional drawing, labeling the three circles F, S, and HS. In the F-only portion of the circle we may place the statement, “I eternally beget the Son.” In the region (S and HS), but not-F, we can place, “I am not the Father.” You get the point. But only the statements in the intersection of the three circles are propositions that all three persons think, those essential to deity. Thus, again, we see (as good as a picture can show) unity of essence and distinction of person. As for your rejection of the traditional picture, I have no quarrel with that. The above is perhaps only plausible upon first glance. But in all honesty, Camden, what does it mean that, “There is no aspect of the Father that is not indwelt by the Son and the Spirit”? James, and yourself, would seem to indicate that there are no “aspects” of the Father, if indeed an “aspect” is a “quality.” But I grant you there are aspects to the Father, and to the Son and Spirit as well. One aspect of the Father is fatherhood. I would then contend that the Son does not indwell that aspect, whatever indwell means. An aspect of the Spirit that the Father and Son do not indwell might be procession. But this is all good seeing that fatherhood (as was used above) and procession are not essential attributes of deity. They are personal attributes that distinguish the persons. The Father is fully God, but God is not fully the Father.

        Lastly, “Perichoresis is the word that encapsulate how the Father, Son, and Spirit relate. All three persons distinctly subsist in the essence of the Godhead. And since God is simple, this necessitates a full subsistence/cohabitation/inwelling/sharing, etc. of knowledge. It’s an important doctrine because a denial of perichoresis would mean, among other things, that the Son is not fully God.” Perhaps one word is not adequate. For example, I’ve always thought that “eternal generation” was a way of describing how the Father and the Son relate. This term does not apply to the Spirit. Other relationships may be “proceeds from,” “is sent by,” “is the Father of,” “was raised by,” etc. These are all relationships and the Scripture has many more. If an acceptance of perichoresis depends on prefixes such as sub-, co-, in-, then that’s to many prepositions for me and I reject the Lutheran view of Christ in the Supper while we’re at it. If defined clearly we may find agreement and I’d give a hearty amen to the doctrine but for now I hold that believing that the Son and only the Son thinking, “I am eternally begotten of the Father,” in no way impinges on His deity.

        Camden, the offer of a cold frothy one goes for you too. If you get a shot please do check out the Dr. Oliphint lectures on the Trinity at iTunes U. Maybe we can dialogue over email, but in all honesty, I’d really hope that you just straight out disagree with him on that.

        Kindest regards…

  51. At 36:50-37 Clark is criticized in that defining a person as a collection of propositions means that you must posit real distinctions in the Godhead. Yeah bud that’s called Christianity. Three distinct persons is what christianity must defend. The view of divine simplicity in the west is not christian.

    Van Til was defended as positing that the Essence was NOT Impersonal. This is the exact position that Joseph p farrell has ripped to shreds and has shown to be Neoplatonic and a modalistic heresy. The one God is not the divine nature. The one God is the Father and WITH the father eternally is his word and his spirit.

  52. Notice James’ admission of a “created similitude”. This is the exact point that Palamas nails barlaam of calabria to the wall. This is not Christian. 2 Peter 1:4 posits human participation in uncreated nature.

  53. Jonathan

    That is careless exegesis of 2 Peter. Divine Nature should be contrasted to “corruption…becasue of sin.” This is the Peterine parallel to Paul’s understanding of perishable/ imperishable body. Hence, Peter says later … “the putting off of my body will be soon.” Imperishable body does not equal God’s Ontological status.

  54. Jonathan

    That is a careless gloss of what i said and an even worse exposition of 2 Peter. So you want divine nature to mean what then? You don’t say. I don’t see a divine nature/body contrast anywhere in this chapter. Your twisting of scripture is the typical crap that has convinced me to never step in a scholastic “Reformed” church ever again. So then on your view the imperishable body is then the divine nature? Here is the problem, God doesn’t have body parts or passions. Contrasting a corruptible body to a incorruptible as divine nature is possibly an even worse twisting of scripture than the Arminians do with Romans 9.

    Have you ever read The Triads, the book on the debate between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam of Calabria? If not I suggest you do.

    1. Jon

      Imperishable body is equivalent to Christ’s resurrected and ascended body. 1 Corinthians 15 : 42 – “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” – this is what is meant by divine nature.
      Again in 1 Peter 1: 23 “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

  55. As a Clarkian in my philosophy partaking of divine nature/deification is having the objects of God’s knowledge univocally impressed upon the minds of the elect. The elect therefore particpate in God’s objects of knowledge not manner of God’s knowledge. The Answer goes into detail about this. It all depends on what you mean by ontological status.

  56. Mo Se Jun

    I want you to go to Westminster Theological Seminary website: http://www.wts.edu/
    There you can listen to the lecture, entitled “What is Presuppositional Apologetics?”, lectured by Dr. Oliphint. You can listen on the web or download the mp3 format file.
    In the lecture, Dr. Oliphint explained so-called “Van Til’s contradictory statements” very well, especially “common ground” problem.
    If you hope to know how to reconcile Van Til’s difficult ideas, you should check it.

  57. Jon

    So you don’t think imperishable is referring to a glorified risen body which is of the same substance and realm of our inheritance in heaven?

  58. MikeD

    My philosophical acumen is nil to none so please bear with me. And if this is James Dolezal, or even Jim Cassidy, or any of the crew, hit me up if you’re out in Cali and we can chop it up over a brew.
    I personally have no problem with the word “quality,” and I’m unaware of the details of Aristotelian ontology, but in the end we both agree that God can be predicated. The Scripture is absolutely filled with God being ascribed attributes, and is to be glorified accordingly. I wholeheartedly agree that God is without parts or passions, but an attribute/quality is not a part. We would both agree that God is not a Parmenedian One and one reason among many is because Scripture describes Him in so many ways including by way of negation. As for God not being a substance, then what is God? God is Spirit (or a Spirit if you prefer), eternal, etc, etc. Surely I, nor Clark, nor you, or VanTil think of God as an Aristotelian substance, and yet we regularly and inevitable speak of God’s nature, being, essence, and even substance on occasion, I’m sure. I’m also not sure that I would say my change in knowledge modifies the substance that I am. Being partial to Clark’s idea of individuation (and yet having some problems with it too), I may say that knowledge modifies my person, but not so as to change my identity. The definition of human nature/substance is one and Christ, myself, and you can all be sufficiently predicated with all of those essential attributes of humanity. So perhaps I’m out of my league on that one not knowing enough about ancient Greek philosophy, but I’m pretty sure it’s ok to say that it is a quality of God’s knowledge that it is eternal, complete, etc., and that those qualities may not be stated about our knowledge.
    You said that I “begin with a univocist conception of the divine nature and mode of subsistence.” I suppose my comment was laden with such an idea, but I only began that post after having read a good deal of the Bible, probably far less than you. There, in propositional revelation I see words, words, and words. The same words very often being used of God and man. Some words cannot be said to apply to both God and man. This is the plain teaching of the propositions that God has perfectly chosen to perfectly reveal. No conceptual scheme deprecating words, human language, or logic can hold to the biblical view of revelation. Any attempt to try to prove the doctrine of analogy from Scripture would refute itself, for surely what God truly thinks on the matter is hidden behind the words. As has been said, not by you, James, but by others in the warp and woof of the Reformed tradition, any similarity in the analogy is far outweighed by the dissimilarity (Doesn’t this mean a there’s at least some point of univocal contact?) Great effort and philosophizing would need to be taken to not get a univocist conception from Scripture and a reference or two to Is 55:8, or Ps 139:6 simply will not do. I will not post it here publicly, but I’d be happy to share it with you privately, but I know for a fact that a heavy emphasis on the C-c and a/e distinctions as proposed has led a WTC CA professor to question God’s immutability, after all, who really knows what that means for God? The pages of Scripture are amazingly filled with verses like Joshua 22:22, “The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, He knows, and let Israel itself know—if it is in rebellion, or if in treachery against the LORD, do not save us this day.” Who would not begin a post with univocity after reading verses like this?
    I will say that I “fail[ed] to mention that Van Til not only draws two circles on the board, but he also connects these two circles with two lines.” My bad, my apologies. The omission was not any tactic or ploy, and thanks for the clarification. As for the two lines, beautiful! Christ is the metaphysical, epistemological, and soteriological logos.
    You said, “I would guess that you locate the difference between God and creatures in that fact that God instantiates attributes in a more perfect or infinite way. At least that is what you seem to be doing with respect to the attribute of knowledge (correct me if I am wrong).” I suppose it’s something like that. I mean, the essential difference between God and man are those attributes that belong to Him alone and to us alone.

    From James again, “The problem with this way of distinguishing between God’s attributes and man’s is that it seems to locate God and creatures on a single ontological chain of being. It is true that God “shares” attributes with creatures made in his image. But this is not the sharing of “ontological overlap” (which seems patently Platonic), but the sharing of likeness or similitude through creation (which seems patently Christian).” I’m might be shooting myself in the foot but at first glance the chain of being doesn’t sound all that horrible. Let me preface my thoughts by saying that I have no idea where the phrase came from, nor it’s connotations. If “ontological overlap” reeks of Platonism, then “analogy” reeks of Thomism, and those names don’t get us anywhere. But if ontology is synonymous with being or nature, and those are defined by a set of essential attributes distinguishing one thing from another, and you agree that God shares attributes (even if it is in quotes;-), then an overlap necessarily follows. Again, without knowing all the baggage “chain of being” carries I cannot give a wholesale endorsement, but I’m positive that man is a rational soul that exercises dominion, righteousness, holiness, and creativity. This could be said of God also, in some sense, thus there is univocal predication in that very sense. I’ve never heard the phrase “sharing of likeness or similitude,” but this sounds like an attempt to keep some shared attributes which is the plain sense of Scripture while trying to deny univocity (without being disrespectful, IMO a derivative of a non-biblical theory of language or doctrine of God). Would you agree that God and man can be predicated in any sense with univocity? For example, when the man Christ Jesus (no, I’m not Nestorian) said, “I and the Father are one,” did our Lord think that the Father really meant something else by it? Was Jesus supposed to have secretly thought that this proposition might actually mean the exact opposite to the Father of lights? Before one objects that the meaning for God could not be so far removed from our meaning, and ours is an approximation, let me remind you that this would presuppose that one knows what the Father actually thinks on the matter, but this is impossible by the doctrine of analogy. At best, both of us can only appeal to Scripture, but according to your view, while this should be good enough for us, it is not what God really thinks. It is said, “The revealed propositions are approximations of the archetypal truths in God’s mind,” but then this proposition itself is at best an approximation. Take enough approximations of approximations, or enough analogies of analogies, and soon you are at skepticism… all too soon. Perhaps a tired objection but I just can’t see it any other way. Perchance if an objection to the above example is that it’s different somehow with Jesus do to his two natures, simply replace it all with a garden variety believer thinking, “Christ and the Father are one.”
    Frame says, “Van Til reconciles his pro-system statements with his view of “apparent contradiction” by means of his doctrine of analogical reasoning.” In other words, analogical reasoning is unnecessary if one ditches the notion that all teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory. And as to a denial of any point of identity of content between God’s and man’s mind, Frame continues, “I would argue, however (with the benefit of hindsight), that in making such a statement Van Til was somewhat unwise in his choice of terminology. “Content” is an exceedingly ambiguous term when applied to thought. The “content” of my thought may mean (1) my mental images, (2) my beliefs, (3) the things I am thinking of, (4) the epistemological processes by which knowledge is acquired (including the roles of sense-experience, intuition, reason, etc.), (5) the meaning of my language, conceived in abstraction from the linguistic forms used to state that meaning, (6) anything at all to which the physical metaphor “contained in the mind” may conceivably apply. In senses (2) and (3), there seems to be no reason to assert any necessary “difference in content” between divine and human thought. Surely God and man may have the same beliefs and may think about the same things. As for (1) and (4), Scripture tells us very little about the processes of divine thought–how He knows what He knows, whether He has mental images or not, if so what they are like, etc. Doubtless there are continuities and discontinuities in these areas, but the whole question borders on the speculative. As for (5), surely there is an identity of meaning between God’s words and ours at least on those occasions when God uses human language. Van Til himself, I think, has sense (6) in mind when he denies “identity of content” between divine and human thought. And with that meaning Van Til’s assertion is obviously true. There is “in” God’s mind what can never be “in” any man’s mind, namely, ultimate authority and creative power. Man can never know fully what it is like to think with such self-validating autonomy. Epistemological lordship attaches to every thought God has, and to no thought any man ever has.” Frame goes on with more but up but for the most part this is extremely Clarkian. The one confusion arises in that the proposition pertaining to epistemic lordship is another distinct proposition from, “Christ and the Father are one.” It has no effect on the thinking of the quoted proposition or the identical meaning of the words as Frame noted in (5) above.
    Well, James, that’s it for now. I appreciate your thoughtful response and look forward to more. If not here then in stimulating discussion elsewhere. I may further get myself in trouble with others that I happen to agree with on some epistemological issues, but I hope you see that discussion with a dyed in the wool Clarkian can be polite and maybe even profitable. Who woulda thought it?!

  59. Camden

    Your complaint about contain can be answered easily by positing the attributes as eternal thoughts/affirmations contained within the mind, not contained in some kind of spatial God-can or something.

    When you refer to real distinctions are you referring to the virtual/eminent distinction in Aristotle?

  60. Camden

    When you posit that the essence is not impersonal are you asserting that it is personal? If so how is that not a confusion of person and nature?

    Is the hypostatic source the nature or the father?

    If you admit that the Son has thought affirmations that pertain to him alone this is all Clark was affirming. I never remember Clark affirming that the father or spirit was ignorant of anything in the mind of the son.

    If you affirm that the nature of God is personal are you comfortable with the phrase: “God is HE who is the Trinity”?

  61. Camden

    Do you think their is a real distinction between God’s nature and God’s will? If not then isn’t the creation an extension of God’s nature and we are right back to Origenism?

  62. Keeping Score

    For those of you following the contest between Charlie Ray and Drake for title of “Greatest Living Clarkian” here are a few statistics at this point.

    Charlie Ray: 20 individual posts on this thread; 3175 words written so far
    Drake: 21 individual posts on this thread; 2549 words written so far

    Charlie had a head start, but Drake is quickly closing the gap in this nail-biter of a race.

    I think all will agree that the consolation prize of “Most Amiable Clarkian” goes to MikeD.

  63. Mike D said:

    “we all agree to a difference in quantity. But as to quality, there are several ways in which Clark would readily agree to a difference but not one that entails equivocation or analogy (which for him was about the same.)”

    And, Mike, that is exactly where Clark goes wrong. Analogy and Equivocation are exactly NOT the same thing. And until Clarkians understand that, there will never be resolution in the matter.

    The way you conflated the creator and the creature amounts to pantheism as well. Yes, there is an absolute ontological separation between creator and creature. But its at this point that Van Til stands against Barth who, like Clark, conflates the two. What joins the two together for Van Til is revelation. What holds the two together for Clark and Thomas is ontology, an analogia entis. What holds the two together for Barth is act. But even here the two are bound together by a common element (call it eternity, or God’s time for us, or Geschichte, or whatever). But one thing Barth, Clark, and Thomas all have in common is an analogia entis (all that despite Barth’s claim to the contrary!).

    1. MikeD


      Thanks again for you time. A clarification please. Is this the James I responded to at length? Just checking.

      Jim said, “And, Mike, that is exactly where Clark goes wrong. Analogy and Equivocation are exactly NOT the same thing. And until Clarkians understand that, there will never be resolution in the matter.” Jim, this is no mere assertion. Notice I did not say that analogical and univocal predication are the same thing, but that one amounts to the other. That is, if there is no univocal point of contact in an analogy, then it is meaningless. For example, when I taught the 7th grade once upon a time, in an effort to help the kids understand a concept I said, “The inequality sign acts like an alligator and wants to eat…” and I waited hoping for the kids to fill in the blank. My assumption is that the kids in this inner city barrio had enough exposure to critters to know that an alligator is a ferocious carnivore, but to my dismay they had no idea. Time to switch the analogy (or simile if you like). The point being that if there is no known univocal commonality between the two analogues, then we are as ignorant about God as my students were about number theory and large reptiles. Lastly on this, when I say “amounts to” I mean by logical implication. For example, Barthianism is not the same thing as universalism, but after some chewing on things don’t we end up there?

      The short bit that follows brings me no pleasure, and I hope this does not seem condescending. I perceive no rudeness on your part, but when in friendly debate, or any debate, you cannot simply ask a question like, “How can one “overdraw” the Creator-creature distinction? I mean, either its there or its not. Either its absolute, or there is an ontological overlap between the two,” and then when somebody responds with at least some thought say in return, “The way you conflated the creator and the creature amounts to pantheism as well,” without a mild bit of argumentation. It is mere repetition of an assertion. I’m serious, show me a verse that clearly teaches absolute ontological separation and I will repent. Am I conflating the C and c, by simply disagreeing with you? I might as well say you conflated the two by not capitalizing “creator” in your last post!

      Perhaps, not even knowing what the analogia entis is, this would suffice as a proof to refute Clark. I should note that I’ve never seen this term used favorably by Clark, although I know that’s not conclusive concerning his view. After looking around a very small bit on the internet, if I understand the analogia entis correctly at all, I would have to practically scoff at the accusation. Here’s a quote from Bonaventure, “All created things of the sensible world lead the mind of the contemplator and wise man to eternal God… They are the shades, the resonances, the pictures of that efficient, exemplifying, and ordering art; they are the tracks, simulacra, and spectacles; they are divinely given signs set before us for the purpose of seeing God. They are exemplifications set before our still unrefined and sense-oriented minds, so that by the sensible things which they see they might be transferred to the intelligible which they cannot see, as if by signs to the signified.” Anybody who has read a single page of Clark would know that he is not a bottom-to-top kinda guy and thoroughly rejects empiricism and natural theology. He’s a biblical dogmatist. Maybe I’m way off on that but this is clear: that in order for the charge of pantheism to stick, all would need to be able to be predicated with all the essential attributes of deity or that God has parts, which is not the same as saying He has attributes. Just because humans have common communicable attributes from, does not make them divine. In other words, a ball and an orange may both be round, but just because one assents to that proposition does not mean they can be rightly charged with orange-ism.

      And now I feel like Paul in Acts 23:6-20 (Please read it). What follows tells me that my question earlier is a silly one… Jim is not James, or at least I certainly hope not!

      James said earlier, “Van Til assumes an analogy of being [analogia entis] and Clark assumes at least some measure of ontological univocity (here, Van Til sides with Aquinas and the Reformed scholastics against Clark).” Jim says, “What holds the two together for Clark and Thomas is ontology, an analogia entis”

      Ok y’all, on the next Christ the Center, Jim and James will take off the gloves and see who the real VanTillian is. Meanwhile MikeD, like Paul, will sneak out the backdoor with the tribune to argue another day… 🙂

  64. Steve in Toronto

    This thread has become so long and convoluted that it has become almost impossible to follow. I confess that I am surprised that Dr. Clark has so many passionate advocates after all these years. I hope what our hosts will convene another discussion perhaps with a scholar who is less invested in preservation of the reputation of one or the other partisans. I am also disappointed at how freely the terms “heretic and heretical” are being thrown around. Surly the correct word to use is “heterodox”.

  65. I don’t see the kindnes in over 30000 alleged Christian factions. Looks to me like you Americans, assuming you are American, see love for God as hatred for men and make peace treaties with men that you may make war with God. The atheist principles behind the First Ammendement and Federalist Paper 10 did its job with skill now in convincing the Christian Church that there really is no One True Religion. Samuel Rutherfors’s Free Disputation has been vindicated and John Locke’s Letters On Toleration have cashed in, in full. Sometimes I feel like I live a Twilight Zone here in America. As soon as I can I’m getting the H E double hockey sticks outta this circus.

      1. Sorry to disappoint you but I am not an active member of any local Church so the circus is operating completely seperate from me. I am taking Camden’s silence and your stupidity as an admission that my questions cannot be answered by the Scholastic and Van Tilian attempt to synchronize Aristotle with Jesus. I bit you adieu and leave you to your created and modulated reality.

      2. Drake,

        That is an unfortunate assumption. I feel that your questions have been answered in previous comments and in the several episodes we have dedicated to this issue. The influence of Eastern Orthodoxy upon your Trinitarian thought is troubling and I encourage you to continue reading Hodge while also looking at the appropriate sections of Bavinck. Let me remind you that many of us have families, church offices, jobs, and student responsibilities. While I want reformedforum.org to be a place for healthy discussion, you may notice that our comment threads are typically lacking. This is because we don’t sit around hitting refresh waiting to debate people. I appreciate your interest in this subject, but I’m off to other things such as recording more programs and taking my licensure exams.

  66. Hodge says, [Systematic Theology Vol 1(New York: Scribner Armstrong and Co., 1873) pg 371-374]

    “The attributes of God, therefore, are not merely different conceptions in our minds, but different modes in which God reveals Himself to his creatures (or to Himself) ; just as our several faculties are different modes in which the inscrutable substance self reveals itself in our consciousness and acts.”

    What is the difference then between the persons and the attributes if both are defined as modes of the essence? This is modalism.

  67. Steve M

    I have listened to the program several times and it is difficult to understand what is being said about the “impossiblity of the contrary”. It appears that Vantilians believe that it is possible to prove one’s own position to be true by demonstrating the impossibility of the contrary, but showing a contrary view to be false (or impossible) does not prove that yours is true. Two contrary propositions can both be false. Two contradictory propositions cannot. One must demonstrate the impossiblity of the contradictory in order to prove the truth of ones own position. Are Vantilians not aware that attempting to prove ones own position to be true by demonstrating the impossibility of the contrary is logically fallacious?

    1. Hi Steve, what you say on contraries vs contradictories is precisly correct – technically speaking.

      Alas, many movement Clarkians (I am not say you are one; and I am very favourable towards Clark myself) simply do not look at the context of Vantilian’s intented meaning of this peculiar phrase “impossibility of the contrary”. The way they use it (see their many examples) they mean to claim *contradictories* it would seem to me. And, colloquialy, people often use “contrary” when they mean “contradictory”. So, unfortunately, imo both sides therefore add to the confusion.

      See: http://www.scribd.com/doc/56556977/Biblical-Christianity-is-Reasonable which discusses this in more detail.

      Please see archives of (or join) the Clark List http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GHClark_List1 to discuss in more detail. God Bless,

      1. Steve M

        GH Kay

        So when Van Tilians say contrary, they really mean contradictory? Do they prove the impossibility of the contradictory, with the TAG?

  68. JonR

    I know it might be a little late in the game but I would love to hear a response from Jim or James (or anyone for that matter) to MikeD’s last post. He has some very good arguments and points that I think need to be addressed. His reasoning seems to be clear and unambiguous and extremely well thought out. I’m sure there are others like myself who would love to hear very intelligent theologians answer some tough questions about Van Til’s philosophy especially when its done in a manner of humility and patience.

  69. Camden

    I have read every post in this forum and not one time have you or anyone else even come close to the issues I have requested of you. I have yet to find a “reformed” blogger answer these issues. Like I have asked many other “bloggers”: why start a blog if you will not deal with antithetical posts? You guys only deal with questions that seminary students ask. Don’t start a blog if you can’t argue.

    I am currently reading through Richard muller’s post reformation dogmatics.

    The amount of time you took to reply here you could have used to answer my questions. I just don’t think you or any other van tilian knows the answer. Mullers stuff is addressing some of these issues but I just don’t believe In Aristotelianism.

    1. There is no need to imply deceit or disingenuousness. I trust you can conceive of the possibility that someone does not want to perpetuate a draining and pointless conversation. The Reformed literature abounds explicating the relation of the persons to essence. Moreover, we have spoken about this on a variety of episodes.

      As a point of clarification, this isn’t a blog proper. It is a portal to a series of audio and video programs that just so happens to allow comments. The distinction may be a fine one, but our proper blogs are historiasalutis.com and feedingonchrist.com.

  70. Ariel

    This was a great show, I appreciate the effort the explain the controversy. I had some issues with how the Creator-Creature distinction isn’t answered by appealing to analogy. Aren’t analogies reducible to the presence of an identical (univocal) property amongst equivocal properties? So don’t analogies imply at least some univocality?

    Sorry if this isn’t the venue to be asking this sort of question, but this has been bothering me for a while.


    1. James

      In three-term analogies of being you are correct that there is a univocal element inasmuch as two terms are said to be analogical to one another on account of their common relation to some third term. The third term is the univocal element. But this is not the only sort of analogy of being. In two-term analogies the two terms do not stand in a similar relation to a third; rather one term (the analogue) is said to exist or to be this or that in a dependent relation upon the other term (the prime analogate). The Dutch Thomist Jan Aertsen has some useful observations on this point (brackets are my own):
      “A certain evolution can be discerned in Thomas’s description of the modes of analogy; in his later works he distinguishes two modes [see De Potentia 7.7; Summa Contra Gentiles I.34; & Summa Theologiae I.13.5-6]. The one mode is the order of many to ‘something else’: something is predicated of two things in relation to a third thing that is prior to them, as ‘being’ is said of quantity and quality [two of Aristotle’s predicamental categories] in relation to substance. The other mode is the order of two things to ‘one of them,’ as ‘being’ is said of substance and accident. Accident and substance are not related to a third thing, but the former refers to the latter [meaning that the ‘being’ in accidents is not a principle of actuality that is discreet from the actuality of the substance inasmuch as it derives this being from the substance’s own act of existence; substances exist per se, but accidents exists per aliud]. The names said of God and creatures are predicated analogically, not according to the first mode, since one should then have to posit something prior to God, but according to the second mode.” [From Aertsen, “Medieval Philosophy and the Transcendentals” (Brill, 1996), 386]
      In short, we should not conclude that there is only one sort of analogy of being. On the horizontal level (between created things) there are both three-term and two-term analogies. On the vertical level (between God and creatures) only the two-term analogy is acceptable. Anyhow, the two-term analogy is the one the one that precludes a third univocal element. In fact, I think this is what Van Til probably imbibed from Bavinck who in turn imbibed it from the Reformed scholastics who themselves received it from Aquinas. Unfortunately, neither Aquinas nor any of those who follow his two-term analogy of being ever seem to treat the metaphysical niceties ex professo (that is, until the arrival of scholars like George Klubertanz, Jan Aertsen, and John Wippel among others). Maybe this is why Van Til wrongly assumed that Thomas’s horizontal use of the three-term analogy of being is what he meant when he spoke of divine and creaturely being as analogically related (recall that Van Til charges Thomas’s analogia entis with univocism – of course on the horizontal level this univocism has nothing to do with the Creator-creature distinction in being). Anyhow, I think that Van Til and Aquinas both mean to use a two-term analogy when speaking of God and creatures, though I’m not sure how many Van Tillians acknowledge this common bond with the Angelic Doctor.
      As for your comment about properties, I can only say that God does not have “properties” in any proper sense since it is the nature of properties to inhere in substances and to determine the being of the substance “to be” this or that in an accidental sense. That is, properties are accidental deteminations of being and God’s being is wholly undetermined (to wit, there is no divine passive potency that is made to be actual by the reception of accidental properties – this is part and parcel with the Thomist and Reformed doctrine of God’s simplicity). Francis Turretin is correct, I think, when he says that we speak of divine properties according to our conception. His point is that our conception does not correspond univocally with attributes as they are in God. I leave you with his words:
      “Attributes are not ascribed to God properly as something superadded to his essence (something accidental to the subject), making it perfect and really distinct from himself; but improperly and transumptively inasmuch as they indicate perfections essential to the divine nature conceived by us as properties.” [“Institutes of Elenctic Theology,” 3.5.2]

  71. Ariel

    Thank you so much for the response! Your explanation sparked my interest even more. Is there any webpage or online resource that might have a similar explanation for a two-term analogy?


    1. James

      Hi Ariel,
      I don’t know of any websites, but a few useful volumes include:
      Jan A. Aertsen, “Medieval Philosophy and the Transcendentals: The Case of Thomas Aquinas.” Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.
      George P. Klubertanz, “Introduction to the Philosophy of Being.” 2nd ed. New York: Appelton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1963. (not properly on analogy, but a useful metaphysics textbook to own)
      George P Klubertanz, “St. Thomas Aquinas on Analogy: A Textual Analysis and Systematic Synthesis.” Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1960.
      Bernard Montagnes, “The Doctrine of the Analogy of Being according to Thomas Aquinas.” Trans. E. M. Macierowski. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2004.
      John F. Wippel, “The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to Uncreated Being.” Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000.
      In addition to these you should also consider Thomas’s notion of “causal participation” inasmuch as this seems to underlie much of what he concludes about the analogy of being between God and creatures. I think his teaching on the creature’s participation in God (as an effect partipates in its non-univocal efficient cause) is what makes his position virtually indistinguishable from Van Til’s (though Van Til seems unaware of Thomas’s participation doctrine). You can find treatments of participation in the Aertsen and Wippel volumes as well as in the volume by Rudi te Velde entitled, “Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas” (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995). These volumes will definitely enlarge your appreciation for the both the subtlety of Thomas’s teaching on analogy as well as its potential usefulness for expressing the Creator-creature distinction.

  72. Ariel,
    James can come up with a thousand different distinctions in modes of being but they are all simply different positions around a single point of impalement: THEY ARE ALL CREATED. His created similitude is never going to be able to get him participation in anything uncreated 2 Peter 1:3-4, he will never give the basis for an infant’s salvation, he will have only created powers, and independent ones at that, and he will leave the door wide open for any and all heretics to posit all kinds of different kinds of knowledge, and isn’t that exactly what Rob Bell has done by departing from propositional revelation to a relational knowledge, which basically gives him the ability to make the Bible mean whatever he wants and that is exactly what you have in America. I cannot even keep track of how many Scholastic and Van Tillian “Reformed” denominations there are now. With these never ending modes of knowledge you will continue to see never ending factions and divisions which is directly contradictory to 1 Cor 1:10 and scores of other passages of scripture.

    I am comfortable erring on the side of Pantheism. When Paul said, Acts 17:28 28. For in him we live, and move, and have our being” he was quoting a Pantheist poet. Clark says in his Philosophy of Gordon Clark ed. Nash that he was an Idealist of sorts and said he would rather be called a realist and that’s the issue with these guys their minds participate in nothing real, it is only a representation of a reality, i.e. nominalism. Clark obviously distincguished between the “physical” created and temporal world and God but there are strong elements of Idealism and Pantheism in Clark and I believe it must be so to square with 2 Peter 1:4.

    The fact is the Bible does not teach a created and natural way to knowledge:

    Ecc 8:17and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, “I know,” he cannot discover.

    Jhn 6:45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. Jhn 6:46 Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.

    Psalm 119: 99 I have more insight than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, Because I have observed Your precepts.

    Mat 11: 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.

    1 Cor 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

    1 Cor 1: 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God.

    I am all about having a complete philosophical theory and logic and deduction and inference and systematic theology, but get this, these men (James and co.) are saying if they really get bare and raw with you that you must know and believe Aristotelianism, and not just logic or philosophy, but the distinctive theories of Aristotle for you to understand and believe your Bible. Paul warns in Col. 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

    I am convinced that the scripture teaches that God is immutable, has no becoming in him, no variation, or shadow of turning, no contingency in his thinking, and that there is only one “what” concerning God but this idea of Simplicity has been taken too far and the whole idea that there are no real distinctions in God is not Christian. There is a difference in saying that we don’t know a number of things about God because he has not revealed them to us and saying that God is beyond predication. I find it interesting that these men have used very specualtive and fine nuances of Aristotle’s categories in predicating things about God so they can escape predicating anything of him at all.

    I am also waiting for the proof that just because metaphysical classification is different between man and God that THEREFORE, the objects of knowledge between God and man are different. Clarkians say that the objects of the knowledge are the same but the manner of the knowledge is distinct. True James said, “All said, God’s being and attributes cannot be univocally shared with creatures”. So how does that prove that the objects of knowledge are different?

  73. Ariel,

    In short, the things these men are saying completely ignore the dabte between Gregory Palams and Barlaam of Calabria on the exact issue in The Triads. Read this before you become a scholastic slave to matter and sensation. True this admits that the Eastern Church got a number of things right that Western Scholastics are not comfortable with but hey, seeing the state of religion in the West, they don’t a leg to stand on.

  74. I am reading Muller’s Post Reformation Dogmatics Vol 3, pg. 200 and ran into a quote I could not ignore. Speaking of the issues of predication and the finite/infinite problem “Brakel expressly cautions
    we are very unfit to comprehend anything about God who is an infinite Spirit. Can a small bottle contain an entire ocean? How then can finite being comprehend an infnite Being?”

    This clearly shows that any real distinction between God’s nature and will is meaningless with the Scholastics. There are no distinctuions in God at all to them. To grasp one aspect of God is two grasp all which Clark denies. Owen tried this in John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Volume 9, A Dissertation on Divine Justice, pg. 360-363 [London: Printed for Richard Baynes, 1826] http://olivianus.thekingsparlor.com/theology-proper/john-owen-on-necessary-and-free-volitions-in-god, in reponse to the Arminian objection that Calvinism posits a completely necessary God and the inter trinitarian acts are no different than external acts of creation. Yet the scholastic cannot do this. To posit an act of the will is to posit an act of the nature. This is Neoplatonism and it is not Christian.

    Farrell says, “Because the One [The Neoplatonic One] was simple, any act of the One in willing to create finite particulars was also an act of Its essence, since essence, will and activity are all “wholly indistinguishable.” Creation is but the “overflowing of the divine essence into creation.”17 There was, in theological terms, no distinction between the essence and the energies of the One, or between theology and economy. This is an important point to remember in the ensuing discussion.”

    The Scholastic position is the Origenist tradgedy all over again.

  75. If one takes Aristotle’s view of the categories and his view of non contradiction (which Clark rejected and asserted that Aristotle failed to construct this principle) you must be a monthelite. Aristotle said,

    “It is impossible for anyone to believe the same thing to be and not to be…and if IT IS IMPOSSIBLE THAT CONTRARY ATTRIBUTES SHOULD BELONG AT THE SAME TIME TO THE SAME SUBJECT…obviously it is impossible for the same man at the same time to believe the same thing to be and not to be.”

    Aristotle, Metaphysics Book Gamma:3:1005b20, p. 737 from Free Choice in Maximus the Confessor by Farrell

    Here is your problem: Christianity posits two DISTINCT natures in one subject/person and two DISTINCT wills in one subject/person. Aristotle won’t have it. Aristotle’s/Your position is the exact position that Sergius and the monothelites held to which you are and must be. Scholasticism is monothelitism.

  76. Jared

    Drake, are you really looking back at your series of posts and not having a moment of self-realization? Like it or not, you come across as more than a little deranged by your incessant and solipsistic comments in response to just yourself, and the scattered content isn’t even worth responding to. Seriously, take it or leave it, but a little self-awareness and at least a little bit of openness to the possibility that you might not be “getting it” would go a long way toward your own development of thought. Give it a break for a bit, do the work and come up with something that a reputable journal is willing to publish publicly, then we can talk.

  77. “scattered content isn’t even worth responding to.”

    Assertion, Opinion;

    “do the work”

    I’ve been doing it everyday for 12 years now and I don’t know you but from my “experience” with American Christians I can guess that I have paid the costs a hundred fold more than you. Pay the cost and then we can talk. Lose your woman, every friend you’ve had your whole life, your scholarship from school, your career and your health for Christianity and then we can talk, grasshopper.

  78. Steve M


    You said, “Lose your woman, every friend you’ve had your whole life, your scholarship from school, your career and your health for Christianity”.

    Please define “Christianity.”

      1. Steve M


        The propositions of the 66 books of Scripture together with their logical implications.

  79. Steve M

    I am still waiting for any Van Tilian to explain why it is OK to state that the Godhead is one person and three persons but there is something wrong with saying that Christ was one person and two persons. Which of his natures was impersonal? Was it his human nature or his divine nature?

    I am not really expecting an answer because I know how busy you become when asked a question you have difficulty answering.

    1. Steve, let me remind everyone what Van Til does not say. He doesn’t say God is one hypostasis and three hypostases. It seems much of the objection in this thread stems from the apparent issues with the creedal formulations. Van Til was using the word “person” in a philosophical sense when he made his statement.

      When the Son of God takes to himself a human nature he does not add to himself a philosophical person – one who thinks, wills, loves, etc. Nor does he instantiate any type of perichoresis. Does that make Christ’s human nature impersonal? The human nature can never be considered apart from the hypostasis or the Son as “philosophical” person. There is no human nature walking around which the Son picks out and decides to take to himself. The Son’s human nature is conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary. It is always hypostatically united to the Son of God.

      In the Godhead, we must consider the unity (ousia, essence) as thinking, willing, loving, etc. just as much as we can consider any individual hypostasis (“creedal” person) doing these things. Yet we always know that any individual hypostasis fully indwells the other hypostases in and through subsistence in the essence. Van Til’s statement is meant to answer two questions: Does the Godhead, acting as a unity, think, will, love, etc? Yes. Does each individual hypostasis think, will, love, etc.? Yes.

      1. Steve M

        Thank you for answering. I was not expecting an answer this long after initial posing this question.

        “When the Son of God takes to himself a human nature he does not add to himself a philosophical person – one who thinks, wills, loves, etc. Nor does he instantiate any type of perichoresis.”

        Are you saying that Christ’s human nature did not think will or love?

        Please define a “philosophical person”.

        Please define “person” at all. No one else on this blog has defined person other than to scoff Clark’s definition.

        Your reply is quite deep. It is really too deep for me to understand. I’m thinking I may need my shovel.

      2. Steve, we want to maintain the Chalcedonian formula and reject monophysitism. Christ’s human and divine natures are united to one another, but always remain distinct. Some throughout church history have held that Christ’s human nature was absorbed into his divine making one new nature (Eutychianism). Even others have held that Christ’s human nature had a “living principle” but that the Logos took over that role – becoming what we typically consider as the human nature’s mind (Apollinarism). Those views are outside the bounds of orthodoxy.

        My intent was to stress that Christ’s human nature does not exist apart from being hypostatically united to the eternal Son of God. The human nature thinks, wills, and loves, though not independently from its permanent union to the eternal Son of God.

        Definitions of person in a philosophical sense can be very slippery. Some, such as Locke, have defined person as something with self-consciousness or self-awareness over some duration. Boethius presented another definition that became very influential in church history. He defined a person as “an individual substance of a rational nature.” Basically for Boethius a person is that which possesses an intellect and a will. The intellect and will do not constitute a person as such – rather a person is that which possesses an intellect and a will.

        I am not intending to defend any of these positions. A biblically informed philosophical defense of personhood and its relation to Trinitarian theology is not going to fit in a comment. I simply want to point out a few of the dynamics undergirding Van Til’s statement that God is one person and three persons. He was not intending to deny the creedal formulations. He was speaking in a more philosophical sense.

      3. Steve M


        If neither you nor Van Til define what a “person” is in Van Til’s formulation of the Trinity (that the Godhead is one person and three person) then it is simply meaningless. You haven’t defined it nor have you cited a definition in Van Til’s writings. I am justified having no idea what you (or Van Til) mean. I am also justified in stating that neither of you have any idea what you mean.

        You have given no meaningful response to the question of why can’t Christ be one person and two persons when the Godhead can be one person and three persons. You have stated that both Christ’s natures think will and love, but since you are unwilling (because you say it would take too long to do it in a post) to define person you have no good reason to deny that Christ was both one person and two persons other than it would conflict with certain traditions you hold to.

        I don’t believe that Christ was one person and two persons or that the Godhead is one person and three persons, but VanTilians cannot consistently deny that if the one is possible the other is not possible, but then Van Tilains are not known for holding consistency in high regard.

      4. Steve M


        I think I should clarify my last comment. It is confusing.

        VanTilians cannot consistently maintain that if the one is possible (that the Godhead is one person and three persons) the other is not possible (that Christ was one person and two persons).

      5. Steve M


        You said, “A biblically informed philosophical defense of personhood and its relation to Trinitarian theology is not going to fit in a comment.”

        I asked for a definition of person. Apparently, you won’t define it because you believe you would have to write a book on the subject? I am not buying that explanation (or lack thereof). I think it is because any definition you might provide would expose the contradictory nature of your viewpoint (and Van Til’s).

      6. Steve M


        It is interesting to me that you are willing to define the historical positions of other people, but unwilling to perspiciously put forth your own view.

      7. Steve M


        You wrote,”Van Til was using the word “person” in a philosophical sense when he made his statement.”

        Then you wrote, “In the Godhead, we must consider the unity (ousia, essence) as thinking, willing, loving, etc. just as much as we can consider any individual hypostasis (“creedal” person) doing these things.”

        Am I correctly understanding you to be saying when Van Til speaks of the unity of God as one person he is speaking of a “philosophical person”, but when he speaks of the three persons of the Godhead he is speaking of “creedal persons”?

        Is it possible to distinguish between a creedal person and a philosophical person without first knowing what a person is?

    2. Steve M


      You wrote, “Van Til was using the word “person” in a philosophical sense when he made his statement.”

      Neither you nor Van Til are willing to tell us what a “philosophical person” is. What is the difference between a philosophical person and a theological person? I assume you consider there to be some difference.

      If unwilling to define person, why use the word at all? Is it just that you and Van Til purposely wish to obfuscate?

      I believe that is the case.

  80. Steve,
    The word, “impersonal” is kind of weak to explain the Orthodox position. By imperson what the ecumenical councils were trying to convey is that the human nature did not have a human hypostasis but was hypostatized in the Logos. And by “in the Logos” I am not implying some kind of spatial abstarct concept that the body of Christ moves into like a cosmic teleportation device. It simply means that the human nature did not have a human hypostatization but that the Logos is the hypostatization of the human nature. There is never some temporal moment when the human nature is some piece of unhypostatized human stuff just floating around in Mary and maybe that’s what comes to your mind and its not what the Ecu councils are trying to convey. The Orthodox position is that at the moment of conception the Logos hypostatizes a single numerical human nature and hypostatically at the level of person becomes the hypostasis of a single human nature. There is no temporal moment when the human nature is impersonal, it is just not humanly personal.

  81. Steve M,

    In reference to the Clarkian thing about how human will implies a human person I suggest to you Maximus the Confessor’s works and the 6th Ecumenical Council.


  82. Steve M


    I don’t have the foggiest idea of what you are talking about. I was looking for a response from a Van Tilian. I have gathered that you are not one. If you are a Van Tilian, please answer in a fashion that is consistant with Van Til’s position. If not, please let a Van Tilian respond.

  83. Steve,

    Not to spare the Van Tilians which I am not, I am Clarkian in my epistemology and metaphysics. To understand the fallacy of the Van Tillian/Augustinian view of the Trinity you have to go to the source: ADS Simplicity and seeing the hypostatic source to be the divine nature instead of the Father. The latter is Cappadocian and Nicean, i.e. Orthodox. Van Til/Augustine see the hypostatic source to be the divine nature and so they talk about the nature itself being personal, which is modalist par excl.It’s a classic confusion of nature and person and a massive confusion among the persons. Read the Cappadocian brothers, the council of Nicea and Fr. John Behr’s stuff on the monarchy of the Father; it is awesome and Joseph P Farrell’s stuff on Augustine’s view of the Trinity in his Introduction to the Mystagogy is the check mate to Van Til/Augustine on the Trinity. Farrell’s criticisms of Calvinism are straw men, but his criticism of Scholasticism is yummy to the Scripturalist tummy.

  84. Steve M

    I look at the responses to your programs and I see 1, 5, 0, 7, 2, 13, 1, 12, 0, 4, and on this one 170. Perhaps you should realize there is a lot ofd interest in this subject. You could have another program and this time make it fair and balanced by having top representatives from both sides for a discussion. Just a suggestion.

  85. Pingback : Dr. Oliphint And The Clark/Van Til Controversy. But Wait, There’s More! | defectivebit

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  87. Thanks for the show. Learned a lot and much to follow up on. I was at Westminster during Van Til’s last years and we had him speak at our broadly evangelical baptist church. I will never forget his response to a question from a parishioner about what to do if someone you are witnessing to didn’t accept the Bible as a source of authority and therefore to argue from it was futile. Van Til’s response was to tell them that if they did not accept the Bible, they were going to hell. Huh? Did I just hear that? That’s how presuppositional apologetics came across at Westminster. I think I understand the issues concerning point of contact, etc. And I do know that salvation comes through special revelation. But this rather harsh and feidistic response set me back in my chair. It felt like someone from Bob Jones University had found his way into our pulpit. Like many others, including RC Sproul, I hold that while the illumination of the Holy Spirit must sovereignly move in those to whom we speak, our conversation cannot descend into a “I told you to do it, now do it” barrage.

    1. Steve M


      I wouldn’t worry about it too much, I’m sure he also contradicted himself on this advise somewhere else. It was likely only an apparent contradiction, so we can accept both that we should tell someone who does not accept the Bible as authoritative they are going to hell and that we should not do so. We should make no attempt to reconcile this paradox because all teaching of scripture is apparently contradictory. On the other hand, how can we fault the person who does not accept the Bible as authoritative if every one of its teachings appears to contradict itself? Hmmm….

      I forgot that my knowledge (if you can call it that) is (only) analogical and, therefore, must be paradoxical. That clears things up. Well, I guess it both does and does not clear things up.

      Need I say more?

    2. Sheesh

      This personal recollection of yours (from 30+ years ago) is not very helpful because it can’t be verified. Even if CVT did say such a thing, we should judge his arguments on the basis of what he has written. From your website I gather your dislike conflict (a commendable quality); you’re a broad consensus IVF sort of guy. You are exactly the sort of student that President Clowney was trying to attract to Westminster in the mid 70s. But I wonder if your get-along disposition might not be the reason you disapprove of Van Til’s transcendental argument and method; Van Tillian apologetics is just too confrontational for your taste.

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  91. Luis Gonzalez

    The clear evidence in all these threads is the irnorance of the “LOGOS DOCTRINE” held by many church fathers and obvious doctrine in the Goespel of John. Ronald H. Nash in his book “The light of the mind, agustines theory of knowledge”, clearly demonstrates that van tyll`s position is only one that leads to skeptism.

  92. Carlos E Montijo

    “Because of his definition of person as a set of propositions, Dr. Clark would necessarily have to conclude that for there to be any real distinctions in the Godhead, the Father, Son and Spirit cannot fully indwell one another. There must be propositions specifically known to each which are entirely unknown to the others. How can my position be modalist when I affirm and retain real and simultaneous distinctions? The alternative presented lends itself to tritheism.”

    That is not true. Both Dr. Oliphint and Camden are misrepresenting Clark’s view. Of course Dr. Clark wasn’t arguing that Father or the Son or the Spirit may not know everything. Clark was saying that, although every person of the Trinity is omniscient, there are certain propositions that would APPLY ONLY to the Son (e.g., I walked the shores of Galilee), others that would apply only to the Father (e.g., I am the Father), and others only to the Spirit (e.g., I indwell God’s people). And obviously, the Father knows that Jesus walked the shores of Galilee and that the Holy Spirit indwells believers. All of the persons in the Trinity know the exact same thing–i.e., everything–including the propositions that apply to only one of the Persons, which also distinguishes that person from the other two.

    Joel Parkinson has written a very helpful article about this called “The Intellectual Triunity of God.” Here is a brief quote:

    Thus the subjective thoughts of the three divine Persons and their objective knowledge are not one and the same even though they are both all-encompassing. The Father does not think, “I will or have died on a cross,” nor does he think, “I will or do indwell Christians.” Only the Son can think the former and the latter is unique to the Holy Spirit. But all three know “the Son will die or has died on a cross,” and “the Holy Spirit will or does indwell Christians.” So the subjective thoughts distinguish the Persons even though their objective knowledge is shared and complete.


  93. Jeff

    I am going to be very honest and say I am not at the level of understanding the viewpoints of these two men, but as an objective observer who came here to learn, I did not learn a thing. I want to first say that I do not mean for what I am about to say to be a personal attack or name calling. I just found this to be a very unfruitful discussion and as Christians this should be an example of how one should not interact with others, especially fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I may not have a very good understanding of the views of Clark and Van Til, but I do believe with certainty that they were both very Godly men who would be saddened by the way this discussion proceeded. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with the beliefs of these men but at the end of the day the goal is not to show who is right but to (TOGETHER) come to an understanding of God’s truth, in love and kindness, and frankly I saw very little of that here. Many, or even all of you, may think I am wrong and out of line, but that tends to be the case with people who study deep matters such as these. I know from personal experience that is is easy to get carried away and feel the need to express my intelligence, but I assure you all, and I need to work on it too, that this did not please the Lord. Please be humble and examine your conduct before dismissing what I have to say. We are all imperfect and need to be willing to humble ourselves in admittance when we are out of line. I believe a simple change in language would have helped here.

    In Christ,


  94. Peter

    I have a question regarding this profound topic.

    When you say God is one person or one consciousness who thinks wills and loves. While at the same time remaining 3 distinct persons or consciousnesses who think will and love.

    Are you saying when they come together as one consciousness there is a mixture of the 3 consciousnesses and with respect to the one consciousness the 3 are no longer distinct while at the same time in another sense with respect to the 3 consciousness they are distinct?

    Or are you saying that because each knows each other fully including their thoughts and fully indwell each other. Although the 3 conscioussnesses don’t mix they are together in perfect unity and when speaking about them as a unit they could be considered one consciousness or person?

    Thanks God bless


  95. Pingback : 10 Reasons to Reject Scripturalism: A Response – Part 1 of 10 | Scripturalism

  96. Hey Camden & Dr. Oliphint,

    When we say that God’s knowledge is qualitatively different from our knowledge. Is this merely in relation to His Archetypal-Knowledge (i.e. His essence), or does the qualitative distinction maintain it’s character even in respect to God’s Ectypal-knowledge (Theology that we know analogically).


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