Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How Clarkian Scripturalism Undermines Christianity

Gordon Clark, originally opposed by the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary when Clark tried to be confirmed within the OPC denomination -- enters into a new controversy even though he has been dead since 1985. Clark was initially opposed mainly because of his concept of "primacy of intellect". In this concept, Clark who was more a philosopher than a theologian advocated an almost humanistic notion that via the intellect, man could rightly conclude truth. Taken with Clark's other teachings which included that there is no such thing as paradox and that the Bible is the Word of God written, a person could approach the Bible as a logician would approach a mathematical equation. (NOTE: a paradox is only an apparent contradiction, not an actual contradiction. So, while the Bible may contain paradoxes, we Christians believe the Bible contains no contradictions)

SCRIPTURALISM: The Bible First, Then God
Clark's position is often called Scripturalism because it emphasizes the Bible over God; or that it claims God cannot be known outside the Bible. While this may at first seem a noble and Christian concept, it in effect is closer to the Islamic idolizing of the Qur'an.  No Christian would dispute that God is most revealed through the Bible but that is not the only place He has revealed Himself; and even the Bible says so.

SEED OF RELIGION: Native Endowment
The historic Christian approach has been to advocate that God "natively endowed" humanity with a sense of divinity. Granted, having a sense of something beyond mortal existence is different than a text explaining God's specific qualities and attributes; but to skip this understanding undermines not only Christianity but the Bible as well. For if God is only to be known from a text, then a person should spend all their effort and time comparing the competing religious texts; and this is exactly how we'd expect a philosopher like Clark to think.

To juxtapose the Bible with God seems odd but Scripturalism causes this imposition since Scripturalism calls for a human to approach the Bible with "intellect" first or "primary". In no way am I saying that intellect plays no role in reading the Bible. The Bible is "logical" in as far as it presents historical accounts and general facts, however there are many things within the Bible that challenge the human intellect. There is a reason Jesus would use parables; especially when trying to relate the "logic" of concepts such as "the first shall be last".

Clark's effect is too often a sterilization of faith in that the Bible becomes more of a logician's toolkit for debate and dispute than God's Word that touches the heart of man. "Clarkianism" knows little to nothing of the heart and instead tries to force fit God into the mind of man. So, while Clark may have left the Church with some useful tools for apologetics, the overall effect of Clark's views will undermine Christianity by making Christianity nothing more than a first-century Judean philosophy that cannot be believed without assent to a book. God is not apparent within Clarkianism until God is found within the pages of the Bible.

Let the reader be aware, that I am an inerrantist; in that I truly believe the accounts in the Bible as we have it today are as God intended to relate to mankind. So, I am in no way belittling Bible reading or study. But for Clarkianism to relegate humanity's awareness of God to a book seems quite out of step with historic Christian principles and teachings.  Indeed, Romans 1:20 says:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse

Further, Christian theologians from John Calvin to John Gill to B.B. Warfield were in 100% agreement that God reveals Himself innately even before a person picks up a Bible (or drops it and waits for it to open to a page they claim "speaks" to them).

John Gill on Romans 1:20
“…they had some knowledge of the truth, but they would not profess it: and that they had such knowledge of it, he proves from the author of it, God, who showed it to them, and from the means of it, by which they must, and did arrive to some degree of it, namely, the works of creation; (ref)

John Calvin on Romans 1:20
“…he seems here to have intended to indicate a manifestation, by which they might be so closely pressed, that they could not evade; for every one of us undoubtedly finds it to be engraven on his own heart, By saying, that God has made it manifest, he means, that man was created to be a spectator of this formed world, and that eyes were given him, that he might, by looking on so beautiful a picture, be led up to the Author himself…God is in himself invisible; but as his majesty shines forth in his works and in his creatures everywhere, men ought in these to acknowledge him, for they clearly set forth their Maker: and for this reason the Apostle in his Epistle to the Hebrews says, that this world is a mirror, or the representation of invisible things. He does not mention all the particulars which may be thought to belong to God; but he states, that we can arrive at the knowledge of his eternal power and divinity” (ref)

Calvin further says, “We conceive that there is a Deity; and then we conclude, that whoever he may be, he ought to be worshipped: but our reason here fails, because it cannot ascertain who or what sort of being God is.

Calvin continues: “But this knowledge of God, which avails only to take away excuse, differs greatly from that which brings salvation”.

Calvin follows: “He plainly testifies here, that God has presented to the minds of all the means of knowing him, having so manifested himself by his works, that they must necessarily see what of themselves they seek not to know — that there is some God; for the world does not by chance exist, nor could it have proceeded from itself.

B.B. Warfield commenting on Calvin’s concept of humanity’s “natively endowed” knowledge of God
“The knowledge of God with which we are natively endowed is therefore more than a bare conviction that God is: it involves, more or less explicated, some understanding of what God is. Such a knowledge of God can never be otiose and inert; but must produce an effect in human souls, in the way of thinking, feeling, willing. In other words, our native endowment is not merely a sensus deitatis, but also a semen religionis (I. iii. 1, 2; iv. 1, 4; v. 1). For what we call religion is just the reaction of the human soul to what it perceives God to be. Calvin is, therefore, just as insistent that religion is universal as that the knowledge of God is universal. “The seeds of religion,” he insists, “are sown in every heart ” (I. iv. 1; cf. v. 1); men are propense to religion (I. iii. 2, med.); and always and everywhere frame to themselves a religion, consonant with their conceptions of God.” (ref)

Thus, for anyone to promote Clark's "Scripturalism" view over the Christian view of man's "natively endowed" knowledge, that person is promoting a concept that will have severe negative ramifications. Those ramifications could affect everything from how to approach cults and heresies to basic evangelism to breeding an arrogant elitism that knows no limits...as it puts man's "intellect" first.

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