Rev. Woudenberg is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
In the July issue of Christian Renewal there appeared two letters each in its own way accusing the Protestant Reformed Churches of following “human logic.” But really, what grounds are there for that?
Let’s first, however, see the letters:
Please allow me to enter the fray once more. Rev. Woudenberg, in his response to Tim Gallant (May 27), says that “Tuininga is driven to claim that to be Reformed is to be neither a consistent Calvinist or an Arminian, but both:” The reason Woudenberg comes to that strange conclusion (one that I deny) is that according to him my position is not “logically airtight.” The point is that a consistent Calvinist believes what the Bible says, even if it contradicts human logic. According to Woudenberg, the teachings of Scripture must fit with human logic, and otherwise we can’t accept them. Luther called reason a “whore” and I’m ready to say the same thing about logic if it gets in the way of biblical teaching. Van Til accused Gordon Clark of subjecting .God to the logical rule of non-contradiction. God was subject to human logic. But Van Til rightly took issue with this, saying that God stands above the law of noncontradiction. He is not subject to human logic. I greatly fear that Woudenberg (and the PRs) are falling into the same trap as Clark.
The Arminian says, Give me man even if I lose God. Hoeksema says: Give me God; even if I lose man. A plague on both houses. Neither Arminianism nor hyper-Calvinism is really Reformed. Each takes one horn of the “logical” dilemma. But the Bible teaches both. You can’t lose any one of these and still be Reformed. God is 100% sovereign in our salvation, and man is 100% responsible for his salvation. If I’m saved, God gets all the credit; if I’m lost, I get all the blame. That may seem logically inconsistent, but that matters not. The Bible clearly teaches both, and that’s why I believe it. Logic is not the criterion of truth. We call this a paradox, an apparent contradiction.
C. Van Til is right when he says, “When Hoeksema says or assumes that God’s revelation in Scripture may be expected to reveal nothing which will be apparently self-contradictory, we demur.” And A.C. DeJong is .also right when he says, “Consequently with our logic we may have to make various predications which seem to be contradictory for us, although in reality these predications are not contradictory. God’s actions and attitudes, being unique always elude exhaustive logical analysis.”
And then immediately following that appeared this letter:
It is no small irony that Bernard Woudenberg (May 27) states that I am “caught on the horns of a dilemma” because I have brought up biblical issues which all of us have difficulty relating to one another. He writes of me, “these tensions to him I am sure are very real, as his logic demands they be.” What logic is that? Well, it is a “rejection of consistent logic.” He writes further that “proper logic recognizes” the limitations imposed by Scripture, “and is satisfied to stay within [them], without having to struggle with their contradictions, as Mr. Gallant seems pressed to try.” Apparently, my “faith is seen as a leap into the incomprehensible darkness of enigmas and dilemmas.”
Why is this so ironic? Well, it is simply that Mr. Woudenberg has misread me almost entirely. My whole point was to show that the effort that the Protestant Reformed make to resolve everything into their. symmetrical paradigm of election is a violation of the very limitations of which Woudenberg speaks (I am grateful to him for writing so eloquently in defending the very point I was making our logic is limited, by both our finitude as creatures, and our fallenness as sons of Adam). The PRs come upon the truth of election and the truth of the free offer of the Gospel, and being unable to reconcile them neatly, simply reject one of them. They create the dilemma through rationalism, and then are forced to undo it by denying truth. The Protestant Reformed approach, if applied in these other areas which I used as examples, would force them into clearly unbiblical theology in thoseinstances as well. That is the heart of my point: rationalism of this variety is a faulty approach to hermeneutics (interpretation).
Am I “pressed to try” to struggle with so-called contradictions? Is it true that I “think I must” accept contradictions, and therefore answer every question that could be brought up concerning the Scripture? Nothing could be farther from the truth. To the contrary, it is the PRs who are bent on answering everything to avoid even the appearance of contradiction.
Moreover, I most emphatically do not believe (and never implied) that the Scripture contradicts itself. What I do say, however, is that although contradictions are nonexistent, nonetheless, because of our limitations, we are often forced to humbly admit that we cannot organize all the biblical data into neat, little corners of whatever system we have formulated. As I wrote earlier, the textured richness of God’s Word simply will not always fit into the limited envelopes of our reason; it transcends our capabilities to draw lines between every fact with which it confronts us. I am in Mr. Woudenberg’s debt for reinforcing my argument, particularly in the latter half of his letter, and thus undermining his own.
The issue is not whether or not I believe in logical consistency: I affirm that as strongly as does Mr. Woudenberg. The issue is dependent logic. Reason is not an independent agent. We must submit it to the rich revelation of God. We must realize that when we come to the end of our reasoning ability, we do not thereby come to the boundaries of truth. Rather, we are again reminded of the transcendent majesty of an infinite. God, and are moved to adoring praise. This, I contend, is the proper response to mystery, rather than denial.
Finally, Mr. Woudenberg begins by suggesting that I and others have attacked a straw man – that PRs do not believe and teach what is ascribed to them. Yet in a (lengthy) article he never once comes close to demonstrating the nature of the supposed slander. Why? Had I-misrepresented Protestant Reformed thinking, should that not have been corrected?
I must suggest that the problem is not misrepresentation. What is so offensive is that I see Protestant Reformed rationalism in the light in which I believe Scripture demands me to see it. And in that light, I must cast down the vain imaginations of those who would compartmentalize an incomprehensible, transcendent God. We may, in a limited way, understand God, but we can never comprehend Him. God may be unveiled, but He will never be naked in our sight, unlike our position before Him.
In the last analysis, we must decide whether we will appeal to human reason as the arbiter of Scripture, or to Scripture as the judge of reason. This is the great question in hermeneutics, and it is precisely here that we must stand firmly on the authority of Scripture. Contrary to Woudenberg, orthodoxy’s fate depends, not on the foundation of the PR’s thinly disguised rationalism, but, by grace, on a wholesale commitment to the Word of God.
To these letters I replied as follows:
Dear Mr. VanDyk,
I appreciate your willingness to allow this discussion on logic and Christianity to continue. At times it may seem rather slow and repetitious; but, through it all, I believe, some very basic realities are being brought to the fore.
With the letter of Rev. Jelle Tuininga, in your July issue, I can be brief, and sadly so. For, continuing as he does in his rejection of logic, he becomes himself a prime illustration of the danger this holds, as when he concludes, “God is 100% sovereign in our salvation, and man is 100% responsible for his salvation.” This is shocking. That God is sovereign in salvation, of course, goes without saying, for God is sovereign in all things. But when he proposes that man is “100% responsible for his salvation,” he strikes at the heart of the gospel. If there is one thing Scripture brings out, it is that, if man is responsible for his salvation, all is lost; for it is a responsibility which can never be met [Gal 3:11,12]. And so the good news is precisely that God has taken the responsibility for salvation and placed it on his Son, so that all who believe in him – through the gift of faith [Eph. 2:8] – may be saved. To deny or ignore this is to take grace away.
And, if Rev. Tuininga would still reject logic nonetheless, may I refer him to the articles by Dr. Carl W. Bogue in the May and June issues of Outlook, entitled G. C. Berkouwer: A Hole in the Dike? Dr. Bogue, having studied and written his dissertation under Berkouwer, provides a perceptive analysis of the development of his theology, only in the end to find “the hole in the dike” to be: “Given the increasing commitment to faith versus logic, or correlation versus systematics, it is not hard to detect why Berkouwer has been increasingly at odds with classical Reformed orthodoxy” (emphasis Bogue’s). The dike has been opened and apostasy, as we know, now engulfs the GKN, and the fatherland we love, while we can only plead with brother Tuininga not to continue riding that tide.
More intriguing, however, is the contribution of Mr. Tim Gallant which follows. Apparently he does not share, at least outrightly, Tuininga’s rejection of logic, and even somewhat agrees with our description of logic as to its ability to determine some doctrines with certainly, and others not. But one thing he, as Tuininga, will not surrender, his insistence that the Protestant Reformed are given over to “human logic.”
Now there is, of course, what may be called “human logic.” Aristotle had his Strict or Scientific Logic, even as the Medieval philosophers had their Topical Logic, and the Renaissance its Rhetorical Logic, each in its own way claiming to be able to begin with experience and through human reason arrive at ultimate truth, including the reality of God – and even at times to be able to replicate the thinking of God. But who have ever been more adamant in denying these to be the product of God’s grace, or even pleasing to him, than the PRs? And, if Mr. Gallant can point out for me a responsible PR teacher who has ever based his teachings on any of these, I certainly would like to know when it was, and where.
That, however, is not to deny that there is a good and proper logic, found in the Bible, used by it, and rooted in such biblical principles as these:
1. Knowledge of the reality which underlies all things, and by which only they can be fully understood, comes to us only from God through Jesus Christ, His Son [John 1:18], who not only brings us this truth, but ,also provides the new life by which only it may be perceived [John 3:3].
2. This truth is provided for us in the Bible by means of the miracle of inspiration [2 Tim. 3:16], so that in the end it is God’s Word and not man’s [l Pet. 1:19, 20] by which we can come to true wisdom and understanding [Prov. 1:lff.].
3. In this revelation God, being one God [Deut. 6:4], cannot and will not contradict Himself [Num. 23:19]. He does not reveal to .us everything [Ex. 33:20], but what He does will continue to be so forevermore [Is. 40:8]; while the opposite is to be condemned [Gal. 1:8, 9].
4. Because of this, and following the practice of the Bible itself [Acts 17:11], we can by comparing Scripture with Scriptures [John 5:39] seek out those current truths which run consistently through the whole, and so determine which doctrines may be believed (as we have in our Reformed creeds), while recognizing those which are only possibly or probably so.
5. When these doctrines are received by a true faith, they will produce sanctification [John 15:3], i.e., a desire and will to live that Christian life which is implicit within them, not as a condition to receiving salvation, or certain covenant benefits, but as a response of love and gratitude for all God has done [l John 5:2; HC:Q 86]; for, if this is not so, the faith claimed is not real, inasmuch as faith without works is dead [Jas. 2:17].
These were the principles with which Herman Hoeksema developed his theology (known to be an exegetical theology throughout); it was in these he and Prof. Ophoff schooled those of us who studied under them; and, as far as I know, they have been followed by all who have taught among us since.
But in the end Gallant too would join in calling this “human logic.” One might be inclined to take this personally, as a means of avoiding the substance of our theology by the use of disparaging labels, except for the fact that Dr. Bogue brings out how much deeper it goes than that. This is simply neo-orthodoxy’s method for defending irrationality. Time honored terms (such as, logic, reason, consistency, systematics, orthodoxy, etc.) are disparaged by being set in antagonistic juxtaposition over against the mainstay terms of Christianity (as faith, praise, doxology, etc.) so as to justify its use of terms which have always before been looked at askance (contradiction, dilemma, mystery, enigma, paradox, etc.). And now in his most recent article (July-August issue) Bogue brings out the purpose behind it all, namely, “denying the orthodox doctrine of election” by changing the idea of “pre-determination” to “pre-desire” so that the “offer of grace” may be for all. No wonder Berkouwer so vehemently rejected “consistent views like Hoeksema’s? – which tide Tuininga and Gallant, as VanTil and DeJong before them, are now quite willing to ride, into what Bogue demonstrates to be essentially Kantian noumenal philosophy (the real “human logic” perhaps?). But remember, the price is there to be paid – as a man sitting next to me on the plane from Amsterdam to Budapest last month brought out as, with a shrug, he sought to explain why only a handful show up for worship anymore at the great old Oude Kerk on a Sunday morn, “I was raised Gereformeerde,” he said, “but we in the Netherlands don’t go to church much anymore.” And why should they? If one thing can be true, and its opposite too, the difference between right and wrong is gone; and what is left? And what can we do, but pray to be kept from being swept along through that same “hole in the dike” out into the troubled sea [Is. 57:20] of modern irrationality.