An Interesting Discussion

Both because the discussion is interesting in itself, and because we are discussing the case of Dr. Clark in our paper, our readers may be interested in the following report, which we reprint from “The Presbyterian Guardian” of April 10, 1945:

The Presbytery of Philadelphia of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church held its regular spring meeting on March 19th in Mediator Church, Philadelphia. The principal item of business was the consideration of the proposed answer to the complaint against the actions of the presbytery relative to the licensure and ordination of the Rev. Gordon H. Clark, Ph. D. Discussion of the Clark case lasted for ten hours, without reach ing any final conclusion of the matter, and presbytery adjourned at midnight to reconvene ten days later.

The devotional hour was led by the Rev. Glenn R. Coie, pastor of Knox Church, Silver Spring, Md., and the subject of his meditation was “Holy Boldness.”

The presbytery was called to order at 11:30 and constituted with prayer by the Rev. Edward L. Kellogg, moderator. Following the reading of communications, and after lengthy discussion of the docket, the presbytery placed only two matters ahead of consideration of the Clark case. A pastoral call from Faith Church, Lincoln, Nebr., which had been referred from the Presbytery of the Dakotas, was placed in the hands of licentiate Delbert Schowalter, and an Auditing Committee was appointed. After disposal of these two matters, the presbytery recessed for lunch.

Corresponding members who were seated by the presbytery included Mr. Mark Fakkema, general secretary of the National Union of Christian Schools and an elder of the Christian Reformed Church, and all ministers and elders of other presbyteries of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, of- whom there were a great many in attendance.

Ruling Elder Alan Tichenor, chairman of the committee elected to answer the complaint, gave a brief report of the committee’s work. The answer was not presented for action but was filed with the clerk. It was merely stated that the committee had prepared an answer, printed two hundred copies, and distributed one hundred twenty-five, leaving seventy-five still available. Thus the report which takes the form of a reply of the presbytery, and is introduced as an answer proposed to the presbytery by the committee, was not actually proposed to the presbytery as presbytery’s answer to the complaint. Immediately after this brief report, Dr. Robert Strong of Willow Grove moved that the complaint be dismissed.

Dr. Ned B. Stonehouse of Westminster Seminary then delivered a lengthy address designed to show that the evidence which the complainants had presented to the presbytery in the complaint established their claim that various views of Dr. Clark were contrary to Scripture and the subordinate standards of the church and that therefore presbytery should make amends by granting the pleas of the complaint. IN also attempted to prove that the proposed answer to the complaint, rather than setting aside the contentions of the complaint, actually went far in confirming its substantial validity.

Dr. Stonehouse accused the proposed answer of failing to set forth accurately the theology of the complaint and asserted that many of the charges of misrepresentations of Dr. Clark’s views “would also fall to the ground upon a more careful reading of the complaint”. The answer, moreover, “leaves no doubt that there is a real difference between the theology of the complaint and the theology of Dr. Clark.” He denied that the issue revolves about Dr. Clark’s declaration that he “accepts the Westminster Confession of Faith.’ To say that is to make subscription to our standards a mere formality.” He also denied that the issue was one of apologetics or that the complainants were insisting on subscription to a particular apologetic. “Rather,” he said, “we are insisting that theology shall be truly Scriptural, and that there shall be no compromise with rationalism at any point.”

Dr. Stonehouse then discussed in considerable detail the doctrine of the knowledge of God. As there are two levels of being, the Creator level and the creature level, so there are two levels of knowledge, and man’s knowledge must necessarily always be analogical to God’s knowledge. “Truth is one. And man may and does know the same truth that is in the divine mind because of his likeness to God and because of the fact of divine revelation.” But God is also incomprehensible, even when truly known, since His revelation of Himself is always a revelation to a finite creature and is therefore a condescension to man’s finite capacities.

Dr. Stonehouse then discussed the concept of analogy, and stated that, since Dr. Clark “repudiates the doctrine that man’s knowledge of a particular proposition necessarily is on a lower level than God’s knowledge of the same proposition, and insists that knowledge of propositions must be identical for God and man, it is clear that he holds a view of this doctrine sharply at variance with the Reformed doctrine.” He cited quotations from Dr. William Brenton Greene, to whom the answer had made strong appeal in support of its concept of divine incomprehensibility, to prove that Dr. Greene actually held to the view of the complainants.

The proposed answer strongly emphasizes that Dr. Clark holds that “’the manner of God’s knowing, an eternal intuition, is impossible for man.’ ” Dr. Stonehouse acknowledged this and agreed with it, but declared that “a mere distinction as to how knowledge is possessed does not demand the conclusion that the content of knowledge differs.” He also held to be inadequate Dr. Clark’s contention that God’s knowledge differs from man’s because God knows all the implications of any proposition, for it is a fact that even the human mind cannot know it as a bare proposition, apart from an actual understanding of implications. The revelation of it to man brings knowledge of it, but the divine knowledge of it necessarily stands on a different level. . . . The distinction drawn between propositions and their implications does not as such establish a qualitative difference between the knowledge which God possesses and that which is possible to man.”

Dr. Stonehouse attacked as inadequate Dr. Clark’s introduction of “infinity” into his formulation of this doctrine. For Dr. Clark, he said, it is only the infinite number of propositions which God knows which stands between man and the possibility of an exhaustive knowledge of the content of the divine mind.

Dr. Stonehouse concluded his address with a detailed consideration of the answer’s treatment of a large number of Scripture passages dealing with the doctrine under scrutiny. He maintained that the interpretation and exegesis of the answer were faulty and inadequate, and attempted to prove that these passages of Scripture, far from supporting Dr. Clark’s position, really supported the position of the complaint. In numerous instances he appealed to commentators in support of his contentions.

Dr. Stonehouse was followed immediately by the Rev. Floyd E. Hamilton, who, throughout the debate, appeared to be the best informed protagonist of the theology of Dr. Clark. “There is still misunderstanding,” he declared, “in the minds of the complainants regarding Dir. Clark’s position.” To try to clear up that misunderstanding, he read the following statement, prepared by him and approved by Dr. Clark as being in agreement with his position:

The position of the complainants regarding the incomprehensibility of God seems to be that incomprehensibility is an incommunicable and unchangeable attribute of God that existed before the creation of men or angels, and is not in any way affected by revelation to man or by man’s understanding that revelation. No matter how much man may come to know about God throughout eternity God will be just as incomprehensible and His knowledge will be just as incomprehensible to man after aeons in eternity as it is today. God’s knowledge and His incomprehensibility are on a different plane from man’s knowledge and are not in any way affected by the knowledge which man may come to enjoy of God’s revelation. They therefore hold that it is an error to speak of God’s being “incomprehensible except as He reveals truths concerning His nature.” In using the word “except,” it is claimed that we are impinging on the majesty of God and bringing Him down to the level of the creature.

It would seem that in using the term incomprehensible in this way the complainants are really confusing incomprehensible with God’s omniscience and knowledge, and adding the content of these terms to the meaning of incomprehensibility. It is perfectly true that God’s omniscience and knowledge do not change in any way through the process of revelation, and all the knowledge that man may come to enjoy about God throughout eternity would not change God’s omniscience in any way. Man could not become omniscient without becoming God. God was omniscient before creation, and His attribute of omniscience is not affected by revelation or by the increase in man’s knowledge. But that is an entirely different thing from saying that God is incomprehensible. The moment this word is used it has a double reference, namely, toward man as well as toward God. Its principal reference, however, is toward man and has to do with what man knows about God.

Now there are two meanings of the word comprehend. It means first, to apprehend, or to understand, and to say that God is incomprehensible in this sense is to say that man cannot understand Him. He becomes comprehensible to man, in proportion as man understands the revelations which God gives to man about His nature or knowledge. It is in this sense that the answer declares that God’s nature is incomprehensible to man except as God reveals truths to man concerning His own nature.

The other meaning of the word comprehend is to have complete and exhaustive knowledge of an object and to place a limit around that which is comprehended, so that everything about it is included in that limit. To say that God’s knowledge is incomprehensible in this sense of course is to say that man can never place limits around the knowledge of God and can never have a complete and exhaustive knowledge of any phase of His knowledge, for in order to have such knowledge man would have to know as God knows, with the same mode of knowing, as well as to know the knowledge God has in all its relationships and implications. It would be correct to say that God’s knowledge of any truth is always incomprehensible to man in this sense, for if it were comprehensible in that sense, man would have to know it as God knows it, and to know all that God knows about it, that is, to know all its implications and relationships to other truth. It would also be true to say that God’s knowledge of a truth is a unitary thing, so that the mode of His knowing, the implications and relationships to other truth all color His knowledge of the meaning of any individual truth. To say that, however, is really to confuse the implications, relationships and mode of knowing with the specific meaning of the truth itself.

Now Dr. Clark’s position is that if man comprehends, or understands the meaning of any truth, truly, the meaning is the same for both God and man. That meaning is not incomprehensible for man in one sense for man understands the meaning God places on the truth revealed to man. That meaning is the same for God and man. In the other sense, however, God’s knowledge of the truth is incomprehensible to man even when the meaning is the same for God and man, for God’s knowledge of the truth is God’s mode of knowing the truth in all its relationships and implications.

It seems quite evident that there are two confusions in the minds of the complainants regarding these matters: (1) In the first place they assert of incomprehensibility what is true of omniscience when they say that God was incomprehensible before His works of creation. (2) At the same time they confuse the two meanings of incomprehensible, so that when the answer uses the term in one sense they, i.e., the complainants deny that position while they really have in mind the other meaning of the word incomprehensible. For example, God’s knowledge of the Trinity is incomprehensible to man, in the sense that man can never understand it in all its implications and relationships and cannot enter into the self-consciousness of God. That knowledge will always be incomprehensible to man in these senses. However, at the same time man can comprehend, i.e., understand, any revelations God may choose to give man about the Trinity, and those revelations have the same meaning for both God and man.

Now there are two levels of knowledge, one for God and the other for man but there are not two levels of truth. The complaint teaches that there are two levels of truth, when they assert that the meaning of a proposition is different for man and for God and that these meanings do not coincide at any point.

Dr. Clark’s position is that while God’s knowledge is always incomprehensible to man on God’s level of knowing, man’s knowledge of a truth, if it is correct, is true for both God and man. In other words, man’s level of knowledge is always accessible to God for God is the creator and preserver and controller of man, but God’s level of knowledge is inaccessible and therefore incomprehensible to man. God however has revealed facts about His knowledge to man ,and when they are revealed and understood by man, they are true for both God and man and have the same meaning for both God and man. God has brought the revelation of His truth down to man’s level so that man can know it, without bringing His, i.e., God’s knowledge of the truth down to man’s level.

Mr. Hamilton asserted that the complaint talks about ”analogical truth,” not about “knowing truth analogically.” This statement was challenged by the complainants, and proven contrary to the facts . Mr. Hamilton then declared that he had isolated fifty-seven separate misrepresentations of Dr. Clark’s position in the text of the complaint. Since some of these were called to the complainants’ attention by Dr. Clark at the November meeting of presbytery, Mr. Hamilton contended that the complainants should not have printed nor circulated the complaint until after an attempt had been made in conference with Dr. Clark to clear up those points.

Mr. Hamilton then enumerated some of the fifty- seven alleged errors. He insisted that Dr. Clark does not hold that all truth in the divine mind is always propositional; that Dr. Clark does not hold that the divine knowledge consists of an infinite number of propositions, but rather that God can adduce an infinite number of propositions from His knowledge. He said that the complaint was “almost libelous” when it averred that “‘his (Dr. Clark’s) approach. . . .is to a large extent rationalistic.’” He also charged the complaint with being “insulting” when it declared that, at his July examination in theology, Dr. Clark “studiously avoided answering” a question as to whether there was any faculty in God which is neither intellectual nor volitional and which underlies or accompanies volitional activity. It was later pointed out by the Rev. Arthur W. Kuschke that the complainants did not feel that Dr. Clark was deceptively trying to avoid answering the question, or that he was afraid to answer it, but only that he prefered not to answer it either because he believed it irrelevant or that it would divert attention from what he considered the main matter. No insult was intended or implied.

Dr. William E. Welmers clarified the complainants’ position on the matter of analogy and emphatically denied that the complaint taught a doctrine of two levels of truth.

Dr. Stonehouse pointed out that the complaint did not ask for endorsement of the entire contents of the document, but only for action on certain pleas, whereas the answer was framed with a view to becoming in its entirety the answer of the presbytery. The presbytery, he said, has not yet faced the question of what it will do with that answer, nor had Mr. Hamilton really joined issue with the formulation of Dr. Clark’s position as given in Dr. Stonehouse’s opening address of the debate.

Mr. Hamilton made brief reply to Dr. Stonehouse, after which Mr. Kuschke discussed at considerable length the twin problems of emotions in God and the primacy of the intellect in man. The complaint, he said, denied that God had emotions in the sense of agitations, but again Mr. Kuschke asked the question whether there was any faculty in God, distinct from the intellectual and the volitional, which gives rise to volition. When Scripture says that “God so loved the world. . . does the word “loved” mean only something volitional, a matter of mere unemotional choice? Or does God really love men in the sense of having, real feelings of compassion and pity for them? “When Dr. Clark says God’s love is a volition,” declared Mr. Kuschke, “and then speaks of God’s faculties as comprising intellect and will, it is to be feared that he falls far short of the meaning of God’s love. The complainants are extremely anxious that Dr. Clark should not detract from the love of God. They don’t care what name he gives to God’s love, but they are concerned that the compassion and tender mercy of God be not denied.”

The complainants believe, said Mr. Kuschke, that God does have feelings which are analogous to ours. He quoted I John 4:7-10. “Each instance of the word ‘love’ in this quotation, with respect to God’s love and man’s, is of the same Greek words. Surely at this place in His Word God means to ascribe to Himself true feelings and true love which are analogous to feelings and love in us. This we fear Dr. Clark denies.”

Dr. Clark defines the apex of religious activity, declared Mr. Kuschke, in terms of intellectual contemplation of God. In contrast, the complainants hold that glorifying God is the total response of man’s whole being to God’s manifestation of His perfections. “Obedience and love to God,” said Mr. Kuschke, “are not lees important than intellectual contemplation; they are not on a lower plane.” Moreover, according to Mr. Kuschke, “Dr. Clark regards man’s intellect as occupying such high rank that the understanding of the natural man can grasp the meaning of the words ‘Christ died for sinners’ ‘with the same ease’ as the born-again man. If that is the case, the understanding does not need to undergo renewal like the rest of the human personality.” Mr. Kuschke quoted and discussed at length the statement of the proposed answer that “regeneration, in spite of the theory of the complaint, is not a change in the understanding of these words (Christ died for sinners) He pointed out that the Bible teaches that all of man’s faculties are corrupted by sin, and that every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. “If regeneration did not change our understanding of the words ‘Christ died for sinners,’ ” he declared, “then we would never be saved!” He concluded his address in these words: “Thus Dr. Clark’s doctrine of man, both as to the faculties of the soul and as to the pervasive corruption of original sin, is wrong, because contrary to the Bible and our standards. For the fallen human intellect is corrupt and blind; without the new birth the intellect is unable to understand the things of God. And the Christian ideal even for the hereafter, is not intellectual contemplation, but rather the total response of man’s entire being to God’s revelation of His glory.”

Dr. Clark then spoke for the first time and denied that he held to “identity of man’s and God’s knowledge.” As for the quotation from Dr. Greene, adduced by Dr. Stonehouse to show that Dr. Greene did not support the answer’s view of incomprehensibility. Dr. Clark said that he agreed with the quotation. On the subject of emotions, he said, “If you take the trouble to find out what I mean by emotions, God certainly has none.”

Dr. Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary then made a plea for a serious consideration of the complaint, despite Mr. Hamilton’s alleged fifty-seven varieties of error. He made a masterful exposition of the meaning of analogy and its inherent proof of incomprehensibility. He added further light on the issue of the primacy of the intellect, declaring that it was no mere matter of a difference in terminology.

After Dr. Van Til’s speech, Dr. Clark moved the previous question, which, if it had passed, would have forced an immediate vote on the motion to dismiss the complaint. Dr. Clark’s motion was lost. He followed with a declaration that Dr. Van Til had tried to equate his position on the matter under discussion with that of Plato. Dr. Clark repudiated vigorously the position Dr. Van Til had outlined, said that he had time and again denied it, and that not one shred of evidence had been adduced to prove that Dr. Van Til was right in his allegations.

Professor Woolley then briefly discussed the question of the legality of the July 7th meeting, and followed this with a discussion of the effect upon the witness of the church that would result from any attempt to carry through the Clarkian emphasis on the primacy of the intellect to its logical conclusion. He cited the history of the development of the New England theology as proof of the devastation that would follow an insistence upon making logical consistency the final test of doctrine, and said that now was the time for this tendency to be nipped in the bud.

Professor R. B. Kuiper discussed Dr. Clark’s attempt to solve the paradoxes of divine sovereignty and human responsibility and the decree of reprobation and the universal sincere offer of the gospel. He said that Dr. Clark does not recognize that there are paradoxes which are intrinsically paradoxical to man because of his very finiteness. A doctrine, said Professor Kuiper, may be revealed in Scripture and yet the human mind be incapable of fully comprehending it. This is a far cry from the notion that God is incomprehensible except as He reveals truths concerning His own nature and that when the Scriptures teach that God is unsearchable, they mean merely that God is unsearchable in so far as man by his own unaided efforts cannot search out His understanding.

Dr. Clark made brief and violent reply in which he designated the attack on his position as “a matter of persistent misrepresentation. The answer is printed,” he said, “and I have nothing further to say.”

A substitute motion, that the answer of the committee be made the answer of the presbytery, was defeated as a substitute. The previous question was again moved and again failed to carry by the needed, two-thirds vote, so that debate was continued.

(to be continued)