The third indictment the complainants bring against Dr. Clark is really twofold: according to them, he is a rationalist and an antinomian.
The accusation of rationalism is based on the contention that Dr. Clark tries to solve problems, paradoxes, contradictions, particularly the problem of the relation between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Anyone who makes an attempt to solve this problem, who tries to harmonize these two, who claims that this solution is possible, and especially he who is ready to offer his solution of this problem, is, according to the complainants a rationalist.
We quote from the “Complaint.”
“Dr. Clark asserts that the relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility to each other presents no difficulty for his thinking and that the two are easily reconcilable before the bar of human reason. He expresses surprise that so many theologians find an insuperable difficulty here.” p. 10.
The complainants then make several quotations from Reformed writers to show that by theologians of good standing the problem has always been considered insoluble. It presents an apparent contradiction which we are not able to harmonize. Both must be confessed, that God is absolutely sovereign and that man is responsible. But how they are to be harmonized is beyond the understanding of the human mind. Thus they quote from Berkhof, Calvin, Vos, A. A. Hodge, and Abraham Kuyper. And then the complainants continue:
“Here then is a situation which is inadequately described as amazing. There is a problem which has baffled the greatest theologians in history. Not even Holy Scripture offers a solution. But Dr. Clark asserts unblushingly that for his thinking the problem has ceased to be a problem. Here is something phenomenal. What accounts for it? The most charitable, and no doubt the correct explanation is that Dr. Clark has come under the spell of rationalism. It is difficult indeed! to escape the conclusion that by his refusal to permit the scriptural teaching of divine sovereignty and the scriptural teaching of human responsibility to stand alongside each other and by his claim that he has fully reconciled them with each other before the bar of human reason Dr. Clark has fallen into the error of rationalism. To be sure, he is not a rationalist in the sense that he substitutes human reasoning for divine revelation as such. But, to say nothing of his finding the solution of the problem of the relation to each other of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the teaching of pagan philosophers who were totally ignorant of the teaching of Holy Writ on either of these subjects, it is clear that Dr. Clark regards Scripture from the viewpoint of a system which to the mind of man must be harmonious in all its parts. The inevitable outcome is rationalism in the interpretation of Scripture. And that too is rationalism. Although Dr. Clark does not claim actually to possess at the present moment the solution of every scriptural paradox, yet his rationalism leaves room at best for only a temporary subjection of human reason to the divine Word. . . p. 12.
What shall we say about this accusation of rationalism?
First of all, we may note that it is an old one. There is nothing original in the findings of the complainants. They speak the language of the Christian Reformed leaders since about 1922-1924. From these they have, no doubt, learned to speak their theological language. Personally, we are very familiar with the accusation they now bring against Dr. Clark.
But what of the accusation itself?
The complainants speak of a “situation which is inadequately described as amazing,” and of “something phenomenal.” I must confess that these words express exactly my sentiment when I read this part of the complaint. There is here, indeed, something that is more than amazing, that is really unbelievable, that might almost be catalogued as another paradox: the phenomenon that theologians accuse a brother theologian of heresy because he tries to solve problems!
For, mark you well, it is exactly this that these complainants do in this part, of the “Complaint.” They simply accuse him of trying to find a solution, of claiming to have found a solution. Whether Dr. Clark has actually succeeded or not to discover a solution of the problem of God’s sovereignty in relation to man’s responsibility, is not the question at all. Whether his solution is right or wrong has nothing to do with this part of the “Complaint.” The mere fact that Dr. Clark attempts to harmonize things makes him a heretic, a rationalist. Other theologians have always claimed that the problem is not capable of solution, the complainants themselves insist that in the problem of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility we face a paradox, a contradiction as far as we can see: this should have been sufficient to warn Dr. Clark against the attempt to seek a solution. That he, nevertheless, did make the attempt shows that he is a heretic, a rationalist.
That, as it appears to me, is the whole argument of the complainants.
And this is something which, to my mind, the word amazing is inadequate to describe.
But what about the accusation of rationalism?
Is it really rationalism to make the attempt to bring Scripture into harmony with itself?
The complainants maintain that it is “. . . . Dr. Clark regards Scripture from the viewpoint of a system which to the mind of man must be harmonious in all its parts. The inevitable outcome is rationalism in the interpretation of Scripture. And that too is rationalism.”
The language of the complainants is somewhat ambiguous here, whether the ambiguity is intentional or accidental. The words might convey the impression that Dr. Clark begins with a system of thought, not derived from the Scriptures, and that now he proceeds to explain Scripture in such a way as to support that preconceived philosophical system. And that would, indeed, be rationalism. Scripture would then be distorted to fit Dr. Clark’s system. But the complainants do not openly accuse him of this. The words may also mean that, according to Dr. Clark’s view there is in the revelation of the Word of God itself a harmonious system of truth, which by careful exegesis, comparing Scripture with Scripture, the theologian attempts to bring to light and to formulate. And this seems to be the truth. Thus, at least, “The Answer” interprets Dr. Clark’s attempt to harmonize divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We quote:
“It is pertinent to note that Dr. Clark, instead of approaching these problems on a rationalistic basis, reaches his conclusion from an exegesis of Scripture.” p. 37.
“Next, the attempt to find by a deeper study of the Scripture the solution of paradoxes—a use of exegesis that the complainants call rationalism—is in the eyes of the complainants incompatible with subjection of human reason to the divine Word. . . . In other words, a man who tries to understand what God has revealed to him cannot be subject to the revelation, and if the more he understands, the less he is subject; probably the less he understands, the more subject he is; so that the really obedient and devout man must be completely ignorant. By what right do the complainants imply that the attempt to understand Scripture is inconsistent with believing Scripture?” p. 37.
We may take it, then, that the attempt to harmonize Scripture with itself is, by the complainants, branded as rationalism.
This we absolutely deny.
Let the complainants prove their contention. They do not do this. They do not even make an attempt to prove this charge of rationalism.
“The Answer” reduces the contention of the complainants, somewhat ironically, to absurdity, by showing that ultimately it leads to the conclusion that “the really obedient and devout man must be completely ignorant.”
But if the contention of the complainants is true, it certainly follows that all theology, and especially all dogmatics is rationalistic, for it proceeds from the assumption that the truth revealed in the Bible can be formulated into a logical system.
No theologian has ever proceeded from the assumption of the complainants. Dogmatics is a system of truth elicited from Scripture. And exegesis always applied the rule of the regula Scripturae, which means that, throughout the Bible there runs a consistent line of thought, in the light of which the darker and more difficult passages, must be interpreted. The complainants virtually deny this, at least, and that, too, rather arbitrarily, with relation to the problem of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
Who does not know that Reformed theologians have always interpreted those passages of Scripture that at first sight seem to be in favor of the Arminian view in the light of the current teaching of Holy Writ that salvation is of the Lord, that grace is sovereign, that the atonement is particular, and that man is not free to do good? According to the contention of the complainants this is rationalism.
The complainants simply ride a recent Christian Reformed hobby.
And as to “contradictions,” I maintain that there are no such things in the revelation of God in Scripture, for the simple reason that Scripture teaches us everywhere that God is one, and that He cannot deny Himself. His revelation, too, is one, and does not contradict itself.
No, but the complainants would say, there are no real contradictions, but there are apparent contradictions in the Bible, nevertheless, and them we must leave severely alone, without, even: making an attempt at solution. We must simply and humbly accept them.
I most positively deny all of this.
By apparent contradictions the complainants mean propositions or truth that to the human mind, and according to, human logic are: contradictory. I deny that there are such propositions in the Bible. If there were they could not be the object of our faith. It is nonsense to say that we must humbly believe what is contradictory. This is simply impossible. The complainants themselves cannot believe contradictions. Contradictions are propositions that mutually exclude each other, so that the one denies the truth of the other. The principles of contradictions are: 1. That a thing cannot at the same time be and not be. 2. That a thing must either be or not be. 3. That the same property cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time of the same subject. A is A. A is not Not-A. Everything is either A or Not-A.
I challenge anyone to point out that there are propositions in the Bible that violate these fundamental principles of logic.
I challenge anyone to prove that is possible for the believer to accept such contradictions, or that it is Christian humility to claim such faith.
Perhaps, it may be worth the effort to apply these statements to the problem of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
But this must wait until our next issue.