Something Weird in the Siouxlands

I’ve been trying to follow recent events in the Siouxlands Presbytery but I’m confused about what’s happening. I’m not expert in the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America (and I’m not going to become so) so I assumed that there was some technical matter that I was missing. Upon making inquiries, however, it turns out that it’s not a technical matter. Presbytery has taken some strange actions recently. According to recent reports (e.g. in the Aquila Report) presbytery has repented of its “hasty” action in absolving one alleged federal visionist for teaching the Federal Vision errors. Having repented, presbytery erected a committee to further investigate the teaching of this TE (teaching elder). In the same meeting of presbytery, however, members also voted that “no strong presumption of guilt” be found in the teaching by another member of presbytery “attributing to all the baptized some form of union, adoption, new life, and forgiveness….” This TE also affirmed both the nine points of the PCA General Assembly’s Federal Vision report and that no reprobate person ever gets justification and that the baptized reprobate do get forgiveness of sin in some real sense.”

If these reports are true, then this is simply incoherent. The Nine Points adopted by the PCA GA categorical oppose the notion that all baptized persons have “some form” of union etc. The FV doctrine of temporary, conditional baptismal union with Christ is contrary to the Reformed confession both in our ecclesiastical documents and in the teaching of our theologians. That much is clearly evident and easy to understand. What is not easy to understand is how a presbytery could listen to flatly contradictory testimony by a TE that both affirmed and denied the same error and simply ignore it. What does the TE believe? How could presbytery find no strong presumption of anything if a man said “A” and “not A” about the same thing at the same time?

I understand that people want to “move on” from the FV debate. Believe me, no one wants to move on from this more than I. This business started for me 2000! (for some, however, it started in 1974). What is happening in the Pacific NW Presbytery and in the Siouxlands Presbytery is more prima facie evidence that the FV controversy is not behind us. Decisions by GA and Synod are a great starting point, but they are only that. The FV ideas are still being advocated on the web and in books and nothing ever dies on the web. People stumble across it and think it’s the greatest thing since sliced cheese. There are FVists in our NAPARC churches who have, since 2007, taken a lower profile but who continue to teach the FV. Those folk need to face church discipline.

If you’re not sure what the FV is then start here. There’s a resource page here that includes audio.

There are links to the left to a book and a booklet that directly explain these issues and why they are a problem and what can be done about it, Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry and Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace. Both are available from the Bookstore at WSC.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Scott
    Are you saying that the FV is still a concern? I thought John Piper laid that to rest once and for all when he had Wilson do a ‘Absolvitur Ambulando’ to Minneapolis!

  2. Scott,

    I wonder if we are framing the problem too narrowly. We have understandably been focusing on those who are actively promoting heterodox views of covenant and justification. Clearly this is something that we need to do, but maybe our problem is much broader: Is it possible that large swaths of Ministers and Ruling Elders don’t actually know what orthodoxy looks like?

    It is easy for latitudinarians to sign off on whatever documents come out of our General Assemblies in order to keep themselves out of trouble (let’s get along by going along). Yet, the ongoing confusion within NAPARC leads me to wonder if many church officers either don’t understand or don’t care sufficiently about what is at stake.

    Hoping that I’m wrong!

    • David,

      I agree that these things are symptomatic. That’s why I called the FV in Recovering the Reformed Confession an evidence or symptom of QIRC. It is. It’s a form of rationalism/moralism and the fact that it’s gained a foothold in our churches signals that there are too many pastors and elders who don’t know what real, confessional, historic Reformed theology actually looks like.

      That’s why I wrote the book.

      • This situation in the PCA (namely, that a presbytery could listen to flatly contradictory testimony by an elder and simply ignore it) is only surprising or confusing on the assumption that the average presbytery in the PCA (or other NAPARC congregation) is more competent than the average elder.

        But if the average NAPARC elder is a well-intended and sincere man of standing in the community, but who nevertheless is not trained in orthodoxy, and presbyteries are much the same despite ministers having theological degrees, then… this situation in the PCA is certainly confused, but not confusing or surprising.

        This situation is not anomalous. It should provoke those who think otherwise to reconsider their confidence in the quality of the average elder, session, or presbytery.

  3. How could presbytery find no strong presumption of anything if a man said “A” and “not A” about the same thing at the same time?

    You need to lighten up Scott, it just another biblical paradox that is to be embraced with passion. At least the Siouxlands Pres still understands the Creator/creature distinction.

    • Sean,

      I know you’re kidding but for those who are reading this, who don’t understand what the issue is, there’s a difference between speaking of analogical relations between the Creator and the creature (which our tradition has taught repeatedly) and equivocation.

      What presbytery seems to have done is equivocated. God doesn’t equivocate but neither do we have univocal knowledge. This why Junius (and many others) distinguished between artchetypal theology (theology as God knows it) and ectypal theology (theology as he reveals it to us). We believe, with Calvin, that all revelation is accommodated to human finitude. Accommodation is neither equivocation nor univocal speech.

      For those who want to learn more about the vital, historic, Reformed distinction see ch. 4 of RRC.

    • What are these so-called biblical paradoxes? When the law of contradiction is easily dismissed, that is a very bad sign.

  4. We believe, with Calvin, that all revelation is accommodated to human finitude. Accommodation is neither equivocation nor univocal speech.

    I agree with Calvin too, but it doesn’t follow that there is no univocal point of contact between God’s thoughts and man’s. If that were the case then knowledge would be impossible. BTW, I finally was able to obtain (rough) copies of the The Compaint and The Answer rather than having to rely on bits and pieces culled from other sources. If you haven’t read them, you should.

    But, yes, that was a little tongue and cheek, but only a little. Let’s not forget that John Frame said in his defense of Van Til’s doctrine of biblical paradox: “Thus, the doctrine of justification by faith incorporates the paradox of divine sovereignty. The doctrine of justification by faith – when fully explained in its relations to the rest of Scriptural truth – is just as paradoxical as divine sovereignty.” And, given that a Vantilian biblical paradoxes are indistinguishable from contradictions, at least to the human existent, I would say the Siouxlands embrace of the clearly contradictory in the case of Joshua Moon is simply thinking “in submission to Scripture” at least as far as Vantilians like Frame have defined it.

    And, let me just add, we’re not talking about any equivocation here, but a bald contradiction. Moon is reported as saying on the floor of Presbytery

    that he believes that no reprobate person ever gets justification, and that he believes that the baptized reprobate do get forgiveness of sin in some real sense.

    By finding “no presumption of guilt” in the case of Moon, the Siouxlands Presbytery was affirm a contradiction in the very real sense.

    • Sean,

      I agree. Equivocation isn’t the best word here. I’ll revise that.

      I’m quite familiar with the original documents from the “Clark case” (no relation). Have you read the chapter in the Srimple festschrift? Maybe we’re closer than I thought?

  5. As a PCA minister in another presbytery I’ve been watching from the sidelines. I’ll try to give it a stab.

    There are two TEs in question. The first was investigated and a committee submitted its report. It found by a 4-2 vote that he was teaching FV. When presbytery heard this report another TE spoke in his defense (this second teaching elder was a dissenting vote on the study committee). Eventually the question was called and the presbytery chose to dismiss the committee and leave the man in office.

    This action resulted in complaints against the presbytery. When the story says that the presbytery ‘repented’ it means that it has re-opened the investigation of the first teaching elder by appointing a new committee to investigate his theology.

    A judicial investigation of the second teaching elder was proposed because he argued so vociferously in favor of the first TE (making some very questionable statements that were interpreted as being sympathetic to FV). However, he spoke on the floor of presbytery about his views and apparently persuaded the presbytery that he was not out of step with the WCF or the nine point PCA position paper on FV.

    There is a common link between Pacific NW and Siouxlands – in PNW Dr. Robert Rayburn defending Peter Leithart. In Siouxlands it was in son-in-law who defended the TE in question.

  6. I know Gary, when I read Van Til I was told by Vantilian friend (yes, I have some) to really understand Van Til I needed to read Frame. Then when I read Frame I was told by another Vantilian friend to read Bahnsen. He even sent me a copy of Bahnsen’s well known doorstop. Sadly, this last friend has been on Wilson’s blog and elsewhere defending Federal Visionist. Not necessarily a reflection on the contents of the book, but just a little anecdote.

    And, just so you know I’m not all old news, I’ve also read James Anderson’s latest defense of the Van Til’s doctrine of Scripture: Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status. That’s a book that, God willing, will make up a series of blog pieces or perhaps a future Trinity Review (although I believe Dr. W. Gary Crampton has that one covered).

    Is there another source you’d like me to try?

    • The best way to understand Van Til is to read Van Til.

      I don’t understand the problem of paradox, per se. I understand that we cannot multiply them willy-nilly but there are insoluble (for humans) paradoxes.

      This is the result of divine speech to and interaction with humans. If God has archetypal theology (and he does) and if we only have ectypal theology (and we do) and if God is capable of (he is) and willing to use (he is) human language to speak truth but that truth is always accommodated to human finitude, then there will always be a certain degree of falsity in human speech about God.

      Our orthodox Reformed forefathers were very explicit about this. I experienced the limits of human language frequently when teaching the doctrine of God. What we say about God is true but it is not as true as it could be. E.g. We speak of God’s attributes. In truth God doesn’t have “attributes” but we cannot speak about him without distinguish or else we’re left in mystical silence. So, we speak of attributes but even then we cannot understand them as God does.

      As to paradoxes then, aren’t the just ways of speaking about the mystery of divine-human relations?

      Clarkian (no relation) critics of paradox aren’t denying all mystery in the faith, are they?

    • Sean, the problem with reading Van Til thru the eyes of Frame, Bahnsen, (or North), is that these men were heavily influenced by Wittgenstein (by way of Kuhn). For that reason, their reading of Van Til is skewed. It’s better to read Van Til in light of what he was opposed to — non-Christian Idealist philosophy & Barth’s neo-orthodoxy.

      • If ture-“that these men were heavily influenced by Wittgenstein (by way of Kuhn)”, this would explain why they are so messed up. Still, were these guys really all that influenced by Kuhn?

        • I should say that Gary North was probably more influenced by Kuhn, while Frame & Bahnsen were influenced by Wittgenstein, or at least the Wittgensteinian-style analytic philosophy that was popular back when they were going through college. Still, everybody was influenced by Kuhn back in the 60’s. Van Til’s matrix was Idealist philosophy, so to understand Van Til it’s better to read Bosanquet, Green, and other Idealists.

  7. I think much of the problem is indeed the training of our elders in their local churches. I get the sense that if one says that he is a 5 point Calvinist then he is Reformed and capable of serving as an Elder (at least as far as ruling elders go). Perhaps it is time to make the training much more extensive and up to date (especially regarding the FV issue). Have the elders-in-training read CJPM and the GA report and, dare I say it, the Westminster Standards. If they can then heartily agree that the FV is indeed in error, perhaps then they can serve on the Session.
    It would help too if more pastors were trained at a truly Reformed Seminary as well (not to name names, or anything!).

    • There are lots of footnotes and there is some history here:

      “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in David VanDrunen, ed., The Pattern of Sound Words: A Festschrift for Robert B. Strimple (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149-80.

      There’s a very good PhD diss. by Fred Klooster on this topic.

      You might also want to see the Hart/Muether history of the OPC.

  8. Nick, pick up the Clark/Van Til Controversy at the Trinity Foundation website. That’s one of the best places to start. It is a series of editorials written by Herman Hoeksema that appeared in the Standard Bearer during the height of the controversy. Also, if you can find copies of the Complaint mostly written by C. Van Til and Clark’s reply in the Answer. I have no idea why those two documents are not more readily available, but they’re an eye-opener if you can get your hands on them.

    • Sean,

      CVT did not write the complaint, did he? Muether’s bio of CVT says, as I recall, that he was not directly involved.

      For those who don’t know, the Trin Found is a highly partisan organization. Their materials should be read with discretion

      The Clarkian (no relation) definition of faith, in justification, is not that of the Heidelberg Catechism

      I’m glad for their critique of the FV but I don’t readers to assume that I am a “Clarkian.”

      • “The Clarkian (no relation) definition of faith, in justification, is not that of the Heidelberg Catechism”

        …Lord’s Day 7 sures does advocate what Dr. G. Clark defined faith … and in the same order as Lord’s Day 7 states what true faith is.

        …But then again this is coming from a professor …(ala Dr. S. Clark) who believes what Muether wrote regarding the Clark/Vantil controversy and Vantil’s place in it.

        “Their materials should be read with discretion” … I tell people that with regards to your theology as well.

        • Ray,

          Think what you will about me, but HC 21 is clear. There are three aspects to the definition of faith in the act of justification:

          Knowledge, assent, and trust. This is clearer in the Latin than in the German but it’s there in both. This was not the teaching of Gordon Clark. Nor does G. Clark’s teaching agree with the Westminster Standards. Clark was an intellectualist and a rationalist. He reduced faith to mere assent to propositions. Faith is more than that. It involves assent to propositions but it is more than that. The G. Clarkian definition falls right into the caricature of Reformed orthodoxy made by the moralists.

          Have you read Muether’s bio of CVT? It’s very well done. To attempt to discredit here without having read it and without having done the research is unbecoming and potentially a violation of the 9th commandment.


          • Citing a “violation” of the 9th is generally a countermeasure meant to distract by scholastic’s. Try again.

            I see you have listed the usual 3 – one liners used to discredit Clark’s defining of faith.

            1. Certain knowledge/An assured confidence
            everlasting righteousness/salvation/remission of sins given to the elect in Jesus Christ.

            Dr. Robbins was correct in his rebuttal to Rev. D. Barnes’ article regarding the same things you are charging Dr. G. Clark with :

            “Dr. Clark disposed of the misleading Latin definition by showing it to be tautologous, and then he examined the Greek terms of the New Testament, demonstrating by the meticulous exegesis of scores of verses exactly what the Holy Spirit meant by the words “believe” and “belief”: Belief is assent to a proposition. For example, John 4:50: “The man believed the word that Jesus had spoken to him.” John 2:22: “They believed the Scripture.” John 9:18: “But the Jews did not believe…that he had been blind.” And so on. Saving faith is not belief of any stray proposition, such as “he was born blind,” but belief of the propositions of the Gospel.

            Furthermore, saving belief is a species of the genus belief, and unless one knows what belief is, one cannot understand what saving belief is. What distinguishes saving belief/faith from generic belief/faith is not some additional subjective psychological factor, as Barnes asserts, but the object, the propositions, believed. It is not our subjective emotional state that saves us, but the objective truth. Saving belief is belief of the Gospel truth. Barnes’ subjectivism is subversive of Christianity.

            Barnes asserts: “Clark simply has no place in his system for trust.” Well, Clark has no place in his system for undefined terms, and if trust remains undefined, then there is no place in Christian theology for it. But Barnes apparently did not read page 76 of What Is Saving Faith?: “If anyone wish to say the children [of Matthew 18:6 and Mark 9:42] trusted in him, well and good; to trust is to believe that good will follow.” Here Clark defined “trust” as belief of a proposition in the future tense, in this case, the proposition “good will follow.” To trust a person is to believe the proposition, “he always tells the truth.” To trust God is to believe the proposition: “God will be good to me forever.” Or as Paul put it more eloquently in Romans 8: “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But an undefined psychological state called “trust” has no place in the Gospel or in Biblical theology.”

            … and that is the problem … the idea of trust of a dead in sins creature is an emotional assent that is but vanity. Emotional trust apart from the Gospel is beneficial at altar calls, arminianism and the like. Not for true faith though.

            Only the supreme gift of God which faith is … will make the idea of trust … trustworthy and true to the Gospel as to just what Faith is…. and we know that only the elect in Christ know of that certain knowledge ?an assured confidence … for all others it is foolishness … and a stumbling block … for they are blinded to it.

            Followers of Christ and Him crucified consider faith … a very precious gift and thankful for it … not playing around with it as if were some kind of theological game we are playing with the ungodly who are watching.

      • I agree with Clark. John Robbins, for instance, lambastes the argument that the OPC is not a true church. His proofs are pretty poor and his arguments are not all that convincing–well, not for the effect that I think good ol’ John was aiming for. If anyone is going to read on the controversy, I say go to the original sources. Secondary sources are always welcome, no matter the quarter, but primary sources are always highly suggested over secondary sources in my point of view.

  9. CVT did not write the complaint, did he? Muether’s bio of CVT says, as I recall, that he was not directly involved.

    Muether, as Gary Johnson well knows, is not a very competent historian. More of a revisionist really. You should try and take your blinders off for a moment and read John Robbins’ Can the OPC be Saved, particularly his exchange with John Muether and his argument concerning WTS and their fear that they might be brought under the control of the OPC and cease being the independent para-church operation they still are. Franky, that is by far the best explanation for the entire Clark/Van Til controversy, because if you ever actually read the Complaint and the Answer for yourself, you’ll see that the Van Til faction really had no justification at all for opposing Clark’s ordination apart from trying to protect WTS anti-Presbyterian independence, something Clark most certainly opposed.

    Beyond that, Gordon Clark wrote as late as his posthumously published, Clark Speaks From the Grave, that “Cornelius Van Til . . . furnished the basic content of A Complaint. ” Frankly, that is something even a first year, half blind, seminary student could see if they ever took the time to actually read the Complaint, not to mention actually study the mutually exclusive philosophies of Van Til and Clark. Of course, no Vantilian seminary prof worth his salt would ever let that happen and will instead faithfully spoon feed his students the party line.

    Meanwhile, Gary Johnson busy milling around a sewer of his own making contends based on his own rusted recollections from decades past that Ned Stonehouse was the black hat behind the unprovoked and unconscionable attack on Clark. Of course Muether argues it was John Murray. Myth making aside, it seems like Vantilians just can’t get their stories straight.

    Needless to say the entire WTS faculty at the time played a role, but it was Van Til’s philosophy clearly expressed throughout the Complaint. Read it for yourself.

    Beyond that Scott, you don’t have to worry, no one could ever mistake you for a “Clarkian.”

    • Sean

      This is the sort of stuff that makes it hard to take the rabid Clarkians seriously.

      I’ve read the sources and I know the history well enough to know that Muether handled them carefully.

      I don’t know what Gary remembers. I do know that John did archival research for the book.

      I’m sorry that our discussions always end up like this.

      Sent from my iPhone

  10. Knowledge, assent, and trust… [Clark] reduced faith to mere assent to propositions. Faith is more than that. It involves assent to propositions but it is more than that.

    OK, I’ll play. Have you read Clark’s What is Saving Faith? To steal a line or two, it’s very well done. To attempt to discredit here without having read it and without having done the research is unbecoming and potentially a violation of the 9th commandment.

    First, Clark doesn’t reduce faith to “mere assent,” be defines faith as a combination of understanding and assent. Further, he differentiates ordinary faith from saving faith based on the propositions believe (i.e., the Gospel) and not some ephemeral and ill defined psychological third element.

    Second, and to provide a nice segue, please define the “more* that you say faith is?

    Frankly, you say faith is “Knowledge, assent, and trust” which itself might be a bit sloppy since most would define faith as the combination of *understanding,” assent, and trust. Regardless, the fact remains that belief and trust are synonyms. Maybe some of your students can look up “faith” in the dictionary and they’ll see in English “trust” listed as its synonym. Which makes sense because to believe someone is to trust what they say and to trust someone is to believe what they say. Consequently, you’re definition, which I’ll grant is traditional, is also tautological and amounts to defining a word with itself.

    Of course, some confused souls (see Doug Wilson) will argue that belief and faith are qualitatively different, but if you want to spend time discussing the various translations of the Greek “pistis” in Scripture, I’m also game.

    Finally, it is this third and tautological “fiducial” element of faith that has provided a super-highway for the FV to penetrate so deeply into P&R churches. That’s because their understanding of this highly nebulous third and supposedly crucial element of faith, the sine qua non that is supposed to make ordinary faith saving, is not tautological at all. That’s because they (see Doug Wilson again) simply define trust not as a synonym of belief, or even as some changing emotion or fleeting psychological state of mind, but in the sense of obedience. So while traditionalists really don’t seem to know what to do with fiducia, since in ordinary English it is simply another word for belief, the Federal Visionists provides the superior definition simply because they completely avoid the tautology charge and surreptitiously add obedience as the central element that makes ordinary faith saving — i.e, the thing that makes faith “alive” (check out some of their discussions of James 2 and you’ll see what I mean). This explains why they can and do affirm justification by faith alone without ever really meaning it. That’s because, and as you said in another post, they’re speaking a different language. Theirs is a scheme of justification by faith and works through redefinition; specifically the redefinition of fiducia as the third and necessary element in saving faith.

      • I think both Clarkians and Van Tillians have valid points on this issue. So why can’t we all sit down and hear each other out?

        Dr. Clark, what do you mean when you say that Gordon Clark denied “trust”? The concept or the word? The way I read it, it seems that they are saying that the word is tautological and hence should not be used, but the concept is fine.

    • As do I. None of us “hate” Dr. C. Vantil or you for that matter. If there are those that do so … rethink the “why” and the ” what” your defending.
      What disgust’s us generally is the paradoxial, illogical, irrational, and contradictory nature of christian philosophy that Vantil advocated in his theology, as you yourself also advocate.

      Such theology’s would be ….common grace theology, the well meant offer of the the Gospel theology, God’s love for all men head for head theology, theology with respect to defining the Trinity which are either advocated by appealing to apparent contradictions within Scripture … or “limiting concepts”.

      I concurr with Vantil in his readiness to affirm an antithetical stance. I strongly disagree with how he contradicted a worthy stance with the above.

      • Ray,

        What, in your view, is the nature of mystery in the Christian faith? Is there any mystery in the Trinity and if so, what is the nature of it? Any mystery in Christology? If so, how should we account for such mystery? What language should we use? Any mystery in divine-human relations (e.g. divine sovereignty and human responsibility?) How do we speak about those things?

        What do you make of the historic use of the language of “analogy,” which has roots in Reformed orthodoxy from the late 16th and early 17th century? You can’t dismiss them as crazy Van Tillians, can you?

        • “What, in your view, is the nature of mystery in the Christian faith?”

          Salvation in Jesus Christ and Him crucified/the Gospel.

          “1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (King James Version)

          6Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

          7But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

          8Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

          This “mystery” the Lord by His power and grace enables His chosen people , the elect to understand. It is called a mystery and a hidden wisdom because carnal and wicked men… dead in trespasses and sins cannot and will not understand as the Lord has ordained it to be.But the children of the Lord know … and it is not a mystery to them, that mystery is quashed by the power of the Lord and His Holy Spirit upon His precious in Jesus Christ.

          “12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

          13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

          14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. ”

          …also you asked “Is there any mystery in the Trinity and if so, what is the nature of it?”

          The Belgic Confession does not refer to the Trinity as mystery, but explains that
          “And although this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding, nevertheless, we now believe it by means of the Word of God, but expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in Heaven.”

          …so our certain knowledge that their is such a thing as the Trinity, and what the Gospel teaches us and has revealed to us about the Trinity is”believed” by the Chosen elect in Jesus Christ as our Belgic Confession surely sets forth. The Lord has equipped our forefathers so that they were able to reject errors taught regarding the Trinity. The Lord has revealed enough for us to know and to rest firm in that assurance and knowledge of the perfect fellowship of family that is Trinity which the Lord in His sovereign grace will also make us part of that fellowship and family through our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not know it exhaustively, we know what the Lord has revealed and by the gift of faith we rest in that comfort of the Three in One.

          “Article 8: That God is one in Essence, yet nevertheless distinguished in three Persons.
          According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct, according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Father is the cause, origin and beginning of all things visible and invisible; the Son is the word, wisdom, and image of the Father; the Holy Ghost is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son. Nevertheless God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, have each his personality, distinguished by their properties; but in such wise that these three persons are but one only God. Hence then, it is evident, that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Ghost is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed: for the Father hath not assumed the flesh, nor hath the Holy Ghost, but the Son only. The Father hath never been without his Son, or without his Holy Ghost. For they are all three co-eternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last: for they are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.

          Article 9: The proof of the foregoing article of the Trinity of persons in one God.
          All this we know, as well from the testimonies of holy writ, as from their operations, and chiefly by those we feel in ourselves. The testimonies of the Holy Scriptures, that teach us to believe this Holy Trinity are written in many places of the Old Testament, which are not so necessary to enumerate, as to choose them out with discretion and judgment. In Genesis, chapter 1:26, 27,God saith: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, etc. So God created man in his own image, male and female created he them. And Genesis 3:22.Behold the man is become as one of us. From this saying, let us make man in our image, it appears that there are more persons than one in the Godhead; and when he saith, God created, he signifies the unity. It is true that he doth not say how many persons there are, but that, which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament, is very plain in the New. For when our Lord was baptized in Jordan, the voice of the Father was heard, saying, This is my beloved Son: the Son was seen in the water, and the Holy Ghost appeared in the shape of a dove. This form is also instituted by Christ in the baptism of all believers. Baptize all nations, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. In the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel thus addressed Mary, the mother of our Lord, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore also that holy thing, which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God: likewise, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you. And there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. In all which places we are fully taught, that there are three persons in one only divine essence. And although this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding, nevertheless, we now believe it by means of the Word of God, but expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in Heaven. Moreover, we must observe the particular offices and operations of these three persons toward us. The Father is called our Creator, by his power; the Son is our Savior and Redeemer, by his blood; the Holy Ghost is our Sanctifier, by his dwelling in our hearts. This doctrine of the Holy Trinity, hath always been defended and maintained by the true Church, since the time of the apostles, to this very day, against the Jews, Mohammedans, and some false Christians and heretics, as Marcion, Manes, Praxeas, Sabellius, Samosatenus, Arius, and such like, who have been justly condemned by the orthodox fathers. Therefore, in this point, we do willingly receive the three creeds, namely, that of the Apostles, of Nice, and of Athanasius: likewise that, which, conformable thereunto, is agreed upon by the ancient fathers. ”

          It’s pretty clear our forefathers did not throw their hands up in the air and claim retreat with “it’s all a mystery” … or worse try to counter false views with apparent contradictions and limiting concepts … now did they?

          …they you ask “Any mystery in Christology? If so, how should we account for such mystery?

          Well how is it that we have such a thing as Christology or systematic theology for that matter anyways. The Lord has revealed in the Gospel what we as His children ought to know concerning our Redeemer and Him crucified. We confess this with all saints everywhere. What’s the sense in a confession of Christ in the 3 Forms of Unity if we do not understand what we are confessing. How were they( our forefathers …sealed with their blood at times…) able to draft a confession without appealing to apparent contradictions and limiting concepts? Better keep that in mind as one called to “make known” the mysteries of the Gospel.

          then you proceed to one of my favorites…”Any mystery in divine-human relations (e.g. divine sovereignty and human responsibility?) How do we speak about those things?”

          God’s sovereignty is first and foremost everytime. Human responsibility and accountability is always subservient to the Lord’s sovereignty each and every time. I have little patience with those who maintain these are both level and trying to produce a supposed balancing act.

          Herman Hoeksema states it well:

          “Now, I like to emphasize that it should not be difficult for any believing Christian to accept mysteries. God is great, and we shall never comprehend Him, though by His own revelation we may know Him. He is the eternal One, and we are children of time. He is the infinite, and we are finite. He is the Creator of the heavens and of the earth, and we are mere creatures of the dust. He is the incomparable One, and He dwelleth in an inaccessible light. The more we contemplate Him, the deeper the mysteries become. Not to admit this, is to deny God! And, therefore, the believer does not claim that he can solve all problems, least of all those that concern God’s relation to the creature. He does not deny mysteries. On the contrary, he loves them, and in the contemplation of them, he falls down in the dust, worships and adores. But with equal emphasis I insist that mysteries are not the same as flat contradictions, and that the latter are no mysteries, but plain nonsense. Either, God wills that all men be saved, or He does not: both cannot be true. Either, God sincerely offers a Christ that died for all men to every sinner, or He does not: to maintain both is simply impossible. Either, man has a free will to accept or reject Christ, or he is absolutely dependent upon sovereign grace: to maintain both is nonsense. And however this may be, if this double track theology were the proper answer to the opponents of God’s sovereignty in the matter of salvation, we would surely find it in the ninth chapter of the epistle to the Romans. For in the strongest terms the apostle taught the truth of absolute predestination, and of God’s sovereignty to save whom He will. And against this doctrine the objection was raised, that then God must be indicted of unrighteousness, and that man is without responsibility. Yet, the apostle does not point to another side of this truth. He does not apologize. He does not shift to another track. He leaves the truth to stand in all its implications.”

          Lastly you ask…”What do you make of the historic use of the language of “analogy,” which has roots in Reformed orthodoxy from the late 16th and early 17th century? You can’t dismiss them as crazy Van Tillians, can you?

          “And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear (Matt. 13:10-16).

          And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them (Mark 4:10-12).”

          ” May we not safely affirm that the analogies traceable between the natural and spiritual worlds are parts of a divine harmony which it is the noblest mental exercise to discover and unfold?”

          yes … as long as we do not go about contradicting the Gospel. The Lord is clear in teaching what the kingdom of heaven is like. The wicked are without excuse. The use of parables and analogies should be to expose unbelief.

          as Prof. Herman Hanko aptly put it:

          “The text teaches that God Himself makes a sovereign distinction between men. Jesus said, “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matt. 13:11). Clearly a distinction is made between the disciples on the one hand, and “them” on the other hand.

          The distinction that Jesus makes is not based on anything which the disciples did and which others failed to do. Nor does the distinction arise out of any superior qualities that the disciples possessed which others did not possess. The text makes no mention of anything like that. The distinction rests solely in God’s choice to give faith to some and not to give it to others. The use of the passive voice very clearly emphasizes that the Giver is God, and that some receive the ability to know the mysteries of the kingdom while others do not receive this ability.

          The point is that no man can hear or see or understand the mysteries of the kingdom unless God gives him this ability. All men are totally depraved, and the words of our Lord to Nicodemus remain forever true: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

          This sovereign distinction is once again emphasized by Jesus: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear” (Matt. 13:16). This sovereign distinction God makes between men is election and reprobation.

          The quotation from Isaiah 6 is crucially important. Isaiah 6 records for us the call of Isaiah as God’s prophet to Judah. It is a marvelous and instructive passage. God explains the purpose of Isaiah’s ministry: “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and made their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed” (9-10).

          You will notice that the language is in the form of a command. Isaiah must command the people to whom he preaches. God does not say that Isaiah must tell the people: “Now you hear, and it is my desire that you understand; now you see, and it is my desire that you perceive.” God does not even tell Isaiah to predict what will happen: “You will hear the gospel from my servant Isaiah, but I am sure you will not understand; you will see what Isaiah speaks, but you will not perceive.” The word that Isaiah is to bring to the people is God’s sovereign command. God says: “I command you to hear, but also not to understand. I command you to see, and not to perceive.” This is strong language, but very clearly this is the text.

          That this is indeed the meaning is evident from God’s command to Isaiah, a command which Isaiah will obey by his preaching: “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes.” And God explains that He wants it this way because He does not want them to be converted and healed.

          Now we must apply this to the passage in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Notice, first of all, that Jesus explains His reason for teaching in parables by saying that the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in them. That is, the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in Judah under Isaiah’s ministry, but that prophecy must still be fulfilled in Israel until the nation is destroyed. And, we might add, this prophecy of Isaiah is still being fulfilled whenever and wherever the gospel is preached. That this is true is evident from Paul’s quotation of this same prophecy while in Rome during his imprisonment (Acts 28:25-27).

          The truth of this is strengthened by the parallel passage in Mark 4:11-12: “All these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see and not perceive …” The word “that,” in the Greek, is the word used to introduce a purpose clause. The meaning is therefore: Jesus spoke in parables in order that the people would not believe (and thus the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled). Or, to put it as clearly as possible: Jesus’ (and God’s) purpose in the use of parables is to bring about the unbelief of those who are not given eyes to see the mysteries of the kingdom. This is sovereign reprobation. It is the effecting of God’s decree to send some to hell because of their sins–and that in distinction from the elect, who receive the spiritual ability to see the kingdom of heaven.

          How different this is from making the gospel a well-meant offer in which God expresses a longing, born out of love, to save all men. Such a god isn’t worthy to be God. The God of Scripture is sovereign; He does all His pleasure (Ps. 115:3). “

  11. Give it up Scott. Sean hasn’t allowed one iota of fact or argument to change his views regarding Van Til, not since I first heard him ranting on the Clark list so many years ago. That’s why most of us concluded long ago that it’s a waste of time discussing anything with Sean, or Scripturalists, or Van Til haters like him. Nothing you say will ever make a difference to him. I predict that you’ll end up having to do what Lane (Greenbaggins) finally had to do — ban him from your list out of sheer exasperation.

  12. SEan
    Muether is a better historian than either you or Robbins -you are simply incorrigible. There is no lenght that you won’t go to tar-and -feather CVT. You resort to every kind of guilt by association imaginable and if that does work you resort to defamation. Whatever concerns we might share about the baleful influence of the FV are negated by your anti-Van Til agenda.

  13. I understand that you disagree with CVT but why do you hate him so?

    I don’t hate CVT, but perhaps it might be fair to say that I hate his philosophy because it completely undermines and eviscerates the Christian faith. I certainly don’t think Van Til intended to do that, but it is what it is. Hey, I’m no fan of the philosophy undergirding classical apologetics either, but that’s less of a problem in P&R circles.

    But, before continuing to point your finger at me, take a look at the behavior you Vantilians. Crisler has come out of the woodwork calling for you to ban me from your blog, which is par for the course. Lane Keister banned me from his blog for similarly questioning Muether’s trustworthiness in his retelling of the Clark controversy even while I provided ample evidence to support my charge, many of the arguments I used are also found in the above cited piece on the OPC. Well, instead of refuting the arguments raised, I’m personally attacked (that perfect Christian gentleman Pastor Johnson attacked me as a “sewer rat” and a “turd” and I’m sure those were just for public consumption). Yet, you can say things like, “the Trin Found is a highly partisan organization. Their materials should be read with discretion,” however if I suggest that Meuther, as the official historian of the “highly partisan” OPC should be read with similar discretion –*particularly* as it relates to the Clark/Van Til controversy — all of a sudden I’m a hate-filled “rabid Clarkian” who needs to “check my sewer pipe.”

    Well, let’s not forget, Muether’s untrustworthiness is also demonstrated when he referred to the Clark Controversy as Van Til’s “shining moment.” At least other Vantilians up until Muether have at least had the decency to view this battle as a low point in Van Til’s career. Not so for Muether who seems intent on continuing the Van Til myth.

    Again, I would challenge you or anyone else to read A Complaint for yourself and then tell me that Van Til did not furnish “the basic content of A Complaint.” It’s Van Til’s epistemology front and center and throughout the entire document.

    Finally, you asked, “Clarkian … critics of paradox aren’t denying all mystery in the faith, are they?” If you mean by mystery those things that are neither set down in Scripture or deducible from them, then not at all. Or, if you mean does the Scripturalist, or did even Clark, claim to have solved every difficulty in Scripture, again, not at all. But, if you mean by mystery what Vantilians generally mean and that the Scriptures themselves are impenetrable to the human mind, even enlightened by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, then, yes, very much so. Clark maintained that God’s perfect and complete revelation in Scripture (1 Cor. 13:10) was given so that man might understand. God didn’t reveal his mind to us in impenetrable paradoxes, antinomies, and contradictions which Vantilains merely assert “aren’t real.” Clark maintained, and certainly exemplified this belief, that one of the main jobs of the theologian is to carefully exegete and study Scripture and its necessary inferences and to harmonize these so-called paradoxes at the bar of human reason. As most here probably know, Clark said a paradox is a charley horse of the mind that can only be assuaged by vigorous mental massage.

    A great example, and since you continually make reference to it, is the so-called Well-Meant Offer. Not to revisit the entire question (and I’m certainly not going to here), but the supposed desire of God to save those He has foreordained to perdition as vessels of wrath does predate Van Til. Reformed Baptist Spurgeon also claimed to have found a desire on the part of God for the salvation of those He decreed not to save. He claims to have found this in passages like 1 Tim 2:4, yet he takes special care to note that he is parting ways with how “our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text.” Interestingly, Spurgeon’s older Calvinistic friends interpreted ALL of the so-called Arminian passages differently and in such a way as to cause no break or whatsoever in God’s Word, not to mention limited atonement and God’s complete sovereignty in elect. In contrast, Spurgeon’s exegesis results in a blatant contradiction and renders his theology inconsistent, something he also openly admits. Yet, he is willing to allow this contradiction to stand because he believes he is being faithful to Scripture. Sound familiar?

    Sadly, Vantilians (see John Murray on the Free Offer or the final section of A Complaint) not only followed Spurgeon in his folly and his complete break from how “our older Calvinistic friends deal” with the text and Reformed exegetical tradition, but it was Van Til’s epistemological framework, exemplified by his doctrine of incomprehensibility (that made up a majority of A Complaint), that has provided the philosophic justification for this shameful ersatz-Reformed surrender to Arminianism ever since. That’s because once you accept Van Til’s philosophy any so-called biblical contradiction can be accepted and embraced even as an act of (feigned) Christian piety and “thinking in submission to Scripture.”

    In my view such a view is utterly crippling to the Christian faith. And, if that makes me come across at times shrill and embattled (as I’m certainly gravely outnumbered), I apologize.

    • Sean,

      As someone who doesn’t know you at all, would you let me offer a thought on the uphill battle that you face in discussing Gordon Clark?

      Here it is: Every single person I have ever met who has told me that he (it is always a man) is a follower of Gordon Clark turned out to be a contentious person. I don’t mean that these men were only contentious about Clark v. CVT. These men turned out to be contentious on a whole range of issues. I have no idea why this is the case, but at 47 I am old enough to have seen this pattern far more times than anyone would want to.

      Is it fair for you to be painted by my experiences with other fans of Gordon Clark? Of course not. Then again, life isn’t really always fair. If you want to receive a hearing for your views you are going to have to go out of your way to be the calmest most irenic voice in the discussion.

      Best wishes,


      • Absolutely! If there is a spirit of persuasion–and since G. Clark is on the losing (respectively) side–then Clarkians have more of a reason to be gentle in speech, if they wish to keep their audience. David, I whole heartily agree.

      • I’ve met contentious people on both sides of the camp and they each have their annoying separatists.

        But if one likes to claim that Clarkian followers are all contentious and somehow linking it with Clarkian thought, then he’s given me to right to claim that all FVers happen to be Vantilian and linking FV thought to Van Til’s teaching. In general, there’s a double standard going around from both sides, more so from one camp than another.

        It would be better to drop personalities and stick with discussing only the ideas. It’s tiresome to hear someone drop Van Til’s or Clark’s name whenever the other is mentioned. For example, JMartinez dropped Van Til’s name and claimed he was better than GHClark on the PB perhaps in jest to someone who was suggesting GHClark’s books to read. Double standard? Yea. I wonder what his response will be.

    • Sean,
      while I would be interested in reading The Complaint, nobody yet has put it up at Trinity Foundation or said where else to get it. Which makes the rhetoric pretty frustrating. People get thumped for holding this or that position, but at least one of the primary sources to get up to speed is withheld/ unavailable. If I may respectfully say so, nobody gets to pull an ipsit dixit; GClark, VanTil or any of their respective proponents.
      Again, how can one get a hold of the document ASAP?
      Thank you.

      • Try the article “”Evangelicals and the Self Consciously Reformed” by Mark Noll and Cassandra Niemczyk in the book The Variety of American Evangelicalism Eds. Donald W Dayton; Robert K Johnston (ISBN 1572331585).

        This book is widely held in libraries across the country.

  14. since G. Clark is on the losing (respectively) side

    Losing side of what? Certainly not the baseless case Van Til and his associates lodge against him. I guess you men prefer gentle speech than truthful speech. From Can the OPC be Saved linked above:

    Dr. Clark’s leaving the OPC was not due to his failure to prevail in the Clark-Van Til controversy, for he did prevail. His ordination was upheld by the OPC General Assembly. Dr. Clark and his defenders left the OPC because the WTS faction, controlling the committee with jurisdiction over the matter, almost immediately after they had been defeated in the Clark case, refused to approve Floyd Hamilton’s call to teach in a Korean Presbyterian seminary. Hamilton was a veteran missionary to Korea, but because he had agreed with Dr. Clark and not Van Til, the WTS faction used its clout in committee to thwart his call to Korea. This action indicated that the WTS faction, despite its “apology” to the Church for its sinful behavior in the Clark case, was incorrigible, and intended to disrupt the peace of the Church for another four years, if necessary. Dr. Clark’s defenders thought their time and energy were better spent in proclaiming the Gospel than in fighting stubborn academics who postured as the sole defenders of the Reformed faith, opposed a “sound, aggressive denomination,” and congratulated themselves on their “purity,” a “purity” that has driven the denomination to the brink of apostasy. Years later Dr. Clark told me that he would have preferred to stay in the OPC, defeat the Westminster faculty again, and restore the OPC to the ideals it had when J. Gresham Machen was alive. Obviously he could not do that alone, so when those who had defended him left the OPC, Dr. Clark left as well. Because of the divisive actions of the WTS faction, one-third of the denomination walked out the door, including the OPC’s largest congregation. That left the Van Tilians in control of the denomination, and they have been modifying it and history ever since. It is safe to say that had Machen lived, the Westminster faculty would not have sought to defrock Dr. Clark, and the OPC might have remained on a Biblical course for much longer than it did. As it is, the denomination is again confronted by a Seminary faculty that teaches error, this time on the doctrine of salvation, and their students and protegés are defending that error and their teachers from Church discipline.

    That’s the lasting legacy of C. Van Til.

    • John Frame, though a strong C. Van Til advocate, left the OPC. That may suggest something.

  15. David, well, I’m 50 and you evidently haven’t met very many Vantilians, particularly of the theonomistic stripe. Perhaps you should read Kevin Reed’s Impervious Presbyterianism. Or spend some time with Vern Crisler. There is a deep authoritarian streak running through the many Vantilians I’ve met over the years, so that contentious cloth you mention cuts both ways.

    • Sean,

      I’ve met followers of Van Til who were obnoxiously contentious. But I also know quite a few who manage to be valiant for truth without sowing seeds of dissension among the brethren.

      On the other hand, I have never met a single follower of Clark who was not contentious, not even one. I know that if enough people flip quarters eventually one of them is going to flip heads 50 times in a row. Perhaps that is my lot in life. I only meet the contentious followers of Clark. But I suspect that this means there are enough contentious followers of Clark to poision the well before you arrive on the scene. If you think that it is frustration with your opponents that makes you sound shrill; remember that sounding shrill against this backdrop means you have already lost the debate (no matter what you might tell yourself afterwards).


      • And to think I always thought that those who lost the debate were the ones who resorted to abusive ad hominem attacks like telling someone to check their sewer pipes? But, no, I do get your point and it’s well taken. More so than you can imagine. I suppose if I were more irenic I would win more souls to my side of thinking. Yet, and praise be to God, despite my many failings and weakness, not to mention my sin, I can see the tide turning and more and more are able to draw the connection between Van Til’s bankrupt philosophy and the gross irrationality of the Federal Vision, even despite what you or anyone else might think of me. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t temper my comments more, but I’m encouraged nonetheless even if I think the PCA is a lost cause.

        Beyond that, I think despite my very deep disagreements with Dr. Clark and men like Vantilian Lane Kesiter over at the Greenbagins blog and a central figure in the Siouxland Pres now under assault, they know I don’t wish them any ill will and despite what it may seem to a causal observer I pray for them continually.

  16. “Whatever concerns we might share about the baleful influence of the FV are negated by your anti-Van Til agenda.”

    Although I’m not a Van Tillian, I’ll hav to say a hearty AMEN.

  17. Just food for thought. I know Clarkian’s who are not contentious but kind and patient. I also know Van Tillian’s who are not contentious and are kind and patient. I personally think that both Clark and Van Till had things wrong.

    I hope some of your jugulars are not pumping as hard as they can. You will die much faster if any of you actually get close to each other with a knife.

    The Well Meant Offer is not the same as the Free Offer of the Gospel. I agree with Sean on that point. And I also think Van Til’s view of paradox is a bit overboard.

    I do believe in mysteries but I also believe that they are revealed and understood by revelation to those who have been given the priviledge to know them as Christ points out.

    (Mar 4:11) And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:

    (Mar 4:12) That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

    My main problem with the FV is not that they are Van Tillian. I know Van Tillians who hold to good solid doctrine that is revealed to them by God’s Spirit and Word. I believe the main problem with the FV is there misunderstanding of basic Covenant Theology. ie. monocovenantalism and their confusion of works and grace. It scews and totally confuses the Work of Christ in my estimation.

    I just put a small blurb about this on my Puritanboard blog.

    BTW, can’t we all just get along and play in the sandbox a little nicer? Sometimes the situation does make that impossible. People who want to bring their pets into the box so that they use it for a litter box should not be allowed. The Confessions are clear. Covenant Theology is defined. Why allow it to be disregarded.

    Just my 2 cents.

    R. Martin Snyder

  18. Dr. Clark, I have been mulling over something you said above. Actually, it was one of those things that has woke me up in the middle of the night scratching my increasingly balding head.

    You wrote:

    human language to speak truth but that truth is always accommodated to human finitude, then there will always be a certain degree of falsity in human speech about God.


    We speak of God’s attributes. In truth God doesn’t have “attributes” but we cannot speak about him without distinguish or else we’re left in mystical silence.

    Can you elaborate on this idea of the inherent falsity in human speech about God and the idea that God doesn’t have attributes?

    And, what does it mean that “we cannot speak about him without distinguish”?

    Is there something missing from this clause, because I don’t know what it means? I’m just trying to figure out what it is that has you dancing around the abyss of mystical silence, but the key appears to be missing from the first part of that sentence.

    I realize it is a bit wide afield of the Federal Vision’s clear domination of the Soiuxlands Presbytery and the efforts of the few remaining godly men who are being played like puppets by another group of PCA delinquents in the majority.

    So… if you have an article or a book where you expand and explain your belief in the inherent falsity of human language to speak about God (i.e., the inability of language to convey literal unadulterated truth about God) and where you develop the idea that God does not have attributes, please let me know. That is one book I would buy in a heartbeat!

    • Sean,

      This was a commonplace in Reformed orthodoxy in the 16th and 17th century. In his Commonplaces (1647), theologian and delegate to the Synod of Dort, Antonius Walaeus (1573–1679) discussed this maxim (the Creator/creature distinction or the archetypal/ectypal distinction) under the topic “The Church Triumphant.” He said that it is true that we cannot see God in se, but that we will see God as he accommodates himself to our creaturely capacity. Francis Turretin (1623–87) said, “When God is set forth as the object of theology, he is not to be regarded simply as Deus in se, for thus he is hidden to us, but in so far as he is revealed to us and as he has condescended to make himself known to us in the Word….” He continued by polemicizing against Thomas Aquinas by arguing that we do not speak about God as he is in himself because this sort of knowledge of God is not saving but “deadly to sinners.” Rather, “God is to be known as he is our God covenanted in Christ, as he has accommodated himself to us in his Word.” Where Luther had spoken of “God hidden,” Turretin said “in himself,” where Luther said, “God revealed,” Turretin said “God covenanted with us in Christ.” Though they used different terms, they were saying substantially the same thing. At the end of the 17th century, Petrus van Mastricht (1630–1706) rejected the Lutheran Christology on the basis of this, now axiomatic, Creator/creature distinction. In late 19th and early 20th centuries Herman Bavinck re- affirmed this distinction. “This theory of the incomprehensibility of God and the unknowability of his essence also became the starting point and fundamental idea of Christian theology.” Bavinck quickly surveyed the history of the distinction between God as he is in se and as he is toward us (erga nos) appealing to a wide range of patristic, medieval, and Reformation theologians. “To a considerable extent we can assent to and wholeheartedly affirm this doctrine of the unknowability of God. Scripture and the church emphatically assert the unsearchable majesty and sovereign highness of God. There is no knowledge of God as he is in himself.”


      Turretin called the divine attributes “the essential properties by which he makes himself known to us…by which he is distinguished from creatures.” That is, they are those things which make God who he is. To say that God has attributes also means that there is a real foundation in the divine essence for his attributes revealed Scripture. They are not just modes of revelation or illusions or ways of talking with no basis in reality (pace Paul Seely—the doc of accommodation is not a license for mischief).

      The distinction in the attributes that we make is ectypal, not in se, not realiter, in Deo, but erga nos. This is the result of the archetypal/ectypal distinction. It is not as if our adjectives comprehend God. As far as our understanding of it is true to God’s self-disclosure our words, e.g., immensity are accurate. We want to say with Scripture that God really does ‘think’, ‘feel’, ‘will’. These are not just modes of speaking. Yet, God’s experience of them is not identical to our experience of these faculties. Our experience is analogous to God’s, not identical.

      In order for us to speak about God, we must distinguish, but we must understand at the same time that these distinctions are not to be imputed to God himself, but they are a way of speaking about God. The distinction which we are forced to make between the attributes, perfections, is due solely to our limitations, not to any division within God himself.

      For more on this, see RRC ch 4 and the essay in the Strimple festschrift.

  19. “both Clark and Van Till had things wrong.”

    Yes. I suspect this to be the case. For me, it has to do with their use and abuse of various methods of philosophical hermenuetics. It’s here where I think John Frame “jumps the shark” in taking the mostly American 50’s and 60’s philosophical hermenuetics to something more substantial than the major thrusts of the reformation.

    Here’s a quote from Frame’s Machen’s Warrior Children:

    “In the 1950s and ‘60s, the intellectual leaders of evangelicalism
    were for the most part biblical scholars, apologists, and systematic
    theologians. But at the end of the twentieth century, church
    historians, and theologians who do their work in dialogue with ancient
    and recent history, have become more prominent. Reformed theology has
    participated in this development, so that many of its most prominent
    figures, such as David Wells, Donald Bloesch, Mark Noll, George
    Marsden, Darryl Hart, Richard Muller, and Michael Horton, do theology
    in a historical mode.”

    “The history-oriented theologians tend to be uncritical of traditions and critical of the contemporary church. But their arguments are often based on their preferences rather than biblical principle and therefore fail to persuade. The Reformed community, in my judgment, needs to return to an explicitly exegetical model of theology, following the example of John Murray.”

    To me, Frame suffers from a classic case of evangelical provincial recentism (e.g. The kind that Stephen J. Nochols talks about in his 2008 book Jesus Made in America).

  20. Sean has issues with Muether and therefore Muether is not a very good historian in his opinion- and , as if nobody who ever spent a New York minute with Sean could tell you, he positively hates Van Til…. and his philosophy and apologetics. But, in the famous phase of the late Paul Harvey, now for the rest of the story….Take time to read Carl Henry’s ‘Confessions of a Theologian'( Word,1986) and see if anyone can reconcile Sean’s take on CVT and that of Gordon Clark. It was Clark who introduced Henry to CVT while teaching at Wheaton. In fact Clark used Van Til’s syabllus on apologetics as the primary text in his class ( and I might add Van Til highly recommended Clark’s ‘Thales to Dewey’ as the best introduction to Western philosophy he had read.). Sean has made all kinds of snide remarks about my memory concerning Clark and Van Til -who I knew and had extended conversations with both of these servants of Christ. Well, I am perfectly content to let the matter be decided by a higher court on the day when the secrets of our hearts will be revealed by Him who is our judge in such matters.

  21. Thank you Dr. Clark, you’ve convinced me. I will pick up Strimple festschrift.

    As for Johnson my response is: for those uncomfortable with revisionist history and myth making my recommendation is a) track down copies of Van Til & Associates’ Complaint against Gordon Clark in their failed attempt to defrock Clark along with Clark’s Answer to Van Til, and, b) read John Robbins’ Can The OPC Be Saved. And, as linked above, I recommend my piece on Johnson’s “rusted memories” on my blog. No one has to wait until the parousia to learn that Johnson doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Besides, Johnson contradicts Muethe. Oh, I forgot, in Vantilspeak both sides of a contradiction are true, at least when Vantilians say they are.


  22. SG
    What? Don’t want to read Carl Henry’s take on this? Why am I not surprised. No doubt you think Henry is also a big dummie even though he was one of Clark’s prized pupils. Obvious anyone who doesn’t agree with your jaundice views is unreliable and can be dismissed with a wave of your hand. Go ahead and carry on you crusade Sean, but there is a reckoning coming of that you can be sure. Oh, one more than-would you kindly tell us something about your own educational qualifications?

    • How is Gerety’s educations qualifications relevant here? Does his lack of education qualifications nullify his remarks or opinions?

      There’s a lot of complaint of Gerety’s tone. But outside of the Gerety context, I’m surprise at the snide remarks and tone that come a senior pastor (Johnson) on public forums and blogs. If we call out Gerety for his usage, shouldn’t we call everyone else? It’s like being around two kids saying “but he started it.”

      • “How is Gerety’s educations qualifications relevant here? Does his lack of education qualifications nullify his remarks or opinions?”

        No … but it is a counter measure used to distract from the argument at hand. To talk of one’s “tone” and ask for one’s “credentials” for why he believes what he does is generally used by those who think their ad hom’s are witty, while other’s use of them is unfriendly and rude. Kind of like a dog who bares his teeth and a weak bladder at the same time when confronted.

        Sean has stated he does not “hate” Vantil … no matter ….the counter measure is continued because these 2 have history.

  23. Go ahead and carry on you crusade Sean, but there is a reckoning coming of that you can be sure.

    What reckoning would that be Gary? Could it be the complete apostasy of the PCA that’s quickly approaching and the unchecked ascendancy of the Federal Vision as the supposed stalwarts of the faith embrace rank Christ denying heretics as “brothers” in their mystical abandonment of reason? What will you do on that day Gary? Simply retreat to the independent confines of Church of the Redeemer?

    As for Henry’s autobiography, I would love to read it. Want to send me a copy? Christmas is coming. 🙂 Also, I don’t deny some points of agreement between Clark and Van Til even as Ray Kikkert touched on them above. FWIW R. J. Rushdoony makes a similar point in his contribution to the Clark festschrift, Clark and His Critics now available from the Trinity Foundation. He says, “Despite their very real differences, Clark is closer to Van Til than to many of his former students.” However, “His differences with Van Til … are very real and at points deep….” Interestingly, Rushdoony also argues, “Clark’s postion therefore is not only *theologically* Calvinistic, but it is also *philosophically* very exensively presuppositionalist. Clark’s basic position therefore is not rationalistic.” Hmm, a good lesson there for Vantilians even our own R.S. Clark.

    FWIW it is those very real and deep points of disagreement that I have chosen to focus on and not just because I particularly enjoy irritating people like you. I do so because it is at those points that we see the very real and destructive nature of Van Til’s philosophy, even if men like you fail to see it, much less acknowledge it.

    And, finally, just so you don’t think I am purposely ignoring you, my education does not include any seminary training (small blessings), no M.Div, not even a PhD. I’m just an ordinary pew-on who, much to the chagrin of my Vantilian friends, was first introduced to the Reformed faith by first reading Clark years ago. In my naivete I had no idea that anyone could believe the abject nonsense being advanced by Van Til and his followers. Boy, was I wrong.

  24. So, like Robbins you do not have any formal theological training? What about philosophy-any training in that field? But you nonetheless feel confident to critize VanTil who graduated with honors from Princeton theological seminary and profoundly impressed J Gresham Machen and then went on to earh a PhD in philosophy from Princeton University and even made a significant impression on Gordon Clark enough that Clark would use Van Til materials in his classes. Well excuse me ,but as that say, you have zero street cred.

  25. Eric
    When a man like Van Til, who Gordon Clark called his friend, is repeatedly slandered , I take exception- and I do so as a pastor without any reservation whatsoever. To be perfectly candid, SG, is not worthy to walk in CVT’s shadow, theologically and philosophically you name it- SG is an ant by comparision- as Clark would gladly attest.

  26. Johnson,

    I don’t want to speak about Robbins, but if I’m not mistaken Robbins was ordained as an elder and was given license to preach. Didn’t Robbins also have a doctorate in political philosophy? Wasn’t he also taught under GHClark (or was that not formal enough for you)? How’s Robbins’ street cred so far? Are you saying Robbins lack of a formal theological training automatically or always nullifies his criticisms? Why is that? If I actually take your word on it, the only person who can criticize other trained pastors and philosophers are other seminarians and those with doctorates. Or did I make a logical conclusion that you didn’t want to be had? If I did, then why again is Gerety’s educational background questioned or even relevant in this discussion?

    And if I’m not mistaken again, Gerety has simply regurgitated criticisms from other who do have formal theological training. So the problem cannot be Gerety’s criticisms nor can it be his lack of formal theological training (so far as his criticisms reflect those of formal theological training). In the end, and as usual, the criticisms should be answered, not just the tone. I appreciate RSClark in answering and responding to the criticisms and questions and not simply responding about tone. If there is slander, tell us where the slander lies. And if you’ve already answered it, then thank you. (Gerety should likewise prove his case.) And if you could direct to us outsiders where the information is, even more thanks.

    I don’t know GHClark to know what he would say or answer. I am sure he called many people friends. But if I’m familiar enough with his works, he would side with the biblical layman than a trained seminarian if that seminarian was unbiblical, wrong, and irrational. I mean, is that crazy or what?

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