Why James Anderson is not a Clarkian.

March 13, 2010

The title of this post is taken from James Anderson’s blog from a post titled “Why I am not a Clarkian”.   Ryan, over at Sean Gerety’s blogspot [http://godshammer.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/crampton-refutes-anderson/#comment-2840] provided the link to Anderson’s comments about Clark’s treatment of the trinity and the Incarnation from his definition of a person. Itwould seem Anderson thinks he has found at last an intelligible objection against Clark’s definition of a person, over and above his inane quips, at http://proginosko.worpress.com, Anderson’s blogspot. It is a section extracted from a lengthier response Anderson wrote on Crampton’s review of his book.
In it Anderson writes,
However, the problem with Clark’s formulation isn’t that it is heretical. The problem is that it’s downright incoherent.

After offering his novel definition of ‘person’ Clark explains: “As a man thinketh in his (figurative) heart, so is he. A man is what he thinks.” Leaving no doubt as to what he means, he later adds: “a person is the propositions he thinks.”[4] But this is obviously incoherent, since it presupposes a distinction between the thinker (“he”) and his thoughts (“the propositions”). It’s no more coherent than the claim that a person is the clothes he wears! In fact, Clark’s definition is circular, because the definiendum (“a person”) is referred to in the definiens (“the propositions he [i.e., the person] thinks”).

Since Clark gets his definiton from or rather believes he has support for his definiton from scripture, which he quotes, Anderson’s objection would have been weightier if he had simply provided exegesis of that verse and shown that it does not have the meaning that Clark attaches to it. Anderson’s glaring omission leaves his objection insubstantial and only a little more than just a tribalistic outburst(Why I am not a Clarkian) On the other hand, if the scripture quoted has the meaning that Clark believes it has, Anderson’s charge of incoherence must apply to the scripture as well! Since Anderson believes that there is apparent incoherence in scripture, which he calls paradox, one must ask what are the grounds upon which Anderson bases his seeming demands for coherence from this particular one?

The charge of incoherence and circularity needs to be examined. A definition must ultimately be circular, for otherwise, one needs to define further terms and define further terms and so on ad infinitum.  This is as old an observation as the Greek philosophers. A cat is a cat is not incoherent even if circular! It is a simple tautology. But all definitions must ultimately satisfy this tautological requirement, for otherwise no definition can be had.
God for example, can only be defined by himself since there is nothing “outside” God that can be used as a frame of reference. Yet this should not make the idea of God incoherent, as Anderson charges.
   Further, Anderson’s objection would imply that self knowledge is incoherent. For, self knowledge must “presuppose(s) a distinction between the thinker (“he”) and his thoughts (“the propositions”).”  Further, in speaking about one’s self “the definiendum (“a person”) is referred to in the definiens (“the propositions he [i.e., the person] thinks”).”   The implications of this objection to God would mean that either God cannot know himself or if  He does, He cannot make Himself known for fear of Anderson’s charges of incoherence and circularity. If God cannot know Himself then He is not omniscient for there would be something He does not know and if He cannot make himself known, He is not omnipotent for there would be something He cannot do, for fear of Anderson.

Anderson, exhibiting his thoroughly unchristian foundations thunders,

“In any case, how can a composite of propositions think in the first place? Aren’t propositions objects of thought rather than subjects of thought, as Clark himself recognized?  Even more problematically, how can a composite of propositions suffer or be crucified or thirst?”

Either Anderson simply does not read his bible at all or in his pursuit of an anti-Clark agenda he must ignore passages in scripture from which Clark believes he had support for his ideas. Why Anderson objects to a congeries of propositions but has no objections to the passages in scripture where Christ says He is the truth and the Bible refers to Him as the Word is hard to explain. These are basically identical in meaning. Anderson’s objections to Clark apply to scripture. The reasons Anderson fails to see the implications of his objections, that they are a rejection of scripture, is the irrational and insane world he lives in and his blind and rabid animus against Clark. All these are demonically motivated and reveal a pathological misologyof the lowest sort. Anderson goes on:

Clark’s apparent identification of propositions with human thoughts is undermined by the observation that two people can think one and the same proposition.

Huh? The ability to think the same thoughts is what provides a basis for a common definition of man, otherwise, we can only have individual men, but no man. On the other hand indviduation is provided by the fact that no two minds(congeries of propositions) can be completely identical. Clark takes pains to explain his views which Anderson chooses to ignore.

Furthermore, Clark’s attempt to distinguish persons on the basis of first-person indexical propositions suffers from explanatory circularity.(What does the ‘I’ in the proposition “I was incarnated” refer to if not a person whose existence is logically prior to that proposition?) 

This borders on siliness. Anderson does not explain why he thinks a congeries of propositions incapable of refering to themselves as “I”.  If there is a non propositional “person” prior to thought, can this “person” be  known? I have alreadypointed out the implications of this to self knowledge above. Anderson’s views condemns God and us to a mystical and unkowable other, an “I” which is prior to thought.

So much for the philosophical problems of Clark’s analysis of the doctrine of the Incarnation. How does it fare theologically? Does it do justice to the biblical teaching about Christ? Clark recommends that we think of Christ in terms of “two persons” rather than the “two natures” of the Chalcedon formula. What then accounts for the unity between the two? Chalcedon’s answer is straightforward: it’s the unity of personhood. What is Clark’s alternative? As far as I can tell, he offers none.

Anderson does not provide us with any definition of a person.  Does this not make his objections unintelligible, for not even Anderson knows what he is  making his asservations about?
Anderson does not interact with Clark’s question as to how a “human nature” cannot be a human person and a “divine nature” cannot be a divine person. Clark also raises questions about the Son being modified if he were to become anything he was not before. This would impugn God’s immutability. If the definition of Chalcedon contains unintelligible language, undefined terms, and difficult implications how can Anderson call its so called unity of personhood “straightforward”. Isn’t nonsense just that, straightforward nonsense?
But this inevitably invites a host of awkward questions. Who exactly is the “one mediator” of 1 Timothy 2:5? Who or what is the referent of the name “Jesus Christ” in the New Testament? Did Clark think that “Jesus Christ” referred collectively to two ‘persons’: God the Son and Jesus of Nazareth? Why then do the biblical writers use the pronoun ‘he’ rather than ‘they’? The answer should be obvious: the biblical writers weren’t working with anything like Clark’s quirky notion of personhood. Rather, they were working with the everyday notion of personhood reflected in personal pronouns: an individual with the capacity for thoughts, intentions, and actions.

We believe the bible teaches a trinitarian view of God. But the Bible hardly ever uses “they” or “we” in talking about God. It says God is “one God” which does not entail one person. The unity of the Godhead is not that of “personhood”. In other words, God is NOT one person even if the Bible uses “He” and not “them”. Why does Anderson not think this could apply to the Incarnation? Rather, it is “obvious” that the absence of “they” simply cannot be taken to entail one person. Indeed, I myself wish to know the answers to the questions Anderson raises. Refering to difficulties his view entails, Clark noted that there is no conversation recorded in scripture between the two persons in his two person theory. The Incarnation invites a lot of questions not only because of Clark’s views, but because it is a very difficult and puzzling subject. Clark’s exploratory effort in clarifying some of the issues for instance by insisting on clear definition of terms is commendable rather than unintelligible “substances” and unkown “persons” and implications of a modified trinity. Anderson says because the bible writers used  the everyday notion of personhood it implies that Christ was one person. Such a conclusion may not be easily made. In any case how are we the wiser about the Incarnation by the use of vague  everyday notions and not clear and precise definitons? Suppose I were to say “A cat is a fury pet with the capacity for dog hate.”  That may be true, but it certainly is not a definition of a cat. I am certain Clark would have been aware of “everyday notion of personhood ..” but obviously did not consider these notions as possesing the precision required of a definition and hence he provided one of his own. Anderson may be right that the bible writers employed “everyday notion of personhood ..”, but how does that constitute an argument against providing precise definitions? And how does calling Clark’s definition “quirky” constitute an argument against it?

Of course this is James Anderson we are talking about. A man who writes a book defending the rationality of believing contradictory notions cannot be expected to value clarity of thought nor to provide it. The irony and contradictory nature entailed by such a project is lost to him. This is sad since there is nothing to be gained by being muddle headed. The very thing Anderson is guilty of in this short section on Clark’s views, he accuses Crampton of, namely, a failure to interact with the views objected to and provide a cogent  refutation. Anderson’s piece is as unscholarly as anything any undergraduate can be guilty of.

In his blog Anderson gets commendatory comments for his effort from two stary eyed fans and simpletons, paullmanata and theoparadox.

Bouyed by Anderson’s scholarly incompetent blather, theoparadox says “James, thanks for this cogent and informative response to Crampton’s review. You have demonstrated that Clarkians don’t have the intellectual high ground they claim.” 

Just a correction. Clarkians do not claim any intellectual high ground. We simply insist that God is light and not darkness, that He is truth and rational and not confusion and contradiction in his thought. Further, God’s purpose in communicating his thoughts to us is that we may understand them(Him) and hence we insist on intelligible communication. If this is a claim to an intellectual higher ground, so be it.

Let me conclude by borrowing Anderson’s reply to barbinski:

Mr. Anderson,

Does your comment show any evidence that you have read Clark’s books or are even remotely familiar with his arguments? No.

Does your comment contain anything more than bald assertion and vacuous insinuation? No.

Is your comment the least bit insightful or productive? No.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe your contributions to Internet discussions over the last 10 years or so. I’m familiar with your modus operandi. Don’t take this personally, but I must be direct: I’d rather you didn’t waste my time and yours with comments like this one.

Does God have emotions?

December 23, 2009

Some one once visited our church and amongst other things encouraged us to ¨balance¨ the intellect and emotions. We need to balance our heads and hearts he intoned. I replied that the intellect alone needs to be balanced and this we do by holding correct views, or believing the truth. That is all the balance we need. Further the intellect cannot be balanced against emotions as there is no parity between emotions and the intellect. His reply was that God has emotions. ¨God rejoices over His people¨, he added, quoting from scripture. ¨God does not have emotions¨, I replied, to his obvious annoyance! To put things into proper perspective and remove confusion over emotions and the intellect the following approach will be followed. We look at the nature of God as revealed in scripture and from the truth that man is created in the image of God we draw conclusions about the place of emotions and the mind.

That God has no emotions is nothing novel, as it has been held by the sixteenth century Reformation Christians and those immediately after them. It is sad testimony to the extent of 21st century neglect of godliness and the ignorance of scripture that goes with it, amongst those who call themselves Christians, that one would find even a preacher who says God has emotions, in a supposedly Reformed denomination for that matter. The following quotes, one from an Anglican(courtesy, Godorn Clark), and another from the Westminster Confession of Faith should suffice. First, the Anglican, Augustus Toplady:

¨God is not irascible and appeasable, liable to emotions of joy and sorrow, or in any respect passive. … When love is predicated of God, we do not mean that he is possessed of it as a passion or affection. … Love, therefore, when attributed to him, signifies (1)his eternal benevolence, i.e. His everlasting will, purpose, and determination to deliver, bless, and save his people.¨(Complete Works, pp 106, 107, London 1896)

The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter II, section I:

¨There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; … ¨

If the view expressed in the quoted passages, that God is without emotions are correct, what then, is one to make of scriptural references to emotions in God? The answer is not hard to come by at all. Scripture refers to human body parts in speaking about God. But no Christian in their right mind, some fringe cults perhaps excepted, would suggest that literal body parts is being meant! This manner of speaking about God, ¨the hand of the Lord¨, ¨the voice of God¨, ¨Godś eyes¨ and so forth is called anthropomorphism and causes the majority of Christians no difficulty. But, some Christians, in an inexplicable and irrational turn about, will insist that references to emotions in God be taken literally. But why? Can´t literal emotions be disposed of in these passages and still retain intelligibility? The answer is that indeed it can be done and should be!

First, Toplady says God is not ¨liable to emotions of joy and sorrow¨. In other words, God does not suffer ups and downs! Indeed, if He did, He would find it hard to be immutable, omnipotent and perhaps a further half a dozen other attributes would be vitiated! His immutability alone should be sufficient to dissuade Christians from the idea that see-saw emotions could be part of God´s being and that therefore, references to emotions in God be not taken literally! God´s wrath or anger refers to his righteous judgement against sin and not literal emotional outbursts of anger, fits of rage, throwing tantrums, ¨flying off the handle¨, being pissed off, peeved, breathing fire or getting red faced! Likewise, God rejoicing over His people is not meant emotional excitement, but means God taking pleasure and satisfaction and viewing approvingly the work of His own hands that is His people. This use of emotions in reference to God´s activity is called anthropopathism!

Secondly, Toplady says love in God is NOT an emotion. I will go further and say love in scripture is NEVER an emotion, neither for God nor humans. We agree with Toplady´s definition of God´s love! Toplady says the love of God for his creatures, the elect in particular, refers to his plan and execution of Salvation and his care and providence. It issues from His mind and will and not sentimental motions in His being!

I John 3:16a, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us”

I John 4:9-10, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiantion for our sins.” 

Neither is love an emotion in us. Creaturely love is the creature´s duty towards God and other creatures as prescribed by God! In other words, it is simply obedience to God´s commands. Scriptures abound to support this view, but Romans 13:9 – 10 is perhaps the clearest.

¨Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet: and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.¨

Paul says the commandments can be summarised by simply saying love your neighbour as yourself. Love is keeping God´s commandments! Since we are comanded to love, love then is a volition. Sentimentality has nothing to do with it.

The scriptures tell us that man is created in God´s image. If God has not a body or emotions, and we do, it follows that the image is whatever man is that is other than body and emotions. This we identify as the mind, intellect or spirit. Man is therefore NOT a ¨tripartite¨ being or a unity of body and spirit. Man is simply the image of God, the mind or spirit! This is not to deny that man has a body, but that the scriptural data requires that man be defined by the image of God which is the spirit. Further, God is a spirit and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. God is truth and His words are spirit and life. Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that issues from the mouth of Jehova. This establishes the primacy of truth and as a subsidiary theorem, the primacy of the mind or intellect, for we are to know the truth, and that we do with the mind. For as a man thinketh so is he. Notice, not as he feels! This shows how wrong headed the pop psychology feel good about yourself exhortations are — unless the good feelings issue from hearing the objective truth!

What then is the place of our emotions? Emotions are some kind of response to what the mind understands or thinks. Here is a comment on emotions made by one pastor:

¨………… While I am at it, I may as well get in a plug for emotions too. I cannot determine whether Dr. Clark views emotions as illusory or as merely untrustworthy. If the former, I must maintain that emotions do exist, and we must do something with them other than deny them. If the latter, I would observe that “trusting your feelings” is worse than inadvisable. It is impossible. A feeling, that is an emotion, is incapable of making propositions. No one ever acts on his feelings. He acts on his thoughts. And only the intellect can think. When people set their “hearts” in opposition to their “heads,” when their “emotions get the better of them,” what they are in fact doing is revealing what their intellects really believe, as opposed to what they claim to believe. The intellect is primary, whether anyone admits it or not. Well then, what do we do with emotions? We admit them as responses to what the intellect apprehends. Emotions cannot be controlled, but thoughts can. Emotions have no cognitive content or ability, so they cannot be blamed for leading us astray. Men go astray because they believe lies. Therefore you do not tell a chronically angry man that he must control his emotions. You recognize his chronic anger as an emotional symptom of his thoughts. Then after finding out the thoughts that are making him angry, you seek to change them. Exponents of Christian experientialism would be benefited more by a rebuke for their practice of fabricating false doctrine in hopes of pleasing their carnal minds and producing pleasant emotions, than by an injunction to forsake emotion. ………………….. —Douglas Withington, Pastor, Harrisville, Pennsylvania (The Trinity Review May, June 1983)

Well, there you have it!

Is God “infinite” ?

November 30, 2009

In mathematics, diving a number by zero is undefined. But it is now customary to call “the result”(there is actually no result as such) of dividing a number by zero, “infinity”.  There is in fact no number which is the result of dividing by zero. The operation is simply undefined, or meaningless. The result of this meaningless operation is anything but a number. “Infinity” is therefore not a number. “Infinity” can not refer to “magnitude” as numbers ordinarily do, since it is NOT a number.  The reason diving by zero is undefined lies in the axioms of arithmetic. Dividing by zero is undefined within these axioms. Zero does not have a “multiplicative inverse”(1/0 does not exist), and hence one cannot put zero “at the bottom” to divide another number(i.e. x/0 is meaningless). There are other ways of arriving at “infinity”, but this should be sufficient for the present purposes.

But, it seems from popular usage that “infinite” is used to designate some sort of magnitude or size of “unspecifiable” quantity,  “a limitless number”.  A number, any number,  ought to be specifiable in principle, barring of course mere  ignorance of it. If not, then a contradiction seems to be implied. In mathematics, such contradictions point to undefined operations or operations that are not specifiable in terms of the axioms or conditions that illegitimately stretch the extent of coverage of the system of axioms. No “irresolvable contradiction” or “paradox”  is implied.

The use of “infinity” in theology in referring to God’s attributes such as power, knowledge etc etc will  therefore be somewhat problematic, given the origins of the word “infinite” in mathematics as I have outlined above. Does “God is infinite in power and wisdom …” really mean anything? What is “infinite”, in reference  to God’s attributes,  meant to convey? Does the Bible anywhere refer to anything as infinite? The answer to the last question is a definite NO as we will show!  No where does the Bible call God infinite in any of His attributes!

There are three instances and only three, in the Old Testament  where a Hebrew word is translated “infinite” .  It refers to God’s understanding(knowledge), then to the strength of a nation and finally to someone’s sins.

We dispose of the easier ones first.

Eliphaz, one of Job’s miserable comforters, says in Job 22:5, “Is not thy wickedness great? and thine iniquities infinite?”.  The Hebrew is “en qets” which means “no end”. Did  Eliphaz posses the  modern mathematical idea of “infinite” or an ancient equivalent  in his mind when he uttered these words, to justify such a translation? The most plausible answer is probably NO!  Eliphaz was of the idea that Job’s sins had gone beyond acceptable limits hence his suffering. Job would need an “infinite” time to have his sins literally  “infinitely” many.   It should simply be “There is no end to your iniquities” No end to your iniquities is NOT literal “no end”. It is hyperbole for many sins. The translation is therefore not a good one.

Secondly, Nahum 3:9Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was infinite; Put and Lubim were thy helpers”

The Hebrew is “‘en qetseh”, which again means “no end”. Surely Ethiopia and Egypt were not infinite, for then they would be equal to the “infinite” god of the theologians!!!  The meaning of the phrase might refer to the impressive  “numberless”(without end) hordes of the armies of the Ethiopians and Egypt; their incontestable military might by reason of their numbers. To get an idea of the military prowess of these guys refer to the passage in 2 Chronicles 12:

1 And it came to pass, when Rehoboam had established the kingdom, and had strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him. 2 And it came to pass, that in the fifth year of king Rehoboam Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed against the LORD, 3 With twelve hundred chariots, and threescore thousand horsemen: and the people were without number that came with him out of Egypt; the Lubims, the Sukkiims, and the Ethiopians.

The Bible says the people were “without number” that came with Shaky, from Egypt. The translators wisely did not choose “infinity” for Shaky’s hordes!

And lastly, the verses that refer to God.

“Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite” (Psa. 147:5).

The Hebrew  used in the Psalm  is “en micpar” which means “no number”.  It  can be translated “great in number”, certainly NOT infinite. As used in the verse, it means unfathomable or inscrutable or unsurpassed. This refers to the depth of His mind! Number or quantity is really of minor consideration in matters of knowledge. Understanding, comprehension,  is the chief part. It is the ability to make connections, systematize and arrange that  is lauded as knowledge rather than myriads of unconnected propositions. By inscrutable or unfathomable I do not mean irrational or the van Tillian delicacies, “incomprehensibility”,  “apparent contradictions” and “paradoxes”. I mean God possesses such great depths of wisdom and knowledge that man understands only poorly. God is omniscient means He possesses all the logical relations of all propositions in His mind, which no human mind does!

Gordon Clark, in his “The Incarnation” says, “..if infinite in number, neither God nor man could know them all, for with respect to infinity there is no “all” to be known. Infinity has no last term, and God’s knowledge would be as incomplete  as man’s. Shades of Zeus!” and further says, ” .. a denial of infinity to God is not a denial of omniscience or omnipotence.” (pp 62 & 63)

For argument’s sake, a “god” with the knowledge of all the “infinite” real or natural numbers has infinite knowledge. But  this infinite “god” need not know anything else to be said to possess infinitude since the knowledge of all numbers alone is sufficient for that purpose.  And so, “god” could be ignorant of other things and still be “infinite”. “Infinitude” is therefore inadequate to designate the God of scripture who knows all things. Escape to an all embracing infinitude leads to problems. God is not an infinite number of persons, but only three.

Many of the so-called “difficulties in the concept of God ” involve the invocation of “finite” and “infinite” categories.  This would seem to be confusion arising from the use of meaningless words. Many theologians are sure “the finite” cannot comprehend “the infinite”.  I think they are right, and their confused theology makes the point eloquently!!!

Clark says Thomas Aquinas  introduced “infinity” into theology! This medieval Thomistic flight of fancy ought to be discarded!

J C Ryle Quote

November 2, 2009

This is taken from the J C Ryle Quotes page: http://jcrylequotes.com/

“What more common than to hear it said of some false teacher in this day:

‘He is so good, so devoted, so kind, so zealous, so laborious, so humble, so self-denying, so charitable, so earnest, so fervent, so clever, so evidently sincere, there can be no danger and no harm in hearing him. Besides he preaches so much real Gospel: no one can preach a better sermon than he does sometimes! I never can and never will believe he is unsound.’

“Who does not hear continually such talk as this? What discerning eye can fail to see that many Churchmen expect unsound teachers to be open vendors of poison, and cannot realize that they often appear as ‘angels of light,’ and are far too wise to be always saying all they think, and showing their whole hand and mind. But so it is. Never was it so needful to remember the words, ‘The serpent beguiled Eve by his subtilty.’”

~ J.C. Ryle

Warnings to the Churches, “Apostolic Fears”, 131.

Evangelical Anglicanism on Scriptural Coherence

November 2, 2009

Contra the irrational paradox mongers(James Anderson,  John Frame and their  ilk), the following is a refreshing view from an evangelical Anglican:

“It is, of course, a basic principle of interpreting particular biblical texts that they must be construed in context. With any text, not just biblical ones, reading individual sentences so that they contradict each other may be an amusing party game, but it scarcely is calculated to help us know the mind of the author. Even so, with purely human texts, we are sometimes justified in finding contradictions. This scarcely surprises us, since consistent, coherent thought is difficult. Yet with a text originating with God, we rightly expect and seek consistency and coherence, not just between say, 1 John chapter 1 and chapter 4, but between, say, Paul and James on justification.
The rationale for this is not a bibliolatry, but a conception of who the God is who has originated the biblical texts. As Paul comments in Acts 20:27, when we speak of the plan or purpose or counsel of God, we speak of it in the singular, and as a whole.
Given the sovereignty, wisdom, knowledge and truthfulness of God, this must follow. For to suggest that God has inconsistent plans, or plans that come to implemented as one or another fails, would be to suggest he is not sovereign in salvation. To suggest that there are mutually incompatible values within his purpose would be to impugn his wisdom and knowledge, and so on.
In other words, the God who meets us in the Gospel, eternal, uncreated Father, creator of all, necessitates a commitment at the level of our exegesis to the unity of individual texts, and leads us to seek for resolution and synthesis in the face of apparent contradiction. This again is part and parcel of the authentic Anglican approach to scripture. Article 20 reminds us that the Church does not have liberty to follow any exegetical conclusion. We read of the authority of the Church: ‘neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.’ ”

,  GAFCON 2008

Thinking on God

April 27, 2009

These are my thoughts on God, purloined from Gordon Clark.

Who is God? What we think , is most important, especially about God, since the Bible says God requires us to worship him in spirit and in truth. Mindless worship or false thinking do not glorify God. The source material for thinking about God is scattered throughout the various books of the Bible. In fact, the whole theme of the Bible is God. Recently, God has fallen on hard times. Some philosophers believe God´s attributes are not viable, i.e. result in absurdities or are incompatible. We will not concern ourselves with those details, and will instead look at one common conception of God as a trinity. The trinity refers to the depiction of God  in the Bible as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Father is said to be a person, the Son is  a person and the Holy Spirit is also a person and hence trinity refers to three persons. The Bible says there is one God. If there are three persons, surely this makes three Gods?  In any case, what is a person? Humans are referred to as persons too. So, the definition of a person must be common to man and the persons of the Godhead. This implies that, being a person is NOT what makes God, God. And so, three persons in the Godhead does not entail three Gods as such! But this still does not answer our puzzle as to why three persons in the Godhead seem to come short of three Gods!  What sort of persons are the three? The answer of course is that they are each God. Well, then if we have three persons who are each God, doesn´t that give us three Gods? Come on, can´t you count to three, monkey? Of course we can count to three, but the Bible says there is one God! There must be something we are missing! Perhaps we have missteped in our logic somewhere. Let us go back, define all our terms and take it from there.

The first is God: Augustine Aurelius, fourth century bishop of Hippo in North Africa said God is truth. Of course he got this by reading his Bible! Jesus said I am the truth! The word truth is used in two ways. Truth is a property of propositions. A proposition is either true or false. A true proposition or a set of true propositions are then said to be truth. Truth is thus propositional. If God is truth, does this mean then that God is a congeries of propositions? Surely God must be more than mere propositions, words even? Well, does the Gospel according to John not say, ¨In the beginning was the Logos, (the Word, the Wisdom, the Truth, all equivalent),  …….. and the Logos was God¨? And so God is a Word.  God is NOT more than His word! Truth is associated with concepts like thinking the truth, believing the truth which are activities of the mind. Let us define persons as thinkers or rational minds. The mind is NOT an empty vat which can then be filled with the truth. A tabula rasa as conceived by Thomas Aquinas is no mind. Let us say, following Gordon Clark, a person is his mind, and the mind is what one thinks. ¨As a man thinketh so is he¨, the Bible tells us. And so a person is a congeries of propositions, as Gordon Clark put it! Possesing a mind is therefore what is common between God and man. But what then distinguishes the mind of man and that of God? Well, it is the actual propositions in the respective minds. God says my thoughts are NOT your thoughts! A man and his spouse definitely have different minds!!!!(This one is easy!!!) No two minds are identical! This solves the philosophical problem of unity and individuation. We have a common definition of mind(a congeries of propositions) yet we have different minds(we have different propositions in our minds).

Now back to our discussion on the trinity.  Three persons in the Godhead is then three minds. The question is then what do they think? They think God! That is what makes them God. They are what they think! The unity of the Godhead is then the unity of minds! The unity of minds is the unity of thoughts. The unity of thoughts means thinking the same thoughts, that define them as God! So we say they are of ONE mind and hence we have one God. As an analogy, there is only one number ¨2¨. It is the same number in all minds that think it. There are not as many 2´s as there are minds! Similarly, there is only one definition of God, the set of truths that constitute God! But then, how is there individuation in the trinity? Following Clark,, the Son thinks , ¨I was incarnated¨, but the Father thinks ¨I sent the Son¨ and the Holy Spirit thinks ¨I descended at Pentecost to indwell the believer¨. These are NOT identical thoughts in each person and thus distinguish them. All the thoughts in the Father,  Son and Holy Spirit individually and collectively are God and hence there is only one God.
One more question! Is God a person? The answer is an unequivocal YES!! Is this a  ¨fourth¨ person in addition to the three? No!!!
  1. The Father(The Son, The Holy Spirit) is God.
  2. The Father(The Son, The Holy Spirit)  is a person.
  3. Therefore God is a person
One is NOT violating logic in saying God is a person.

Traditionaly, the charge of tritheism or alternatively absurdity in the concept of the trinity has been defended by saying some things are three in one sense and one in another and examples abound! Hence God is three in some sense but one in some other, even if we do not know what those senses are. Therefore it does not necessarily follow that God being three persons and one God is an absurdity!  The late Cornelius Van Til, a hero to many in some reformed circles said God is three persons and one person! Since van Til never defined what he meant by person, this is irrational nonsense and heresy even! To say van Til arrived at our conclusion above without the benefit of clear definitions is hardly credible. I consistently mark students wrong who have a ¨correct¨ answer where the answer is arrived at with dubious maths! Those who say because van Til´s nonsense sounds like Clark´s carefully defined and reasoned conclusion, then Clark and van Til are both agreed, are just bent on mischief! van Til´s was sheer nonsense from his quixotic hermeneutic, paradox!


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