Friday, August 28, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part IV

I am journalling through Gordon H. Clark's "God and Evil: The Problem Solved" with as open a mind and as prayerful a spirit as I can manage without being dishonest about my disagreements or overly shy in how I state them.

The current section is entitled "Reformation Theology". In this chapter, after a brief forward, Clark offers an argument for the historicity of Calvinism.

In the forward to "Reformation Theology" Clark argues that Calvinism is positively deterministic. He admits that at first glance, determinism seems to exacerbate POE. For it maintains the "inevitability of every event; and not only the inevitability, but also the further and more embarrassing point that it is God himself who determines... every action".

In other words: if Calvinism is true, then God caused every gruesome detail of the holocaust (and every other evil).

And this, Clark admits, seems to make POE even worse.

At any rate, Clark believes the dilemma is between deterministic Calvinism and Free Will. Since he believes he demonstrated that Free Will doesn't solve POE or make any sense anyway, he looks to Calvinism for a solution to POE, even despite its apparent exacerbation of the Problem.

Clark's look to Calvinism begins with a history lesson (desperately needed due to the widespread ignorance of the 20th century). This accounts for the bulk of the word count in the "Reformation Theology" section.

This section concludes with a more formal definition of Calvinism, taken from Chapter Three of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and a promise to put forth a positive defense of Calvinism in future sections.

Here are my honest reactions to what I am reading:

• I am glad that Clark (together with a whole new group of Calvinists) honestly admits what non-Calvinists have been arguing for centuries: that Calvinism is positively deterministic and there is no two ways about it. This intellectual honesty, and willingness to bite the determinism bullet, sets new Calvinists apart from older ones. And I think it marks progress of some sort.

• I am again disappointed by Clark's seeming inability to clearly handle philosophically complex issues. For example, in one of the introductory paragraphs, he asserts that if Judas had the ability not to deny Christ, then prophecy could have proved false. This argument, along with another argument implied by a question about whether God can make sure of the necessary events in His plan of redemption and an argument implied by a quotation of Acts 4, all presuppose that prescience and providence preclude libertarian freedom.

That might be the case, but Clark offers no argument for it! He simply presupposes it. This is a little disappointing from a writer so eager to question his theoretical interlocutors' presuppositions.

I find that various models of Middle Knowledge provide good reason to be skeptical of Clark's presupposition that prescience and providence preclude human freedom (cf. William Lane Craig's page on omniscience for an example).

• "Calvinism" is used anachronistically, but that's ok.

• A couple of Clark's historical excavations uncover early belief in the doctrine we call "Limited Atonement". I would like to note that I find L to be perhaps the most obviously true and intuitive of the five points, and I have no problem granting it without qualification.

• I didn't mention it in my summary of this section, but Clark remarks disparagingly against Erasmus. I find that pretty funny.

• Clark refers to Calvinism as "the apostolic teaching", and says that "this is what Christianity is" (emphasis mine). He can write how he wants, but it seems like the whole debate is about whether or not the teaching of the Apostles, as documented in the Greek canon, is Calvinistic, and whether or not certain non-Calvinist soteriologies may fit within the bounds of orthodox Christianity. I suppose it's only a matter of style, but I have to be honest about it rubbing me the wrong way. This is a journal after-all.

• As for the fact that "Calvinism", or at least its component parts, can arguably be spotted within the theologies of individual Christians and Christian groups going back perhaps as far as the first century: I think Clark knows that this hardly settles the issue, since he concludes with a pledge to deliver an actual defense of Calvinism (which, together with his resolution of determinism's apparent exacerbation of POE, I am keen on reading). Still, though it's interesting, let's be honest and label Clark's history lesson what it is: card-stacking. There are other plenty of traditions within orthodox Christianity that happen to be non-Calvinist in nature.

• I am also pretty disappointed, and quite frankly kind of offended, by Clark's equivocation between certain heretical views and views found firmly within the bounds of orthodoxy. Specifically he uses the phrase "Pelegian-Romish-Arminian". Not only is this indicative of ignorance by way of confounding quite distinct soteriologies, but it is constitutive of the type of divisiveness that St. Paul repeatedly condemns in his epistles. (It's also ironic to try to indict Arminianism of being "too Roman Catholic" as a soteriology, since, aside from the whole grace-through-faith issue in contrast to Rome's works-based model, the Reformers never got around to reforming Rome's eschatology, and to this day theological traditions exclusively concerned with preserving the exact doctrines of the Calvinistic Reformers hold to a very Roman Catholic Amillennial/Postmillennial eschatology. If all theological systems passed down from Rome are heretical, then...)

Let's be honest: as soon as there were councils condemning Pelegianism, there were councils condemning extreme determinism (actually the initial council on the matter condemned both). And as soon as certain sects began condemning Arminianism, there were others that upheld it.

Calvinism was never established as the only orthodox soteriology within Christendom. To my knowledge, in the historical and global scheme of things, it has actually always been in the minority (I guess it depends on how you bound "Christendom"). Clark himself admits that Free Will (which is exclusive of Calvinism) is the most popular solution to POE. Admittedly this fact by itself says nothing of whether Calvinism happens to be correct. It just grieves me to witness Calvinists accusing brothers and sisters of heresy, and I have frustratingly come up against it as an unfortunate pattern in Calvinist rhetoric.

May God grant me Christian charity for, and patience with, my Calvinist brothers and sisters despite their harsh consideration of all of us who disagree with them. May He also grant me the patience and clarity to thoroughly consider their arguments on a case by case basis despite my broad-stoke disagreements with them, and despite my criticism of their tendency to wield divisive rhetoric.

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