Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Paradox Under Fire ... and Impressively Defended

Paradox is under fire here:

And it's impressively defended here:

You'll find the same video of Mark Kielar making his case against theological paradox in both places. Many are lining up behind Kielar's illogic and affirming their disgust with divine mystery, even calling Van Til a heretic. Readers of this blog will instantly recognize the problems with the video. In the Triablogue post, you'll find Paul Manata capably dismantling the video's arguments and offering helpful correction.

Despite what some are implying, the debate over paradox is not equal to the Van Til vs. Clark controversy. Van Til vs. Clark was a Reformed Civil War, and in some ways it continues today. The real debate is between those who believe the human mind is capable of reconciling all that is presented in the Bible, and those who believe God has left some information unrevealed in order to humble our proud minds, test our faith and delight our hearts in accordance with His eternal purposes. Very few things are as engaging to the human mind as a difficult paradox. Van Til and Clark argued this in their own unique way, but theirs is not the definitive case. One may reject or greatly modify Van Til's thought and still embrace Biblical paradoxes. And one may strenuously oppose Clarkianism without becoming "irrational."

Ultimately, paradox is not to be our focus. Paradox is a means to an end. It serves as a tool to deepen our understanding of the Gospel. It is a philosophical instrument with practical uses: to make us more dependent on God, to make us less confident in ourselves, to make us more like Christ, to form His character in us, to aid us in explaining God's greatness to those who may wish to understand. It is strange that some who oppose our view rush quickly into accusations of irrationality, while ignoring the fact that we are only proposing a logical limitation of human understanding and a fitting exaltation of the sovereign transcendence of the Holy One. We are not in any way denying the rules of logic or the inherent rationality of God's mind as the origination of ALL TRUTH.

I left comments on both posts. Here is what I said on "God's Hammer" . . .


Sadly, the alternative to embracing Biblical paradox is the proud exaltation of human reason above God’s infinite wisdom. All of us are better served by humbly bowing our hearts and logical explanations before the Almighty Father. If any person grasps the minutest grain of truth, it is of His pure mercy.

I do not know if Van Til was right or wrong, or to what extent. But I am certain that God’s ways transcend the finite logic of the best human minds.

Despite all the cheering going on here, Kielar’s video is fraught with problems. I commend James Anderson’s book, Paradox in Christian Theology, as an antidote. Also, you will find a wealth of quotations from men like Charles Spurgeon who loved the way God outwitted them and worshipped Him more as a result. They saw Him high and lifted up, and themselves mere worms.

When we come face to face with God, every one of us will realize that we have been outmaneuvered by a wisdom unlike anything we’ve imagined. Better to acknowledge it now and prepare for that day with a corresponding humility.

Grace & peace,
Derek Ashton


  1. Thanks for pointing that out, Derek. I started to quote Spurgeon on one of the posts, but found you had beat me to the punch.

  2. Hey Derek,

    I read your last over there at the the hammer. I dont know if you know this, but there is a direct correlation between the rationalist mindset that the posts there present and hypercalvinism.

    If you were to probe--tho I dont encourage you do this--Gerety on the free offer and related questions, you will see what I mean.


  3. Derek -
    I read your string of comments over at godshammer, and just want to say that I agree with your points. I also appreciate the spirit with which you offered your criticism, and I think it's telling that your respondents were not nearly as gracious as you. Faith and hope abide, but the greatest of these is still love.

  4. Barry,

    Spurgeon was not a perfect man, and he's certainly not our idol, but I respect his wisdom and the gracious spirit with which he made his arguments against the hyper calvinists and the downgraders. In fact, I appreciate Spurgeon more all the time. There's a reason why men of the intellectual calibre of Phil Johnson take such a great interest in him.


    Thanks for the tip. I've been having quite a discussion over at Gerety's blog, but they're now getting hostile, building multiple straw men, making baseless accusations and trying to re-hash Van Til vs. Clark ad infinitum. Civil discussion does not seem to be a possibility. The Clarkians seem to have an irrational aversion to the very term "paradox," and some of them viciously attack anyone who tries to ascribe limits to man's reasoning abilities. Their brand of hyper or near-hyper Calvinism is precisely what THEOparadox is meant to counter.

    There must have been a good reason for so many godly and wise Reformed scholars to oppose Clark. They recognized the dangers of his rationalism, but many of Clark's modern followers refuse to even consider them.

    Nevertheless, I admire their zeal and pray for their growth in Christ. Unfortunately, some of them are acting more along the lines of an auto-immune disorder in the body, which does not endear me to their cause.

    And they certainly don't think much of you! But you're more than welcome around here.


  5. Arnold,

    Thanks for the encouragement. Your blog is one of my favorite stops.

    I have to admit I was a little surprised by the hostility of the God's Hammer people. I knew they would strongly disagree with me, but I didn't think they would do so with as much evident angst as they have.


  6. I think the hostility comes from past and current dealings. For example, you call Clark a rationalist. However, it has been proven, time and time again, that Clark was NOT a rationalist. Even many of those at the puritanboard wouldn't call Clark a rationalist. They know better.

    Another example would be the charge or link to hyper-calvinism. This is is based on ignorance and poor scholarship. Did no one read Clark's book on evangelism, commentaries, or some of his philosophy books?

    But charges like these are constantly made. You did not make those charges on God's Hammer, but anyone can visit your site and see your remarks in regards to Clark.

    So fruitful discussion was not to be had until you had at least stopped making certain assertions and made some arguments.

  7. SS,

    Thanks for the note. Actually, I only made mention of rationalism and hyper or near-hyper calvinism after I had concluded the discussion over at God's Hammer. They were hostile long before I made any of those comments. Even if I am wrong in my assessment of Clark, and in connecting the Clarkians to hyper-calvinist tendencies, those statements couldn't have been the reason for the hostility they expressed prior to the statements (I think a Clarkian would enjoy the logic of that statement).

    I'll check out what you are saying, and if needed I'll recant my allegation against Clark. As to hyper tendencies in the Clarkians, I can't imagine how they could avoid it. But that's part of the reason I engaged them - I wanted to find out more about their way of thinking, especially when presented with my foundational thesis concerning paradox. Oops, that didn't work! :)

    If you know of any resources that might help me to better understand how the Clarkians can avoid hyper-calvinism, and on what grounds Clark should not be labeled a rationalist, please post the links in a follow up comment. Thanks.

    Incidentally, I read somewhere that Clark fought against rationalism and empiricism, so that would seem to verify your claim.

    Grace & peace,

  8. Hey there,

    Just to be clear:

    As an ex-Clarkian, I can say Clark was a rationalist: big time.

    Rationalism has expressions.

    1) says man is the "source" of knowledge.

    2) says man determines what is and is not logically (or theologically) possible.

    Clark is a rationalist on grounds 2).

    Clark determined a priorily what is and is not theologically possible for God, and then theologoizes and exegetes accordingly.

    His hypercalvinism is explicit, too, in his denial of the well-meant offer of the Gospel, with the truth that God desires the salvation of all men.

    I think there were good grounds for some of the OPC ministers to oppose Clark's ordination. The way they went about it may have been the problem, tho.



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