Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is the Trinity a True Contradiction?

I came across this interesting paper from Quodlibet Journal some time ago. I think it would help to clarify some questions raised by my previous post, "Of Paradoxes and Pastoral Theology."

Quoting from this paper "Is the Trinity a True Contradiction?", Randal Rauser, the Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Briercrest Bible College wrote:

"In the mid 1940s a debate arose between Gordon Clark and some of the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary, in particular Cornelius Van Til. At the center of the debate was Clark's belief that certain propositions of human knowledge are known univocally by God, in particular such truths as 7+5=12 and the law of non-contradiction. As a result, Van Til accused Clark of "rationalism". The counter-charge of irrationalism was not long in coming, and was laid out by Herman Hoeksema, a period commentator on the debate:

if the complainants [Van Til et. al] take the stand that Scripture reveals things that are, not above and far beyond, but contrary to, in conflict with the human mind, it is my conviction that the complainants should be indicted of heterodoxy, and of undermining all sound theology.

Either the logic of revelation is our logic, or there is no revelation.
Hoeksema continues: "And so, it still seems to me that the issue . . . is not the incomprehensibility of God, but the question whether revelation itself is intelligible to us. To deny the latter is to destroy the very foundations of theology."

Hoeksema's immediate concern is to ensure that "the logic of revelation is our logic" so that "revelation itself is intelligible". This raises two questions. First, why think that Van Til's view undermines the logic of revelation being God's logic? And second, granting that it does, why think this will undermine theology? Central to Van Til's position is that all the propositions that we affirm as true do not apply to God; it would appear he is saying that they are not affirmed by God as true. (It may be that neither are they false for God. Perhaps they just fail to have a truth-value when considered by God, though don't ask me how.) In short, no truth is such that God must, "of necessity" affirm it. Hoeksema then focuses on the implications this has for logic. His point seems to be that logic is fundamental to making any affirmations whatsoever. If then we deny that logic applies to God, we undermine our ability to know anything about God. Take for example, Paul's promise "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Rom. 10:9) Now it appears that as Van Til would have it, the law of non-contradiction does not apply to God. If so, then in light of God's promise in Romans 10:9, two contradictory states of affairs could obtain such that we could be saved and not saved, or God though morally perfect could in this case be lying. So if we accept that no truth, including the law of non-contradiction, can apply univocally to God and creatures, then any theological assertion we care to make - God is three persons, Jesus is God - could be simultaneously true and false. If this is Van Til's position Hoeksema is indeed correct that it would "destroy the very foundations of theology." Under the rubric of divine sovereignty and transcendence, we would undermine our ability to say anything whatsoever about God. Along similar lines, to identify a contradiction with God would undermine theology, and by extension creation, apparently leaving us in a morass of trivialism."

Rauser concluded:

"It appears then that there are no good reasons to consider the possibility of true contradictions within the being of God and many good reasons not to. Such a view fails to account for divine mystery, and it fails to address the problem of containment. As such, it would appear to place the theologian in danger of trivialism."


Anonymous said...

Hi Vincent,

Sounds like a case of "I am of Van Til," and "I of Clark"...

Just see the number of threads regarding this on Puritanboard.

My 2 cents: Touch not this unclean thing!


vincit omnia veritas said...

Yep Brother Jenson!

I hated to even mention the name of Clark/Van Til (I am trying not to convey the impression that this issue BELONGS to the Clark-Van Til controversy) ... until I felt it was necessary to furnish some history on this matter. ;)

Honestly (and MOST honestly), I have arrived at this conclusion long BEFORE I even heard of the Clark-Van Til (what's that?) controversy.

I was studying my ancient Greek philosophy module when I began pondering upon the subject of logic (particularly Aristotelian Logic), the mind of God, and the logic of man. Hey, this is nothing new. Greek philosophers had debated about this issue long before Clark Kent or Van Houten (Chocolate) was born.

Or was it Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til? (Whatever they did - I mean the "controversy" part - is not needed for the Christian testimony.)

But anyway, this IS important theologically. Deny the laws of logic, and you have to deny any propositional truths in the Bible.

Do read the paper. It's good stuff. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Vincent,

Yes, I will read the paper.

I may have mentioned this before -although I find "apologetics" to be useful, it has its limitations.

Likewise, one can line up one's theological ducks in a row, but have little effect.

How many times have I seen this on blogs/discussion boards!

Anyway, as usual, this is a good post.


Dave said...

:) Look forward to see u too bro! My sis is now in spore so will be there more often. Was a last minute arrangement to meet huaizhi and gang, we should rope in more online frens next time!

vincit omnia veritas said...

Do keep in touch ... Singapore needs some waking up too ;)