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Religion, Reason and Revelation - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Introduction to the Writings of Dr. Gordon Clark - Apologetics

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

The following article is a summary of the book, “Religion, Reason and Revelation”.

Chapter 1: Is Christianity a Religion

Is there such thing as religion? It is impossible to define religion adequately. From a logical standpoint, one has to determine the methodology of their task in defining religion at all – are they philosophers, theologians, secular humanists? Religion for each man will mean different things. For instance, no psychological description of experiences, emotions, or particular state of the affective consciousness can adequately, or subjectively, define religion universally. There is nothing distinctively religious about emotions at all. Emotions are housed in the context of religion. Thus, the psychological method fails to discover, at any length, to explain religion or justify its claims to scientific impartiality in the process. One might ask if “God” (or the concept of God) is essential to religion? This too may differ from “religion to religion.” What of Buddhism, agnosticism, or atheism? Is God essential to understanding religion? What about Communism? Could it be defined as a religion?

Some desire to treat “religions” comparatively – but this too fails. At the outset, comparative religions, involving descriptions of God, begin with some knowledge of what it is trying to obtain in the end. This is fallacious argumentation. “Religion”, then, may be reduced to “what a man would live and die for.” But what kind of meaning does this really have? There is no substance to it and no meaning attached to it. Collecting matchsticks could fit this definition for some people! One cannot stretch the term or idea of God to fit every “religion.” Religion becomes an inadequate word to describe ultimate truth. If a word means everything, then, necessarily, it means nothing at all.

Over and over again, in comparative “religion” words, phrases and definitions either out rightly misunderstand Christianity, or they redefine concepts to water them down in order to make “religion” more cohesive, or in today’s society, ecumenical. But this is an impossibility since, in almost every aspect, Christianity stands alone in its plenary verbal revelation of ultimate reality and how its concepts combine into a consistent system to form an epistemological series that makes logical sense.

Chapter 2: Faith and Reason

There are some, like Thomas Aquinas, that believed that true religion is preceded by or in some way founded on the activity of natural reason. This, Aquinas would say, is the proper procedure for proving the existence of God. Some, like Gordon Clark, give more of a caricature of this process when he says, “The Thomistic view distinguishes between the process of arriving at truth by man’s unaided natural reason and the voluntary acceptance of truth on the authority of divine revelation. The former is demonstrable philosophy; the latter, accepted without demonstration, is the sphere of faith.” (Religion, Reason, and Revelation, Page 29). To believe something based upon demonstration, he says, is to not believe something on divine authority alone and leaves no room for faith. Men then know God exists because they have proved it, not because, based on faith, they have believed it. Rather, the doctrines of revelation complete what philosophy left unfinished and the two sets of truths become complementary. Faith for Aquinas meant that truth is received by the supernatural impartation of information. Reason is logic alone.

If God exists, then it is reasoned by some that He gave men revelation to follow. It would also be important to note that it does not follow that man, in an unaided fashion, could come to a knowledge of that truth. He would need the help of the Holy Spirit. Thus, according to the presuppositional schematic, Thomistic Philosophy fails. It is not possible to begin with sensory experience and proceed by the formal laws of logic to God’s existence as a conclusion on the matter. Aquinas tried to define God around concepts such as potentiality and actuality, but never seemed to define these terms adequately. Thomas argued that God was the unmoved mover who moved other things because the entire universe is based on the property of motion. But, Aquinas cannot come to an identity of the Unmoved Mover unless he has divine revelation. David Hume seems to put Aquinas in his place when he says that the cosmological argument (in essence) is an appeal for the Unmoved Mover to move (or create) the entire universe as a whole. But the entire universe as a whole is not known by any man. How, then, could true conclusions be made about the universe as a whole if no man (by unaided reason) comes to such a conclusion about God? No one as ever seen the universe as a whole, and thus, based on sensory experience, such could not be the case. Charles Hodge picked up Aquinas’ thoughts and continued them speaking in this way “an infinite number of effects cannot be self-existent.” But this is a conclusion Hodge should prove, not assert.

Men have also fallen into another quandary described as Reason without Faith. Descartes, a rationalist, said that men cannot begin with sensation (or reason so properly defined) because one cannot trust sensation. For example, how could one know what is absurd and not absurd unless they first knew what “absurd” meant. The proof of cogito depends on logic alone. So the consistent application of the laws of logic alone is sufficient. “I think” is a proposition that if it is denied, it is proved true. But, when reason can be deduced from reason alone it follows that revelation is at best unnecessary. So the question is not, “Is the Bible true?” but, “Is all knowledge deducible by reason and logic alone?” Rationalism, on this front, seems to be a failure.

Empiricism also follows the line of failure to determine both value in religion and a formal definition of religion in any way. Empiricism, if it is maintained consistently, has no room for revelation at all. Do men see “space?” How can they? What substance is space? Is it really there? Simply on this notion a concrete empiricism is nothing but a pile of rubble. It has inserted at the beginning of its argument the idea of space (and relationships in that space) before the process of finding out if space is truly there or verifiable. Though things are in motion, the ultimate reality of where those “things” sit reside in the sphere of space that cannot be verified but only assumed. Kant tried to rescue empiricism by inserting a priori sensations and ideas in the mind. Men know that two lines are equal because the innate quality of “equalness” is already innate. Otherwise, men would not know or think about “equal” at all. Kant, though, made a series of blunders. Experience, he says, gives way to categories that men understand. The question then arises as to how men can know God if experience and sensation give way to categories. Hegel tried to rescue Kant by intimating an Absolute Mind of which all partake. But Hegel is reduced to absurdity rather quickly, for, if relationships are real only as given in the Absolute Mind, and one would have to know the Absolute Mind to understand the truth behind any relationship, then it would seem that unless one knew everything, they could in fact know nothing.

Another more common position in the 21st century in terms of “faith” is “faith without reason.” This describes most of the Evangelical Church today. This is more specifically defined as mysticism. These are people who rely on experience (a deranged form of existentialism) without knowledge. For someone to truly have a mystical experience without knowledge (as the Gnostics taught) one would not be able to say anything about that encounter because to add knowledge into the mix, one would deny at the same time the experience happened. Knowledge again traces one back to ask how one would actually know, then, how they had the experience in the first place? This was developed more intricately by Soren Kierkegaard where he says that God is truth, but truth only exists for a believer who inwardly experiences the tension between himself and God. God, then, only exists in subjectivity. This completely removes objective truth, and again, one is reduced to solipsism. (Such conclusions are also akin to Nietzsche, Brunner, William James and others who reduce philosophy to a self-contradictory and self-destructive nature.)

Lastly, there is “Faith and Reason”. Faith must have intellectual content to be valid. Faith in Christian philosophy and theology is not blind faith. Faith resides in the heart, mind, soul, etc, which, biblically, refer to the logical intellect that is regenerated by the Holy Spirit. For example, the following Scriptures demonstrate that intellect is what is meant: Genesis 6:5, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Psalm 4:4, “ Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah.” Isaiah 33:18, “Your heart will meditate on terror: “Where is the scribe? Where is he who weighs? Where is he who counts the towers?” The “heart” in these passages clearly refers to the intellect or mind. These verses would be rather meaningless if the idea of “emotion” was overlaid on the passages. Thus, faith in God is impossible without a creed, or set of beliefs, to believe. Thus, when one is required to test Scripture by sensation in order to avoid the charge of irrationality, this is itself irrational. Revelation is needed as the basis for a rational worldview.

Chapter 3: Inspiration and Language

Constructive thought must presuppose information that has been divinely given in whatever form that information appears. The inspiration of the Scriptures as divinely given are the hallmark of the information base from God to men. The Scriptures state, Deuteronomy 18:18, “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him,” and Jeremiah 1:9, “Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.” The words themselves are inspired as they come from the ultimate source of truth – God Himself. Some feel that if God were to give “His words” to the prophets, or any other, that would negate diversity in the Bible in the manner in which it was written. However, there is a difference between the mode of inspiration (the carrying of the writer) and the idea of some sort of dictation theory. The Bible is God’s words written by supernaturally carried men as expressing their personality in the writings, but with God’s intent and meaning.

Can one trust the Bible literally? How does language actually work? Naturalism and behaviorism make words physical or sensuous. But, if this is the case, how can one apply virtuous properties to words or meanings if there is no ultimate, objective foundation for virtue? These systems make language symbolic, and if it is symbolic, then it has no real meaning. Anything could be a symbol for something else, and for each individual person this could go on ad infinitum. Thought must be behind language. Language needs a “mind” behind it, and ultimate reality giving significance to the language. Without such forms, communication is impossible. And if communication is impossible, then it is meaningless. If it is meaningless, then values disappear and things true and false are meaningless.

Human minds are not blank upon conception. They are implanted with innate ideas that they must have. Even the innate idea of “God” is there, for without such an innate idea nor reference to God would exist anywhere (another conclusive link to the inspiration of the Bible.) The Logos of God is the rational light that lights every man. The Holy Spirit regenerates the heart and then the rationale is engaged to reason concerning biblical propositions that are literally stated.

Logical Positivism attempts to overthrow truth and how it interrelates to language. Logical positivists state that God can speak to men even through falsehood and lies. He does not need truth to do it. This would then obscure the line between Christianity, and other “religions”. It would be a smorgasbord of information that really amounts to nothing because communication, again, fails. Logical positivists will have nothing to do with immutable truth. They deny any innate forms in the mind. They believe that logic can change as quickly as the tide. How then can they rely on any information at all? One cannot write a book or speak a sentence that means anything without using the law of non-contradiction. Thus, they are all self-refuting who attempt to overthrow communication without divine revelation and the laws of logic.

Chapter 4: Revelation and Morality

In dealing with morality and religion, there have been a number of attempts to define how one should view life. There is obviously a great deal of ethical disagreement with a great many people over a great number of issues. Some of these methods are found in Utilitarianism (the greatest good of the greatest number), John Dewey’s instrumentalism, Situational ethics, and Scientific ethics.

Utilitarianism teaches that the choice between two lines of actions should depend upon the calculation of the amounts, durations and intensities of the pleasures and pains that such a choice will conceive. Consequences include all the consequences for all the people affected, not solely the individual choices. It aims to identify the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This would then be the sum of total pleasure. But, there is the problem of the greatest good of the individual and the sum total pleasure of the human race. Take the rapist for example who thinks rape is good. Is this going to be the sum total for all individuals? Such a view would have to justify murder, rape, and every other atrocity known to man. If Hitler wants to kill six million Jews, and he thinks this is a good thing, or Stalin would like to kill millions of Romanians, then all is well in a utilitarian society. Not only is this all absurd reasoning on their part, but even the calculation that is being made is absurd as well. Can one person really come up with the sum total of pleasure for all people? This is impossible. In such a method, there is no possible way to conclude on a universal norm.

John Dewey attempted to create an “instrumentalism” which stated that thinking only concerns this world and that all ideas are plans of action in the here and now. Eternity, and things of eternity are delusions that men can never come to solid agreement about or absolute truth upon. But instrumentalism recognizes the need for ethics. The problem arises that it cannot appeal to an ultimate authority, so it appeals to subjective men. Man only has himself for comfort and for direction. This is a sad system indeed. This ties in with situational ethics. Every event through history is based on the moment of time it is enacted (for an instrumentalist) and so ethics may change or converge based on the time. There is no standard, no norm, by which men may objectively come to a knowledge of right and wrong. Therefore, this system cannot offer any help to men who are looking to find answers to moral questions. What could possibly raise the value of an act to being moral? Instrumentalism calls it an act. Later, such an act could be virtuous, and then later after that it could become non-virtuous in another situation of the same dilemma. What kind of method is this except illogical and irrational? Choices, then, are based on nothing else but personal preference. Again, we arrive at subjective relativism that gives no answers.

Instrumentalism attempts, next to justify its claims to morality through observation or the scientific method of verification. Unfortunately, science verifies nothing. Science can tell one how something works (i.e. the rock falls from point “A” to the ground) but it can never tell one why it is the case. That is a philosophical question reserved for those with an objective source of truth. Instrumentalism has none of this. The Scientific method cannot produce one ounce of value into anything. It has no ideals to offer at all. If this is all true, and this is the “help” that Dewey has given the world, then question that really comes to mind is whether life is worth living? In such a system, this question is meaningless as well and answers the question by its logical conclusion.

In contrast to the prevailing notions of the 21st century secular humanist, Christian Ethics gives a non-contradictory placement to ethics in general. Since God is the Divine author of the universe, the Divine will is therefore the only objective rule by which men may understand the value of good verses evil. There is no possibility of understanding such a moral rule without an objective rule that demonstrates this. As the Westminster Confession of Faith rightly states, “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation. (Rom. 3:31; 7:25; 13:8-10; I Cor. 9:21; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 6:2-3; I John 2:3-4, 7; Rom. 3:20; 7:7-8 and I John 3:4 with Rom. 6:15; Deut. 6:4-5; Exod. 20:11; Rom. 3:19; James 2:8, 10-11; Matt. 19:4-6; Gen. 17:1; Matt. 5:17-19; Rom. 3:31; I Cor. 9:21; Luke 16:17-18).

Chapter 5: God and Evil

In every system of thought, ethical and moral thought, there looms the question of God and His relationship to evil. Some attempt to render God as “finite” and make Him little more than “Zeus” who is constantly trying to work out “his plans” over wayward creatures. That would seem to be a goof fit for a universe that is evil. This finite “god” could simply not handle everything. The Scriptures speak emphatically that God is all powerful and all sovereign (Psa. 33:11: Eph. 1:11: Heb. 6:17; Psa. 5:4; James 1:13-14; I John 1:5; see Hab. 1:13; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28: Matt. 17:12; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33). But how does one reconcile the omnipotent power of a virtuous and good God with the existence of evil?

Free will comes into sight once one begins to understand how evil came into the world. It is no doubt that Christians should understand both “how and why” evil came into the world. The answer to “why” is simple: God ordained it. God ordained the fall would occur. God ordained the rebellion of Lucifer in heaven. God is in control of all things. The question, then, is the “how” did this happen, or, what were the means by which God ordained that evil should exist?

Augustine asked the question, “If God created souls that were not sinful, is not God responsible for sin?” The answer to this is no. But how? One must wrestle with the idea of choice. Free will has always been horrendously misrepresented as the ability to neutrally choose between two opposite choices of good and evil. Nowhere does the bible affirm this. To be “free” or to have “freedom” does not imply that man is capable or able to choose good or evil. The very definition of “freedom” is at stake here. The Arminian says man is free – but what does he mean? He means that in some way his heart, man’s heart, has been, even if just a little, unaffected by the depravity of the imputation of Adam’s sin. Man, in some little way, even if just a touch, has the ability to choose good or evil. The Biblicist disagrees with him (as does historical Christianity). Men are free to choose their heart’s desires. Their hearts are evil, thus, everything that flows out of them is also evil until God changes their heart (if He will at all). Even if free will in the Arminian sense is true (and it is not) that system still does not solve the problem of why evil exists. For example, imagine that the comic book hero Superman is real. Superman sees a boy falling from the empire state building. He flies downward toward the boy and catches up to his speed. Superman tells the boy he should exercise his free will to get out of the situation. But the boy has no power to save himself. If Superman allows the boy to fall to his death, knowing full well the boy has no power to actually stop his fatal decent, would Superman be culpable? Yes! Arminianism, in the same way, does not rescue God from the problem of evil. It just befuddles men more into believing they have a false sense of power when they are really dead in sin. Rather the Reformed or Calvinistic position not only answers the question, but places it in its biblical context. God has endued the will of man with natural liberty that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil (James 1:13-14; 4:7; Deut. 30:19; Isa. 7:11-12; Matt. 17:12; John 5:40). Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it. (Eccl. 7:29; Gen. 1:26, 31; Col. 3:10; Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6, 17). Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has completely lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself to be saved (Rom. 5:5; 8:7-8; John 6:44, 65; 15:5; Rom. 3:9-10, 12, 23; Eph. 2:1, 5; Col 2:13; John 3:3, 5-6; 6:44, 65; I Cor. 2:14; Titus 3:3-5). When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he frees him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil. (Col. 1:13; John 8:34, 36; Rom. 6:6-7; Phil. 2:13; Rom. 6:14, 17-19, 22; Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:14-25; I John 1:8, 10). The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone, in the state of glory only (Heb. 12:23; I John 3:2; Jude 1:24; Rev. 21:27). This not only solves the problem of sin, but also the problem of every other philosophical attempt at a non-revelatory “faith” (which is no real faith at all).

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