Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Further reflection on the "knowledge of God." - (46)

Dear Forum members,

Before we go on in our discussion of the gracious and well-meant gospel offer, I want to go back briefly to Clark’s distinction between knowledge as it is in God and knowledge as we receive it. R. Scott Clark calls this the difference between theologia archetypa and theologia ectypa, a distinction that, in Scott’s opinion, solves the apparent contradiction between knowledge as it is in God (God’s decree to save only his people) and knowledge of God that we possess (God’s desire to save all men).

The Latin terms may give a sense of learning to the argument and persuade others by some superior language found only in the Latin, but the fact is that the English words mean something quite different. According to my trusty Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, confirmed by Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, the English word archetype means “original” and the English word ectype means “copy.”

Now, I do not think that it would be proper to call our knowledge of God a “copy” of God’s knowledge of Himself. Our knowledge of God is the knowledge of fellowship and friendship. It is like the knowledge to learn about my knowledge I have of my wife; and Scripture confirms that I have God’s full consent to use the analogy of marriage. Nor must we forget this when we talk of the knowledge of God. Scripture makes it very clear that our knowledge of God is of such a kind that the same word can be used for it as is used for Adam and Eve, when Adam “Knew” his wife Eve and she conceived and bore a son (Gen. 4:1).

The wicked have a certain knowledge of God as well, acquired through God’s speech in creation (Rom. 1:18ff.) But this knowledge is very limited, although accurate. They know, Paul says, that God is God and that he alone must be served. This is not a knowledge different from what God has in himself and of himself; if it were, the wicked would have an excellent excuse for not serving him (Rom. 1:20). They will not be able to say in the judgment: “We had only ectypal knowledge of thee and did not know that thou art the only God.”

But the knowledge that the believer has is saving knowledge, knowledge of covenant fellowship. With God, knowledge that sets free, knowledge that saves. But it is impossible to imagine that such knowledge could be intimate and covenantal if it involved contradictions. If I may carry the analogy of the knowledge of my wife into the context of the well-meant gospel offer, the intimate knowledge of our marriage would be impossible. She told me that she loved me and wanted to be married to me and to live with me in the intimacy of marriage. But she told me also that, in some sort of different way, which I could not comprehend, she loved other men as well and desired to be married to them. This sort of thing would make the knowledge of the intimacy of marriage impossible – even if she said to me, (as some defenders of the well-meant gospel offer say): “My love for other men is different from my love for you. It is not contradictory, as you seem to think, but you are not capable of understanding why it is not contradictory.” I assure you, that would do little to relieve my concern – if “concern” is a strong enough word.

But, supposing that we use the ideas of “original” and “copy” for a moment. If God’s knowledge of Himself is original (as it is) and our knowledge of God is a copy, the copy is like the original in many respects or it is not a copy. If the copy says that God loves his people as elect, but God loves all men in his desire to save them, then the original has to say that too, or the copy is no more a copy. In other words, if the copy says things not found in the original, it is not a copy.

To say that the copy has problems and contradictions in it that the original does not have is to say that we do not have a copy at all, and that we cannot tell what the original says. We are incapable of saying anything about the original. We cannot say anything about God from the knowledge we have in Scripture. We are theological agnostics; and the knowledge of God as our God is forever impossible – even in heaven. Even in heaven, I say, for our knowledge of God that we shall have in heaven is the same as it is now in all respects. We know God always and only through Christ. The difference is only that now we know Christ through a mirror darkly (I Cor. 12:13), but presently we shall know him face to face.

But again our knowledge that we have through a mirror darkly is not and cannot be contradictory and therefore inaccurate. If I am shaving in front of the mirror and see my wife behind me, I do not expect that by turning around and seeing who is behind me, it will be another person than my wife. When we turn around in heaven, throw away the mirror, and see Christ face to face, and God in Christ, we will not say (thank God) I had an entirely wrong knowledge of you while I was in the world. I thought you said in the mirror, “I love not only you, but all men.” And the answer would come to us in heaven, “Your knowledge of me while you were on earth was only theologia ectypa and not theologia archetypa. We ought to be very thankful that that is not the case. Can you imagine a martyr willing to die for his knowledge of Christ when it is only theologia ectypa? I would not be prepared to do that. I will gladly and willingly die for one who is my Friend, who has cared for me, saved me from the wreck I made of my own life, and will take me into his own covenant life. I cannot imagine myself dying for a god of whom I know nothing, much less whether he truly loves me, when he loves everybody, even those who kill me and who go to hell.

No, the distinction will do nothing to solve the problem, but it will only rob us of the knowledge of our God through Jesus Christ, a knowledge that is more than life to us.

* * * *

I called attention to the fact in an earlier installment that the well-meant gospel offer was inevitably Arminian. We must give some attention to this, although the charge is so obvious that it does not require much discussion.

We must bear in mind that the well-meant gospel offer insists that it is God’s desire to save all men and that he provides the grace necessary for man to make a decision for or against the gospel. This is Arminian on the very surface of it. Nothing can alter that conclusion and no arguments can gainsay this inevitable charge.

God either desires the salvation of all men or he does not. One of the two has to be true. If he does not, the well-meant gospel offer is false; if he does, one is forced to explain why not all are saved. a god that is unable to accomplish what he desires is a god who leaves the final decision of salvation to the sinner. If that is not true, then all knowledge of God is impossible, and we are left bereft of our assurance of salvation.

I am aware of the attempts that have been made to escape this difficulty, but we have examined these attempts, chiefly the one I discussed in the first part of this installment and in the installment previous to this one, and have found it, after being weighed in the balances, to be wanting.

That the well-meant offer of the gospel leads to Arminianism is a fact of Scripture. There are pretended Calvinists who in their defense of the well-meant offer, have denied reprobation. It is interesting to ask a defender of the offer whether he believes in reprobation, and his answer will be either, “Yes, but we have nothing to do with it, for it belongs to the hidden things of God,” or, “No, I do not believe in sovereign reprobation, but only such reprobation as God’s rejection and punishment of those who reject the gospel.

More and more, defenders of the well-meant offer argue for a universal atonement, at least in some sense of the word. But the fact is simply this: Christ died for the elect, or Christ died for everyone. If God makes salvation available to everyone, Christ died for everyone. No theological squirming can avoid this choice.

The well-meant offer is accompanied by preparatory grace. As I pointed out in an earlier installment, such preparationism, already among the Puritans, put emphasis on man’s contribution to salvation and thrust into man’s hands some of the responsibility for his ultimate salvation. But as one farmer said to Henry De Cock, minister of the Reformed Church in Ulrum, the Netherlands, and leader of the Separation of 1834, “Reverend, if I had to contribute one sigh to my salvation, I would be forever lost.” “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” Eph. 2:8, 9).

A striking example of the Arminianism of the gracious and well-meant gospel offer is a decision of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church last summer. An appeal was brought to Synod, which appealed a decision of a classis. This classical decision exonerated a prominent minister in the CRC who taught a universal atonement of Christ, a universal love of God, and a free-will in man, upon the choice of which depended a man’s salvation. The synod also exonerated him without any discussion. (You can find an analysis of the decision in the October 1 issue of the Standard Bearer. The Standard Bearer can be found on the Protestant Reformed website.)

All five points of Calvinism are lost. Man is no longer totally depraved; he is the object of God’s grace. Grace is resistible because the grace of preparationism can be used to reject the gospel; salvation is never certain, because final salvation depends on the faithfulness of the one who has, by his power, accepted the offer of the gospel.

There is no amount of semantic or theological legerdemain that can extricate someone from this morass.

With warm greetings in the Lord,

Prof Hanko

No comments:

Post a Comment