How Can Our Theology Be True?

It was a commonplace in Reformed scholasticism to make a distinction between archetypal theology and ectypal theology. This distinction has been lost in subsequent centuries, greatly to the loss of the church. The Reformed scholastics, however, understood that humans, being finite, cannot comprehend the infinite. We can know things truly, but never in the same exact way that God knows. Here is one place I have felt that followers of Gordon Clark have not even remotely done justice to the history of Reformed theology. They want to blast Van Til for creating something that leads to complete skepticism and uncertainty. If we cannot know in the same manner as God knows, then we can know nothing at all, say the Clarkians. But Van Til did not create the archetypal/ecyptal distinction. It has been around for centuries. Just to take two classic examples, Johannes á Mark (Marckius in his Latin spelling; also sometimes spelled Marck), divides theology first into true theology and false theology. The first division of true theology is into archetypal (God’s own knowledge of Himself) and ectypal (the knowledge of God that an image-bearer can have). See his Medulla, 1.6-8.

Of greater importance, because of the deeper definition of “ectypal,” is Junius’s definition. He uses the same distinction of theology into true and false theology. He further divides true theology first into archetypal, which he calls “undoubtedly the wisdom of God Himself, or it is ectypal, having been fashioned by God” (page 86 of A Treatise on True Theology). What is fascinating about Junius’s definition of ectypal theology is that God made ecyptal theology. This becomes even more clear a few paragraphs later: “Ecyptal theology, whether taken in itself, as they say, or relatively in relation to something else, is the wisdom of divine matters, fashioned by God from the archetype of Himself, through the communication of grace for His own glory.” To all my readers, I do not think you will find a finer definition of ectypal theology anywhere else. What is vitally important for our purposes is that phrase “fashioned by God from the archetype of Himself, through the communication of grace.” How can we know that ecyptal theology does not relegate us to complete skepticism, not knowing anything truly, if we don’t know it the same way God does? We know that ecyptal theology is still true theology because God made it off the pattern of His own archetypal theology. And He gives it to us by grace (Junius certainly has revelation in mind here, which comes by grace). It is theology fitted to our capacity, as Junius also makes clear, and is “communicated by union, vision, or revelation” (ibid.).

The fact that our theology can only ever be ectypal does not stop Junius from stating that “The form of theology is divine truth” (p. 88), or that “This truth is holy, just, and perfect,” or that “this theology is one, eternal, and immutable” (p. 89). Ecyptal theology is true because God made it so. If ectypal theology were dependent on the human brain, it would be constantly changing, and it would provide zero certainty. It is matter for great rejoicing, then, that the certainty of ectypal theology does not rest on fallen human reason, but on God’s unchanging revelatory grace.

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