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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16 Comments

  1. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 7:37 am

    “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….”

  2. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 8:03 am

    Lane,

    You point out that Clarkians often index the root cause to CVT when they shouldn’t. But why not make it equally clear that it’s not just Clarkians who would call such a construct skepticism? Thankfully, isn’t left to choose between Clark or Van Til.

  3. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 8:05 am

    “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….”

    Lane,

    You point out that Clarkians often index the root cause to CVT when they shouldn’t. But why not make it equally clear that it’s not just Clarkians who would call such a construct skepticism? Thankfully, one isn’t left to choose between Clark or Van Til.

  4. Josh said,

    November 13, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Dear Pastor Keister,

    You wrote: “If we cannot know in the same manner as God knows, then we can know nothing at all, say the Clarkians.”

    Maybe there are Clarkians who say this, but Dr. Clark did not. Here is a quote from Clark’s answer to the complaint against his ordination (http://gordonhclark.reformed.info/files/2015/01/Unpublished-113.-The-Answer-original.pdf):

    “The manner of God’s knowing would of course be different, and would eternally remain incomprehensible to man, but there is no evidence that there are any items of knowledge about God which God could not reveal to us, did he choose to do so” (pp. 12-13).

    The answer also says this:

    “The manner of God’s thinking is different from the thinking processes of man, but the result of man’s thinking, if his thinking is true, is that he understands at least one truth that God thinks” (p. 22).

    Your overall point may be correct. However, the characterization of the Clarkian position doesn’t seem fair to me. Clark taught that there is a difference between the manner in which God knows and the manner in which we know.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Josh, the nature of that difference, though, is the point at issue. Is it a quantitative difference, or a qualitative difference? I think you will find, if you research the problem enough, that Clark would say the difference is quantitative, whereas the Van Tillians say it is qualitative.

  6. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Josh,

    That very thing occurred to me. The manner (or mode) of knowing wasn’t a point of contention. Indeed, God knows “intuitively.” The rub pertained to the qualitative difference pertaining to “content,” an ill defined term in the debate.

  7. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Lane,

    Manner of knowing pertains to how one knows. The mode of knowledge. That was never the issue. Object of knowledge pertains to what one knows.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Ron, I don’t think I agree with that assessment. Almost all the discussions I have read or heard on the Van Til/Clark debate focus a great deal of time on epistemology, not just on the object of knowledge.

  9. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Josh,

    Although maybe not the happiest of terms, I think Lane must mean by “manner” the qualitative difference of the object of knowledge. He gets the debate.

  10. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Yes. I think it’s semantic, Lane.

  11. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Lane,

    Scratch that very last post of mine. I thought you were saying something quite different.

    I’m surprised to hear that anybody thinks that the mode of knowing was a point of disagreement.

  12. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    “I think you will find, if you research the problem enough, that Clark would say the difference is quantitative, whereas the Van Tillians say it is qualitative.”

    Lane,

    These points should not be a matter of disagreement.

    1. Both sides affirmed a quantitative difference between God’s knowledge and man’s. The disagreement wasn’t so trivial as to pertain to the number of propositions known or how they exhaustively relate to each other. Surely, both sides agreed. God knows more stuff.

    2. The mode or manner of how God knows is radically different than that of man. God’s knowledge is original or intuitive. Man’s, receptive or derivative. I know no disciple of CVT or GHC who’d demur.

    3. The Westminster team wanted Clark and his gang to affirm a qualitative difference regarding the “content” of what God and man know.

    I think those 3 points are pretty innocuous.

  13. Ryan said,

    November 13, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    “I’m surprised to hear that anybody thinks that the mode of knowing was a point of disagreement.”

    You and Josh are correct, this has never been an issue, and I would love to see an example to the contrary.

  14. Josh said,

    November 13, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Pastor Keister, I know you have given a lot of study to this topic–more than I have, no doubt.

    Dictionary.com defines “ectype” as “a reproduction; copy.

    It defines “archetype” as “the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based.

    I doubt Gordon Clark would object to the claim that human knowledge is a copy or reproduction of God’s original knowledge (made possible only by God’s gracious revelation). I certainly would not object. So, my questions are:

    1. Are these dictionary definitions compatible with Junius’s definitions of these terms or not?

    2. Is there a record of Clark or his followers rejecting this archetypal/ectypal distinction (as opposed to rejecting Van Til’s formulation)?

  15. brandonadams said,

    January 4, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    Did my comment from Tuesday make it through. It had a link so it might have gotten stuck in the approval queue.

  16. brandonadams said,

    January 9, 2018 at 11:34 am

    As the three other commentators have already pointed out, the issue was never about knowing something in the same manner that God knows it. Clark repeated numerous times that the manner God knows is different from the manner that man knows. From the Presbytery Examindation of Clark (after his ordination exam – note also how imprecise and ad hoc these questions are):

    ——————-
    Dr. Woolley:
    Q Is there any difference in kind between the knowledge of God, subjective, and the knowledge that human beings have or possess?

    A That is entirely different.

    Q Can you give any further explanation or definition of that difference?

    A Briefly, I should say God’s knowledge is intuitive and ours discursive.

    Q You consider that a difference in kind, rather than a difference in the method of knowledge or method of knowing?

    A I thought kind and method meant the same thing.

    Q I didn’t mean them to mean the same thing, that is – I would say that to my mind when I use the word: “kind” I meant a description of knowledge which was much broader in extent than purely the method of acquiring which covered type of being or content that you might describe to knowledge, apart from acquisition.

    A I know of two points upon this subject:
    That is – the method of knowledge – knowing, is, in the case of God not acquisitional, but in our case, it is. That is one point of it, and the only other point that has any reference to the subject is:
    The object known, such as 2 x 2, equals 4.
    I hold that that is the same as it is for God, but the method of knowing it, is entirely different.
    ——————–

    From “The Answer” (written by Floyd Hamilton) in defense of Clark (note that Clark won the trial):

    ——————–
    In studying this subject one should be careful to avoid certain apparently common confusions. Strict accuracy is required. The word knowledge has two meanings; both are good English; but the one should never be taken for the other. When one says, This man has great knowledge, the word refers to the objects, i.e., the truths or propositions he knows. On the other hand when one says, Man has discursive knowledge, the word refers, not to the objects known, but to the manner of knowing. The simple phrase God’s knowledge may bear either meaning, but what is true of one meaning is not necessarily true of the other meaning. In the phrase God’s knowledge of a proposition the word knowledge refers to the intuitional character of his knowing. It cannot refer to the content known, for if it did, the phrase could be exactly reproduced as God’s object of an object, or, God’s truth of a truth, or, God’s proposition of a proposition. The complainants in attacking Dr. Clark’s position are not concerned with knowledge in the sense of the manner of knowing. They distinguish and they admit Dr. Clark distinguishes between intuition and discursion, but they claim that the manner of God’s knowing is no part of the doctrine of incomprehensibility. Hence the theory of the Complaint is that the objects or truths known by God are different from those known by man.
    ——————–

    Second, this whole issue with archetypal vs ectypal knowledge was NOT part of the trial. It was NEVER mentioned. Nothing from the history of reformed theology regarding the archetype/ectype distinction was brought forward on this point for Clark to offer his agreement or disagreement with. The A/E distinction was brought out later by Van Tillians to try to find historic precedent for VT’s views and to accuse Clark of rejecting historic views.

    The trial was, at root, about the role of the law of contradiction in the interpretation of Scripture. THAT (not the A/E distinction) is the context of every answer offered by Clark in his Examination. VT believed that the correct interpretation of Scripture will result in formal contradictions according to the human, created law of contradiction. He believed this was acceptable because these contradictions were not a violation of God’s uncreated, unknown laws of thought/manner of thinking. We simply have to accept that we cannot know these truths in a non-contradictory manner because they are God’s thoughts, which are above our thoughts. This is what Clark rejected. This is the context of “quantitative vs qualitative” (not the best terms). Clark believed that God thinks logically and that human laws of logic are merely descriptions of God’s thought patterns, as known to us through revelation.

    Which brings us to the A/E distinction. Your summary is missing some crucial distinctions. It is not simply that archetypal knowledge = God’s knowledge and ectypal knowledge = man’s knowledge. Rather, according to van Asselt’s introduction to Junius:

    ——————–
    For Junius, archetypal theology is uncreated and identical with the divine being itself. It is essential to God, and thus it is most simple, eternal, intuitive, nondiscursive, absolute, incommunicable, infinite, and most perfect… Furthermore, the concept of ectypal knowledge existing in the mind of God must be distinguished from archetypal theology. Junius calls the former theologia simpliciter dicta or theology absolutely considered; this differs from archetypal theology in that the latter is incommunicable while the former is communicable. When communication of ectypal knowledge takes place then theologia simpliciter dicta becomes theologia secundum quid (i.e., relational theology), for it depends upon God’s gracious accommodation of Himself to a form that finite beings are capable of understanding. Junius calls this accommodated theology a second-order theology, whereas he considered theologia simpliciter dicta to be a first-order theology.

    This does not mean, however, that for Junius the identity of archetypal theology with the divine essence of God renders Him incapable of communicating to the created order. God Himself bridges the gap by graciously revealing ectypal theology to His creatures by an act of His free and contingent will ad extra. At the same time, the distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology underscores the fact that human beings do not have direct access to the knowledge of God. Thus, humans are dependent on God’s external self-disclosure. In other words, there is no way of access from man to God, but only from God to man.

    Finally, Junius stresses that both forms of ectypal theology (theologia simpliciter dicta and secundum quid) equal the distinction between theologia in se and theologia in subjectis, namely, theology in itself and theology in finite knowing subjects. While the former (theologia in se) is communicable by God—but cannot be grasped by human effort—ectypal theology in subjectis is a mediated and communicated theology.
    ——————–

    Junius said “Thesis 7: Archetypal theology is the divine wisdom of divine matters. Indeed, we stand in awe before this and do not seek to trace it out.” What is important to acknowledge regarding archetypal theology is that we can’t really know anything about it, by definition. I may be wrong, but I believe the following exchange from Clark’s Examination is relevant in this regard:

    ——————–
    Q Might I bring back a question .. I think you answered me to the effect that according to revelation of the Scripture, we were not in position to say all truth is capable of being expressed in propositions or that all truth is not capable of being expressed in propositions.

    A I could not prove either of those statements from the expression of the statements in tho scriptures.

    Q In other words, you do admit that we cannot dogmitically say eithor one is true?

    A That is right.
    ——————–

    We simply don’t know what we don’t know.

    All of Clark’s discussion of the propositional nature of truth has to do with ectypal theology. It does not appear, to me, that Van Til had a category for “theologia simpliciter dicta” – communicable, ectypal knowledge in the mind of God (recall VT’s two circle diagram). This is what, I would argue, Clark had in mind when he argued that the object of man’s knowledge and God’s knowledge is the same. God knows ectypal knowledge intuitively, while man knows it discursively, but the content is identical. Furthermore, God knows every infinite implication of every proposition of ectypal theology while man never will because man is limited by time (see Junius p. 117-118 for this same point, as I understand him).

    Note this statement at the end of Clark’s examination:

    ——————–
    DR. STRONG: I should like to go on public record that I am very satisfied indeed with the examination of Dr. Clark and I’d like to pay public tribute to the clearness and coolness and patience with which Dr. Clark has taken this examination. And, I want to say I tremendously admire the grasp of this man’s mind and I most earnestly desire an opportunity of voting on this question.
    ——————–

    Clark’s ordination was upheld.

    Again, the question at the heart of the Clark/VT controversy was over the role of logic in the interpretation of Scripture. On that point, VT does not find support for his view in reformed historical theology, while Clark does. Note WCF I.V “consent (non-contradiction) of all the parts.” (Consider also Perry Miller’s chapter on the Instrument of Reason in “The New England Mind”)

    I am not entirely satisfied with the way that Clark expressed everything, but I am sure that he would be happy to be a part of ongoing dialogue and sharpening. Sharpening was not what took place in his trial. It was a failed witch hunt.


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