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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14 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)?


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