Gordon Clark and the “Proofs” for God’s Existence

In chapter one of his book A Christian View of Men and Things, Gordon Clark brings up the discussion of the traditional “proofs” for God’s existence (e.g., cosmological, teleological, ontological, etc). He writes:

To one who has just begun to philosophize and who wishes to defend theism, it might seem most natural to prove the existence of God right at the first… But are the arguments valid? Some people maintain that they are; but even if they are, the more they are studied, the harder it becomes to state them in an unobjectionable form… [If] there is a valid inference from the world to God [vis-à-vis the cosmological argument], the god so proved can be assigned only those qualities sufficient to produce the observed effects. Such an argument might prove the existence of a very powerful god, but it could not prove the existence of an omnipotent God. (Introduction)

I remember well sitting in my first undergraduate course in doctrine and having to memorize the historical proofs for God set forth by Aquinas and others; yet even then, they did not sit right with me. At best, they could set forth a case for a creator, designer, or other, but they failed because they cannot prove Yahweh, the One True God presented in Scripture. They fall short in this regard. Clark quotes Hume to this end:

A body of ten ounces raised in any scale may serve as a proof that the counterbalancing weight exceeds ten ounces, but can never afford a reason that it exceeds a hundred. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section XI)

To be certain, evidence of the One True God’s existence is found in nature. The Apostle Paul tells the reader of Romans as much: [God’s] invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made (1:20). This is what we refer to as general revelation: the non-verbal disclosing of God’s existence and perfections to all people by means of nature.

This is problematic for two reasons. First, that same passage in Romans also says that man in his natural state suppresses the truth: For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them (vv. 18-19).

Second, we cannot know more than what the created world tells us. Existence and identification are two separate entities, and the identification of the One True God can only be found in Scripture. Try as we might to identify God through these proofs, the ultimate authority — the Word of God — is ultimately the only authority. At some point, the unbeliever will need to choose to either believe Scripture or not.

Often the reason for these proofs is said to be for the sake of the unbelieving atheist, but the atheist is right in rejecting these “ways” to proving God’s existence. Even if they proved the existence of God, belief in the propositions found in Scripture are still necessary for eternal life. The redemptive work of the second Person of the Trinity is only revealed to us in Scripture, and must be accepted on the basis of its testimony alone. Either way, knowledge of Scripture is paramount, and we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to illumine Scripture to us.

Clark concludes his discussion of these proofs with the following:

[C]riticism is also directed against the validity of any inference from effect to cause — a matter that was granted for the sake of argument — will be even less easy to place confidence in the proofs of God’s existence. The more the arguments are studied, the less valid they seem. Because of this, the argument for a theistic worldview cannot begin with the traditional proofs of God’s existence. These proofs are seen to raise many questions; and if they should be valid they could not be shown to be valid without a great amount of prior discussion of metaphysics, epistemology, and other elements of a well-rounded system. (Introduction)

The final sentence is most crucial in any dialogue. A great deal of talking past one another happens because our epistemologies — our understanding of knowledge and how we obtain it — differ. To the believer, Scripture should permeate our worldview. We should be reasoning from the Scriptures, for those words alone bring life. Scripture should be the basis and foundation of all that we do, and we would do well to let God do the talking through His Word.


The Foundations of a Sermon

Not too long ago, my family was invited over for dinner by one of my friends from my seminary days.  Receiving an invitation from anyone rarely happens, so we were excited to make it work, and to have grown up conversations about ministry and the Word of God.  Both Julie and her husband, Steve, are on the teaching team at their church, so naturally the conversation shifted at some point to sermon preparation and delivery (buy her book, by the way — it is phenomenal!).  I had made a remark along the lines of finding sermon preparation easy, as “all” it involves is finding the point of the passage and making it the point of the sermon!

The conversation had me thinking, and so I wanted to lay out the three foundations (or sina qua non, if you will) of sermon writing.  While I do not have the opportunity to preach and teach nearly as much as I’d like, these are the three aspects I strive to incorporate every chance I am given.

Convey the Content in Context

In the strictest sense, nothing is more foundational to a sermon than the biblical text — book, chapter, and verse.  Without a exegetical exposition of God’s Word, the preacher becomes little more than a motivational speaker doling out their own advice and maxims.  Scripture is sufficient for all things (2 Tim 3:16-17  All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. — more on that later), and we would do well to let the Bible tell us in which direction a sermon should go.

While nuanced definitions abound, a sermon is expositional when it considers a unit of Scripture (e.g., a verse, a paragraph, a chapter, etc) in its context, and offers an explanation thereof.  It is exegetical when the historical and grammatical context of the unit is considered, and is allowed to speak for itself, without our prejudices or preconceived ideas forcing us to a foregone conclusion.

We find these methods found in Scripture itself:

Ezra 7:10  Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Neh 8:7-8  [The] Levites explained the law to the people as they stood in their places.  They read out of the book of the law of God, translating and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was read.

Note especially the role of the Levitical priests in the Nehemiah passage — they read the Law, then made sure that the congregation could understand what was being read.  This is still the role of the modern preacher.  We need to make sure that the content of the passage is being conveyed, and that it is being viewed through the lens of the context in which it is found, whether that is the paragraph, or even extending to the literary style of the book or culture of the time.

The point of the passage should be the point of the sermon.  Why did the Spirit direct the authors to write any given command, narrative, or teaching?  If we cannot give a one sentence summary of the passage, and therefore our sermon (since the two are one and the same), we need to revisit the text and refine our goal in communicating truth.

Converge upon the Cross

While each unit of Scripture has its particular truth and message that the Spirit intends it to convey, there are themes that are present throughout the entirety of Scripture.  One theme that should find its way into every sermon is that God will fix the sin problem — the good news, the Gospel.  In other words, that the Father sent the Son into the world to pay the penalty of death for the sins of humanity, and that by believing (the Greek means to consider something to be true) in that work, each individual can once again be reconciled to the Father.

This second foundation is also demonstrated in Scripture, most notably in Acts.  Peter does this expertly from the Old Testament in Acts 2 and Acts 3, and Stephen in Acts 7.  Also note Paul in Acts 17:2-3:

As usual, Paul went to the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and showing that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.”

Or Apollos in 18:28:

For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.

Not only does converging upon the cross make good expositional sense, but it also makes great practical evangelistic sense, as well.  We should not take the opportunity lightly when God brings people within earshot, and to be used by Him in that way.  Depending upon the size and location of the church, it is not unlikely that there will be men and women there that either have never heard the good news, or have never responded to it by belief.  I have heard several sermons in which words like sinsacrifice, grace, and belief have been completely absent!

Even as believers, it serves us well to be reminded of who we were, who we now are, and who we will one day be!  To be reminded of that grace and love is no small matter!

Connect to the Congregation

And that brings us to the third foundation of a sermon: connecting to the congregation.  Many view this as the primary — if not sole — purpose of preaching; yet, if it is not first grounded in an understanding of the original intent and meaning of the passage, we have once again descended into a form indistinguishable from secular motivational speaking. By ignoring the passage, we are elevating our words above God’s Words, as if we have something to add that hasn’t already been said.

Depending upon the text at hand, Scripture can have one (or more) of many different outcomes.  For example, it can convict us of unrighteous attitudes and actions, it can console us in times of injustice and hopelessness, it can encourage us unto a path of sanctification, or certainly not the least of which, it can lead us to the grace in which all of it is steeped.

Paul writes in 2 Tim 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

[Sidenote: As often as these verses are quoted to support the inerrant, divine nature of Scripture, it seems to be just as often overlooked that the Scripture Paul writes about here is, contextually, the Old Testament!  While the New Testament is surely to be included at this point, how prevalent is the aversion to the Old Testament for its lack of practicality?]

God’s Word is intended to be applicable.  We are hard-pressed to read it and not walk away affected by it through the enablement of the Spirit.  The author of Hebrews writes in 4:12:

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword.

Or consider what God says in Isaiah 55:10-11:

For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.”

If we are preaching the content in context, connecting it to the congregation shouldn’t take a Herculean effort.  God’s Word is powerful on its own accord to accomplish His purposes.  Our job as preachers is to minimize our words and to maximize God’s.

Our job, by the illumination of the Spirit through prayer and study, is to be faithful in preaching the Word of God.  Admittedly, the style in which this is done may differ.  No two preachers are alike, whether it’s in their delivery, or in the individual speaker’s mechanics (e.g., the tone, cadence, nonverbal cues); yet our goal should be one and the same: to the glory of God through faithfulness to the Word of God.

Top Ten Books

Patrick McWilliams challenged me to list ten books that have most impacted me, or something to that effect.  The following is an amalgamation of books that have either impacted my thinking in a critical way and/or ones that I consider a “must-read.”  I’m sticking to a hard ten, because that’s the rule, and not listing the Bible because that’s so obvious it’s unfair.  In no particular order:

1.  Absolutely Free, by Zane Hodges.  I believe this was the first soteriological book I had ever read.  It was probably my sophomore or junior year of college when I had Doctrine II with Paul Benware, and this book had come up in the discussion.  It seemed to put into written word what I had been taught in years of youth group.  Great introductory work on faith and the gospel.

2. The Believer’s Payday, by Paul Benware.  I had to read this for Doctrine III, for which the author was my professor.  This book married my two favorite doctrinal areas — soteriology and eschatology.  Specifically, this book sets forth the doctrine of the Judgment Seat of Christ, and how what we do as believers in this life greatly impacts the life to come.  I consider this the one “must-read” of every believer.

3.  Final Destiny: The Future Reign of the Servant Kings, by Joseph Dillow.  Dillow is a systematic treatment of the role of works in the life of a believer.  Systematic.  I don’t think he leaves one stone unturned in all 1,100 pages.

4.  What Is Saving Faith, by Gordon Clark.  Ah Clark.  Much of Clark’s work has been an encouragement to me, and this is no exception.  He expertly defines and discusses faith on a philosophical level, unmatched by any of those in the typical “free grace” camp.

5.  The Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther.  Sarcasm + total depravity + grace + biting sarcasm = everyone wins.

6.  No Condemnation, A Theology of Assurance of Salvation, by Michael Eaton.  This list is heavy on the soteriology, but this work highlights another aspect of faith in proper perspective — assurance.  Assurance does not come through our works, but through our faith in the gospel.  If we are looking to ourselves to prove that we believed the gospel, that’s when we need the gospel all the more.

7.  God and Evil: The Problem Solved, by Gordon Clark.  I tend to take a bit of a hard line when it comes to God’s sovereignty and the problem of evil.  I blame it on one of my college professors and his fascination with sea monsters in Scripture.  Clark again sets forth a systematic argument from the entirety of Scripture and biblical philosophy to present a strong case for what I always considered to be biblical truth.

8.  Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever.  I’ve read this one within the past year, in part due to a major leadership transition taking place at our church.  While I don’t agree with everything in here, it’s a great read for anyone in church ministry.

9.  Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom, by Ron Paul.  I hesitated to list this one, as many have strong feelings on Dr. Paul.  But, much like Dillow did for sanctification, and Clark did for the sovereignty of God, Dr. Paul lays out a systematic defense for lower-case libertarianism.  It’s not a technical book by any means, but it sets forth a groundwork that I believe fits in nicely with a biblical worldview.

10.  Leading with a Limp: Take Full of Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness, by Dan Allender.  I read this one while the Resident Director at WBC, and led our RAs in a discussion of it.  A great book on leadership, particularly a leadership style that recognizes and accepts weaknesses, instead of hiding them.

“Simplicity” in 2 Corinthians 1:12

It’s not uncommon for me, using the New American Standard Bible, to run into interesting discrepancies between translations in a church that primarily uses the New International Version.  Today in Sunday School was such a time.  Today’s teacher read 2 Corinthians 1:12 in the New King James Version:

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.

It caught my eye, because the NASB translates the underlined as holiness and godly sincerity.

Naturally, I couldn’t let it go.  So I checked the different versions:

ESV: simplicity and godly sincerity (footnote: some manuscripts read holiness)
HCSB: God-given sincerity and purity
KJV: simplicity and godly sincerity
NET: pure motives and sincerity which are from God
NIV: integrity and godly sincerity
NLT: God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings (footnote: some manuscripts read honesty)
Pickering: openness and godly sincerity

Simplicity — holiness — simplicity — purity — simplicity — pure motives — integrity — holiness — openness.  This, my friends, is hardly unanimity!  So to the Greek we turn!

Nestle-Aland 27 — απλοτητι (Side note: if anyone wishes to purchase the 28th edition for me, Christmas *is* around the corner!)
Hodges & Farstad — απλοτητι
Robinson & Pierpont — απλοτητι
Pickering — απλοτητι

Now (well, for now) we have a unified voice in haploteti.  As we look in the Greek lexicon BDAG, we have definitions of simplicity, sincerity, uprightness, and frankness.  They add: “In our literature, especially of personal integrity expressed in word or action (compare with our colloquialism ‘what you see is what you get’)… Of simple goodness, which gives itself without reserve, ‘without strings attached,’ ‘without hidden agendas'” (p. 104).

At this point, we have two questions:

First, since simplicity is the correct word, what is meant by it?

Second, how did holiness creep in to NASB and NLT?

Tackling the first question, the simplicity here is not how we live life (vis-a-vis free of distractions, appointments, and material possessions).  Taking the context into account, it’s a frankness, a purity in Paul’s message.

The word occurs seven other times, three of which are relevant to our current study:

2 Corinthians 11:3 But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ.

Ephesians 6:5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.

Colossians 3:22 Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.

We get this idea of purity, openness, and earnestness.  We need to be asking the Spirit to search our hearts and point out when and where we are teaching the Word of God for our own gain.  We need to teach and preach with an attitude of, as the lexicon says, what you see is what you get, without strings attached.

What about the second question?  (Prepare to be bored.)

The Byzantine Text is unified in its reading of απλοτητι.  It also has the support of a correction in an early Alexandrian manuscript (א), as well as the three big Western Texts (D, F, and G).  But, the greater number of Alexandrian manuscripts (P46, A, B, C, 33, 1881, et al) all read αγιοτητι, or holiness.  In fact, Nestle-Aland 26 utilized the latter reading, which is why the NASB and the NLT translated the word holiness, and the ESV desperately wanted to.  (There was also a real outlier, the 12th century minuscule 88, which read πραοτητι, or gentleness.)

Of the decision for NA27, Metzger writes:  “[A] majority of the Committee favored the Western and Byzantine reading because (a) the context seems to require a word meaning ‘simplicity’ rather than ‘holiness;’ (b) the word [for simplicity] occurs a number of times in 2 Corinthians; and (c) [this specific word for holiness] is never used elsewhere by Paul” (p. 507).

And there you have it.

Let the eye-rolling commence!

It’s inevitable.  At some point in the next few weeks, the piano, organ, and brass will begin to play; the conductor will give the downbeat; and one of my brothers-in-law will glance out of the corner of his eye to see what’s going on in my region of the choir.

You see I cannot bring myself to sing “Joy to the World.”  Even now, I actually can feel the disappointment in my spiritual life you have at this very moment.

Take a moment and read through the lyrics.  When the hymn writer, Isaac Watts, composed the carol in 1719, it was not intended to be a Christmas/Advent/First Coming carol.  Hymnary.org notes that Watts “published it in his Psalms of David Imitated (1719) under the heading ‘The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.'”  Another article giving the background of the carol can be found here.

“Joy to the World” (based off of Psalm 98) is actually about Christ’s Second Coming and the onset of the Messianic (i.e., Millennial) Kingdom.  It has precious little to do with Christmas, as the events the carol speaks of are still yet to occur!  Now, I can understand singing the carol at Christmas if one’s understanding of Scripture leads them to believe that Christ’s Kingdom, as prophesied in the Old Testament, began with the beginning of the Church.  In that way, many of those Old Testament passages are applied to the current age.  But, in the circles I’ve traveled and in which I’ve had fellowship, that is not the case.

It’s not like there is a dirth of good Christmas carols — even carols that balance the birth of Israel’s Messiah with the realization that God had now begun to administrate His kingdom differently on the Day of Pentecost.  I know “Joy to the World” is boisterously happy and jubilant, but — like anything else — shouldn’t the text inform and guide as to proper usage?

At the end of it all (no pun intended), let me be clear.  When He comes — our glorious King — I will gladly, triumphantly, and loudly be singing “Joy to the World.”  I’d go so far as to say that I hope it is the second song in D-major that we end up singing on that day.  The first, of course, will be Handel’s chorus “Worthy is the Lamb” from The Messiah.  (What can I say?  The pedal D on the organ makes me well up every time!  I’m hoping part of the refreshing the New Covenant brings is a clearly-audible 128′ pipe for that D that will resound throughout the universe.)

So go ahead.  Roll your eyes.  Cringe.  Think ill-thoughts.  I’m really not that crazy.  Or at least for this reason.

Why do we dedicate our children?

This coming Sunday, Laura and I will stand before our congregation and have Micah “dedicated to the Lord.”  In every church that I have attended (of which I consider Grace to be the fourth), we have this phenomenon of having two ragged parents up on the platform, handing over their screaming baby to the pastor, whom he subsequently prays over and quickly hands back before something comes spewing out of its mouth.

Although it may be the cynic in me, I tend to believe that this is one of those many rituals that is done out of habit in the Church, with any underlying or historical meaning lost in the trendy clothes, the photo ops, and the laughably cute behavior of the baby.  So why do we dedicate our children?

I’m sure part of it stems from a lack of other rituals that other off-shoots of the Judeo-Christian brand have.  We aren’t circumcising our sons on the eighth day as the Jewish people do (and why should we?).  As good and proper credo-baptists (i.e., those that hold to believer’s baptism), we do not perform any sprinkling or pouring on our infants, welcoming them into God’s covenantal family as most other churches stemming from the Reformation do.  Nor do we catechize and administer first Communion as the Romans do.

So what is a Bible-believing, born from above, credo-baptist to do?  Or, probably better, why have Laura and I decided to “dedicate our children?”  The answer is not to parade them up front and watch the congregation ooh and aah.  For us, the answer is in the way Jace, the senior pastor at Berean Bible Church (church 3 of 4), always described it.  It’s less about dedicating the child, and more about dedicating the parents.

To be sure, the Bible talks about Hannah dedicating Samuel to God after his birth.  Joseph and Mary presented Jesus to God.  But in as much as we are presenting Micah to the Lord, it is ultimately our son’s choice later in life whether to follow in that path.  I tend to think that both Samuel and Jesus were exceptional cases.  What I’m interested in is what I have a stake in:

Are Laura and I committed to raising our sons in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?  (whoa, KJV tradition poking through…)  Are we recognizing that, while we are the primary spiritual caretakers of these boys, we still need help in the process?  Are we asking for accountability and encouragement along the way from those that we do life with?

The answer to all of these is yes.  We need the Sunday School teachers, and the nursery workers, and the youth leaders, and every one else that volunteers their time in order to contribute to the spiritual well-being of our boys!  We rely upon our family members.  We need our friends.  We humbly request that you build us up when we are at our wit’s end, and that you point out to us when we seem to be lacking in any given area.

This is why, at least on our part, why we are doing what we’re doing on Sunday.  Yes, we’ll dress spiffy, take a few pictures, go out to eat afterwards, and hopefully not have any meltdowns in the process.  But in the end — make no mistake — this is about our promise to God and our boys, and asking our fellow believers to help us in the process.  We are dedicating ourselves to the task.