I took a stab at the Controversy a few years ago after reading (or trying to read) Herman Hoeksema’s book. That post remains quite popular. I’ve been meaning to read Van Til on the incomprehensibility of God, but more important matters have hindered me from investing the time necessary.
But I finally began John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Early on in the book, he interacts with the Controversy and makes what I think are some helpful comments on it. I’ve been meaning to blog about this, but have been (yes) busy. Since today is something of a sick day, I’ve got a bit more time.
“We should be gentle with those who differ from us; they may not be rebellious or sinful in their disagreement, only immature (in other respects they may surpass us). And, of course, we must always recognize the possibility that we may be wrong, that a brother or sister who disagrees with us may have something to teach us.”
Frame asserts that this controversy was not the highlight of either man’s career, and that they seriously misunderstood one another. As the first, such controversies tend to bring out the worst in us. This is why many godly men offered warnings about how to conduct themselves in theological controversy. It is quite easy for pride to deceive us and distort our thinking, motive and goals. Part of that deception ties into the misunderstanding of the other person’s actual views that takes place. As I mentioned in the earlier post, controversy tends to move us to further extremes in the quest to be right (as opposed to understanding truth).
Both, however had valid concerns. Van Til wished to preserve the Creator-creature distinction in the realm of knowledge, and Clark wished to prevent an skeptical deductions from the doctrine of incomprehensibility, to insist that we really do know God on the basis of revelation. Van Til, therefore, insisted that even when God and man were thinking of the same thing (a particular rose, for example), their thoughts about it were never identical- God’s were the thoughts of the Creator, man’s of the creature. Such language made Clark fear skepticism.
Here is how they were talking past each other in some ways (there was a real disagreement, but not as vast as either made it out to be perhaps). They wanted to protect different ideas in their discussion of the topic. Different agendas or concerns, which led to different expressions and therefore misunderstanding.