GHC Review 29: Language and Theology

ghc review 29; language and theology
Language and Theology, by Gordon H. Clark, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980, 152 pp.

Though this volume was printed by Presbyterian and Reformed, it is also labeled as “Trinity Paper No. 1” and says on the back of the first page “Copyright 1979, The Trinity Foundation.” I must think that The Trinity Foundation had Presbyterian and Reformed to print the volume for them. This would be their only joint-venture.

This is the single ugliest book cover I own. I’m frankly not sure how to describe the color. Perhaps “blinding orange.” But if any book should not be judged by its cover it is this one, for while the cover is hideous the contents are quite excellent.

A main thesis of Language and Theology is that human language is adequate to express truth under a Christian framework. Before presenting a “Christian Construction” in the final chapter, Clark surveys the field of language philosophy with chapters on Russell, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Ayer, Feigl, Wittgenstein (II), Urban, Mascall, Bushnell, Gilkey, Hordern, and Hamilton. But it is Clark’s “Christian Construction” that is of particular note.
Just before the final chapter there is an important, constructive comment:

“Surely language, as God’s gift to Adam, has as its purpose, not only communication among men, but communication between man and God. God spoke words to Adam and Adam spoke words to God Since this is the divine intention, words or language are adequate. To be sure, on occasion, even on frequent occasions, sinful man cannot find the right words to express his thought; but this is a defect of man, not an inadequacy of language.” (p. 130.)

While I’m tempted to next quote the entire final chapter, perhaps a considerable amount of value is found in just these few quotes:

“Throughout the Bible as a whole the rational God gives man an intelligible message.” (p. 138)
“God gave Adam a mind to understand the divine law, and he gave him language to enable him to speak to God. From the beginning language was intended for worship.” (p. 138)
“[Augustine’s] solution was, briefly, not that two minds have the same sensations, but that two minds have the same ideas. The ideas are common because Christ is the Logos that lighteth every man that comes into the world.” (p. 142)
“St. Augustine, though he altered his views as he grew older, gave a different role to sensation; without too much distortion one might call it a stimulus to intellectual intuition.” (p. 144)
“Language is a bearer of meaning because words are arbitrary signs the mind uses to tag thought.” (p. 152)

Much of Clark’s view in Language and Theology was already developed in two articles (“Logic and Language” and “Language and Logic”) over two decades previous to the book.

Then, based on the book, Clark gave three lectures:
Language, Truth, and Revelation, Part 1 (57:41)
Language, Truth, and Revelation, Part 2 (50:20)
Language, Truth, and Revelation, Part 3 (1:02:32)

Clark’s view of language would make an excellent topic for a student to write on. Language and Theology might also have some bearing on Clark’s view of hermeneutics.

For the previous review in this series see here.
For the next review in this series see here.

10 thoughts on “GHC Review 29: Language and Theology”

  1. Pingback: GHC Review 28: First John | A Place for Thoughts

  2. “Now, someone might suspect that a mistake had been made in every case within the five percent. Hardly likely; for this would give one hundred inexplicable mistakes. What further supports the conclusion that several people have no visual imagery are the answers to similar questions about auditory imagery. The experiments showed that ten to fifteen percent had none. Many more, at least fifty percent, had no gustatory or olfactory imagery. Tactual imagery came between auditory and olfactory. This is most convincing to the present writer, for he, too, cannot find any image of red almost as vivid as the red seen in sunlight. To put it accurately, he can find no image of red at all; and to suppose that he can “see” an absent friend is ludicrous.”
    Excerpt From
    Language and Theology
    Gordon H. Clark
    This material may be protected by copyright.
    This is something that has always been a curiosity about GHC that caused me to wonder if he really didn’t have images. No doubt(!) Clark believed his lack of “imagery,” of whatever kind, was the truly the case and he would not claim this lack simply to buttress his negative view of Empiricism; that would be deceitful. I think Clark thought he really, really, didn’t have images. So once again, just for fun, I tried the experiment Clark cites on my wife. I asked her the questions about seeing red and the absent friend in the chair. She very clearly has visual imagery of red and the absent friend, so do I. She is even, unlike I am, able to “see” red absent any shape or figure. I have a hard time visualizing red without it being in the form of a shape, e.g., square, round, linear while she just sees red in darkness. Freaky.
    Here’s my question, Is it possible or even probable that Clark fails to have imagery because in his mind and worldview, a view shaped by years of rigorous study and contemplation of every school of philosophy, he has made no room for imagery? In other words, has his lifelong study of philosophy and strong antipathy to Empiricism “stacked the deck” such that he is incapable of imagery; has his mind so poisoned the empirical well that the very concept of imagery is a non-starter? I would love to ask him how in heaven’s name he could possibly paint a landscape without visual imagery, imagery that continues after he’s left the easel and moved on to something else? Again, to my limited understanding, if limited it is, it seems impossible for any human being to not have imagery whether visual (painters, sculptors!), auditory (for musicians and composers!), olfactory (for Corpsmen the smell of gangrenous infection!), gustatory (for chef’s!), tactile (for readers of Braille!) etc., etc.
    Apparently GHC was not the only highly intelligent person to hold this view. I think he cited several very intelligent and educated thinkers who also claimed no imagery. I have asked this question of some friends at church, some very intelligent, and very rarely find anyone who will claim no visual imagery. But some do. Are they deceived?
    Anybody else have any thoughts on this?

      1. Yeah, I think I get that. The definition is of first importance. But if I understand Clark correctly he couldn’t see a face, a chair, etc. Now I get that a FACE is composed of parts, e.g., nose, eyes, mouth. And a mountain is composed of rocks, snow, and the bear on the mountain. And the bear is composed, etc., etc. So has Clark so stacked the deck, in his definition of FACE, MOUNTAIN, or BEAR, that it is impossible to see the “image?” Has he defined these images out of existence so that the deck is stacked and he couldn’t “see” an image even if it was really there?

  3. “Is a small stone on a mountainside the real individual, or is the mountain, or is it the mountain range? Those who take a firm stand on the stone run the risk of falling off when it crumbles into pebbles and then into atoms and then into protons or what not. Individuals are nowhere to be found.4”
    Excerpt From
    Three Types of Religious Philosophy
    Gordon H. Clark
    This material may be protected by copyright.

  4. I wonder if I’ve made myself clear? Maybe not so let me try and clarify.
    Does Clark not see a FACE because he has defined it out of existence? In other words, if a FACE by definition doesn’t exist then I guess you can’t see it no matter what. I know this gets into the philosophy of nominalism, realism, etc., but my question is simpler (I think) and it is Does Clark or any other human being “see” these things absent their immediate presence before you?
    I have thought for many years that GHC was (slyly?) denying visual images by definition and not as someone who truly did not have them, at all. But others claim the same thing and who’s to know except on their word? I believe him. Maybe we’ve been hoodwinked?

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