Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Archetypal/ Ectypal distinction and Clarkian epistemology

I have managed to finish my main intended project for this term break: an article interacting with parts of Dr. R. Scott Clark's article on the Well-Meant Offer in the book The Pattern of Sound Doctrine, a fetscrift for Dr. Bob Strimple edited by Dr. David VanDrunen. My article is entitled The Archetypal/Ectypal distinction and Clarkian epistemology, and can be found here.

An excerpt:

The distinction between archetypal and ectypal knowledge as promoted by the 17th century Reformed theologian Franciscus Junius is vital in Reformed scholastic thought. In this short article, I would like to interact with it as it is presented in Willem J. Van Asselt’s article in the Westminster Theological Journal of 2002, and tie that in with Clarkian epistemology. It is my opinion that there is no necessary conflict between the two, contrary to Dr. R. Scott Clark’s opinion that the denial of the archetypal/ectypal distinction is foundational to Clark’s epistemology and his denial of the Well-Meant Offer.

In this article therefore, I would first present the archetypal/ectypal distinction as presented by Van Asselt, and evaluate how that can tie in with Clarkian epistemology. Lastly, I would interact with some of Scott Clark’s criticism on the subject and show that it does not apply to Gordon Clark either in his epistemology or his denial of the Well-Meant Offer.


[Note: An article is not a(n) [academic] paper. Unfortunately, almost all of my Gordon Clark books are back in Singapore so I can't reference them]


godshammer said...

"So ontologically, there is a qualitative difference between God’s archetypal knowledge and our ectypal knowledge...."

The problem is that Scott Clark following VT has extended this distinction to epistemology, something GHC completely understood and rightly rejected (see The Answer). It seems to me that the A/E distinction has been historically understood and applied to the area of metaphysics as you note above and is something GHC completely affirmed (see The Answer). So, while you're right and that "the archetypal/ectypal distinction can and should be integrated with Clarkian epistemology," I think this is impossible to do so if we are to understand the A/E distinction in the way R.S. Clark has understood it and has read it back into Reformed history.

Probably a clearer example of what I mean can be found in John Muether's piece, "Robert Reymond on Cornelius Van Til: Some Reflections." Muether writes:

"The way that Van Til famously displayed the archetypal/ectypal distinction is with his well-known two circles, the larger on top and the smaller on the bottom. The key feature of these circles is that they did not touch. To intersect or overlap is to deny the archetypal/ectypal distinction, and it is to operate on a Greek or pantheistic foundation. In other words, it is to deny the Creator-creature distinction. It is essential for a Biblical doctrine of creation that these circles not touch, either metaphysically or epistemologically."

The problem for RSC's entire argument is there is NOTHING like this in any of the Reformed theologians he cites in his piece (with the possible exception of Junius - which is why he hangs his entire A/E thesis on this one minor figure - so minor that no one has yet translated his "major work" into English). OTOH, I do think he is right and Gordon Clark has denied the A/E distinction as RSC has defined it. Blindly following Van Til, RSC has not only dangerously conflated philosophic categories but has read his confusion back into history. Not a very admirable trait for a professor of Church History and Historical Theology.

PuritanReformed said...


I think it boils down to the relationship between ontology and epistemology. A defective understanding of the relationship between the two seems to be the problem with VT it seems.

Beng said...

I think it was Paris Reidhead who said: "Definitions. We think with definitions. So let's define what we mean by..."

Otherwise it's just chickens and ducks talking with each other. The definitions need to be more detailed.

PuritanReformed said...


I think definitions are part of the problem. Yes.