Michael Horton Critiques the “God of the gaps” Apologetic

In The Christian Faith, Michael Horton unravels the real problem with resolving the tension between theism and and science via the “God of the gaps” apologetic approach.  This approach, for those unfamiliar with the terminology, is used by people who wish to respect the claims of science but also wish to retain a place for God to do something on his own that compliments science.  Thus when scientific claims can only be taken so far, the “God of the gaps” apologetic says “Ah – see, God’s activity is to be found in this stuff over here that science is unsure about.”

On the one hand, Horton notes that this approach must be in continual flux as scientific claims stake more and more of a claim on knowledge and (seemingly) leave less and less of a gap into which God can fit.  But on the other hand, Horton has a much more weighty critique:

The “God of the gaps” apologetic is not simply a weak strategy; it is based on a theological misunderstanding, assuming that God’s agency and creaturely agency occupy the same register.  Accordingly, to the extent that a certain state of affairs can be attributed to natural (human or nonhuman) causes, God is not involved.  Again we meet the troubling univocity of being, which fails to recognize the Creator-creature distinction and the analogical character of creation in its relationship to God.

Although God is always and everywhere at work in creation, he is not one agent among others vying for freedom, power, and control in the same ontological space.  Rather, God is mysteriously above, behind, and within the creation and the ordinary relations of cause and effect with which he has endowed it.  God is more involved in the world – yet less direct, immediate, and therefore evident in his agency – that the “God of the gaps” apologists imagine.  When the Word became incarnate, his neighbors – his own brothers – did not recognize his divinity.  Although the Spirit is at work in every atom, his agency even in raising those who are spiritually dead to eternal life remains largely hidden (Jn 3:8; 1 Co 2:14).

The Christian Faith, pg. 338. (Bold emphasis mine.)


The well-meant offer of the gospel and the Creator-creature/Archetype-ectype distinction


Over on my own blog, I noted that in Bruce Waltke’s newest book, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, pg. 32, footnote 13 refers to a chapter written by Dr. R. Scott Clark, “Janus, The Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel, and Westminster Theology,” found on pgs. 149-179 of the book The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Systematic Theology at the Westminster Seminaries (a Festscrift for Robert B. Strimple, edited by David VanDrunen). Perhaps I’m a bit weird in this way, but I was pretty excited to see Dr. Clark’s influence felt even in a book on OT theology!This, of course, prompted me to crack open my copy of The Pattern of Sound Doctrine and re-read Dr. Clark’s chapter. A couple of quotes stood out, which I’ve posted below:

First, Dr. Clark’s thesis:

In analyzing the criticisms of the well-meant offer by [Herman] Hoeksema and [Gordon] Clark, however, it is apparent that it was neither biblical exegesis nor historical theology which animated the discussion, but rather matters of theological method, specifically hermeneutics and assumptions about the nature of divine-human relations. This essay contends that the reason the well-meant offer has not been more persuasive is that its critics have not understood or sympathized with the fundamental assumption on which the doctrine of the well-meant offer was premised: the distinction between theology as God knows it (thelogia archetypa) and theology as it is revealed to and done by us (theologia ectypa).

Pg. 152; emphasis mine
(Note: thesis is underlined so as to make it absolutely clear that this chapter does have a thesis! This is a joke for WSCAL students of Dr. Clark!)

From there, I found Dr. Clark’s analysis of the differences between Louis Berkhof and Herman Hoeksema on this point to be quite erudite:

In the 1920s controversy over the “Three Points,” [of Common Grace by the Christian Reformed Synod of 1924] there was a clear demarcation between those who accepted the traditional distinction and those who did not. While those who accepted the archetypal/ectypal distinction tended to favor the well-meant offer, those who rejected the analogical model of theology also rejected the well-meant offer. For example, Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology . . . restated the traditional position distinguishing between archetypal and ectypal theology. Even more clearly, another proponent of the well-meant offer and a Westminster theologian, Cornelius VanTil (1895-1987), upheld the archetypal/ectypal distinction, even if he did not use the traditional terminology consistently.

In Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics (1966), however, there was no explicit discussion of the archetypal/ectypal distinction. At times he seemed to acknowledge a distinction between God as he is in himself and as he reveals himself to us, saying that we know God “in part,” but not a “part of God.” We have only a reflection in finite form of the “infinite Essence.” Most of the time, however, he argued against the substance of the archetypal/ectypal distinction. He said, “If we want to make separation between revelation and Himself, there is no knowledge of God.” This approach influenced how he structured his theology. For Hoeksema, God himself is the principium cognoscendi, whereas, in contrast, for Berkhof, Scripture performs that role. This is a significant difference. Berkhof’s doctrine of he knowledge of God began with revelation. Hoeksema, however, began not with revelation, but with God himself as the beginning of knowledge. This move suggests a sort of intellectualism, that is, an intersection between our mind and God’s, in Hoeksema’s theology. There was tension in his Dogmatics. At one point he nodded politely to the Creator-creature distinction, but elsewhere he argued against the substance of the archetypal/ectypal distinction, and the historical record is that his rhetoric against the well-meant offer tended to militate against the distinction.

Pgs. 160-161