It has become fashionable in some Christian circles to insist that we do not need to be logical to be Biblical (logic as an option) or even to pit Scripture against logic (logic as alien to Scripture). Others treat logic as a helpful tool, but are quite content to embrace logical fallacies in their theological work. I believe this is a grave error and shows the imprint of postmodernism upon the modern church. Both historic Christianity (this post) and Scripture (next post) see logic as eternally existing in God’s mind, as being revealed by God to man (via both general revelation and special revelation), and see logic as one of the facets of theology (or the study of God). In short, reasoning logically from the Scriptures is essential if we are to love God with all of our mind (Matt. 22:37).
Historic Christianity valued logic as thinking God’s thoughts after Him
Many examples could be given from the first 1000 years of church fathers as to the divine origin of logic and how logic is imbedded in the Scripture. In his book, The City of God, Augustine said,
...[T]he validity of logical sequences is not a thing devised by men, but is observed and noted by them.... ...[I]t exists eternally in the reason of things, and has its origin with God. For as the man who narrates the order of events does not himself create that order; ...and as he who points out the stars and their movements does not point out anything that he himself or any other man has ordained; in the same way, he who says, "When the consequent is false, the antecedent must also be false," says what is most true; but he does not himself make it so, he only points out that it is so. And it is upon this rule that the reasoning ...from the Apostle Paul proceeds. For the antecedent is, "There is no resurrection of the dead...." ...the necessary consequence is "Then Christ is not risen." But this consequence is false, for Christ has risen; therefore the antecedent is also false. ...We conclude therefore that there is a resurrection of the dead. ...This rule, then, that when the consequent is removed, the antecedent must also be removed, is not made by man, but only pointed out by him. And this rule has reference to the validity of the reasoning, not to the truth of the statement.
The Westminster Confession of Faith had a high view of logic when it said, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture...” (Confession, I.vi.) The Confession here makes logical deduction essential to determining the whole counsel of God. Without logic our theology is deficient. The Confession insists on “the consent of all the parts” of Scripture (WCF I.v.; Larger Catechism 4), and denies that there are multiple meanings of Scriptural propositions (WCF I.ix.).
Logic was seen as being so important to the exposition of Scripture that the Form of Presbyterian Church Government developed by the Westminster Assembly mandated as part of the examination of pastoral candidates that “He shall be examined touching his skill in the original tongues, and his trial to be made by reading the Hebrew and Greek Testaments, and rendering some portion of some into Latin; and if he be defective in them, inquiry shall be made more strictly after his other learning, and whether he hath skill in logick and philosophy.”
But our Confessional writers went beyond asserting the importance of logic in Biblical interpretation. They insisted that rationality was an ethical issue. The Larger Catechism sees as a violation of the third commandment not only faulty exegesis (“misinterpreting” Scripture), but also faulty deductions (“misapplying” Scripture and theology) (LC. 113). The Confession treats as a violation of the first commandment the following: “ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions...vain credulity, unbelief, heresy, [and] misbelief” (LC 105).
In other words, these writers saw any form of irrationality as both a theological problem and an ethical problem. The irrationality may be deliberate rebellion or may be the secondary effects of Adam’s fall (noetic effects of the Fall). But it is clear that the Westminster Assembly believed that irrationality led to having other gods than the rational Jehovah (first commandment) and that irrationality led to inconsistencies with wearing the name of God as His followers (third commandment). If we are to think God’s thoughts after Him, then our thoughts will be and must be rational thoughts. Anything else does dishonor to God.
What is the reason for such strong language? Gordon Clark wisely observed,
Attacking logic means attacking morality. If logic is disdained, then the distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust, merciful and ruthless also disappear. Without logic, God’s words, ‘You shall do no murder,’ really mean: ‘You shall murder daily’ or ‘Stalin was Prince of Wales.’ The rejection of logic means the end of morality, for morality and ethics depend on understanding. Without understanding, there can be no morality. One must understand the Ten Commandments before one can obey them. If logic is irrelevant or irreligious, moral behavior is impossible, and the practical religion of those who belittle logic cannot be practiced at all.
Something even worse, if anything could be worse, follows from rejecting logic. If logic does not govern all thought and expression, then one cannot tell true from false. If one rejects logic, then when the Bible says that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, and rose again the third day, these words actually mean that Jesus did not suffer, was not crucified, did not die, was not buried, and did not rise again, as well as that Attila the Hun loved chocolate cake and played golf. The distinctions between true and false, right and wrong, all disappear, for there can be no distinctions made apart from using the law of contradiction.
I will end part 1 of this blog post by citing some other theologians who summarize the approach of historic Christianity to logic quite well. They show how logic is essential to Christianity, and that one cannot reject logic without rejecting Scripture itself.
Carl F.H. Henry said:
...Scripture affirms that God is the source and ground of reason and truth and that the imago Dei [image of God] in which He created and preserves humanity includes rational and moral capacities."
The laws of logic are not a speculative prejudice imposed at a given moment of history as a transient philosophical development. Neither do they involve a Western way of thinking, even if Aristotle may have stated them in an orderly way. The laws of valid inference are universal; they are elements of the imago Dei. In the Bible, reason has ontological significance. God is Himself truth and the source of truth. Biblical Christianity honors the Logos of God as the source of all meaning and considers the laws of thought an aspect of the imago.
...The pluralistic approach to world religions now often champions the need to recast the gospel in other than "Western thought forms" and in non-Western "logics," as if logic were an Aristotelian invention. Such emphases often relativize Christian theology and replace it with non-Biblical philosophy under the guise of Christian mission.
Charles Hodge said,
If the contents of the Bible did not correspond with the truths which God has revealed in his external works and the constitution of our nature, it could not be received as coming from Him, for God cannot contradict himself. Nothing, therefore, can be more derogatory to the Bible than the assertion that its doctrines are contrary to reason. The assumption that reason and faith are incompatible; that we must become irrational in order to become believers is, however it may be intended, the language of infidelity; for faith in the irrational is of necessity itself irrational....We can believe only what we know, i.e., what we intelligently apprehend.
It is impossible that He [God] should require us to believe what contradicts any of the laws of belief which He has impressed upon our nature ...Faith includes an affirmation of the mind that a thing is true. But it is a contradiction to say that the mind can affirm that to be true which it sees cannot possibility be true. This would be to affirm and deny, to believe and disbelieve, at the same time....The ultimate ground of faith and knowledge is confidence in God. We can neither believe or know anything unless we confide in those laws of belief which God implanted in our nature. If we can be required to believe what contradicts those laws, then the foundations are broken up. All distinction between right and wrong, would disappear...and we should become the victims of every adroit deceiver, or minister of Satan, who, by lying wonders, should call upon us to believe a lie.
Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley state,
Biblically the contradiction is the hallmark of the lie. Without this formal test of falsification, the Scriptures (and any other writings) would have no means to distinguish between truth and falsehood, righteousness and unrighteousness, obedience and disobedience, Christ and Antichrist."
The law of noncontradiction as a necessary presupposition or prerequisite for thought and life is neither arbitrary nor subjectivistic. It is universal and objective. What is subjective and arbitrary is the forced and temporary denial of it."
Arthur Holmes says,
...the law of noncontradiction is a universal condition of intelligible thought. Aristotle's famous `negative proof' shows this by asking that one who denies the law practice his denial in speaking. Unintelligible utterances may be possible without it, like talk of a square circle, but unintelligible utterances hardly qualify as intelligible thought or speech. Where this law of logic is ignored, all logic and intelligibility are gone….
Thinking is subject to logical laws, for I cannot contradict myself and talk sense, yet alone construct a valid line of argument. Good logic is one of God's good gifts, and it is essential to thinking in this and any world.
And one last quote from Augustine:
The true nature of logical conclusions has not been arranged by men; rather they studied and took notice of it so that they might be able to learn or to teach it. It is perpetual in the order of things and divinely ordained.
The modern downplaying and/or despising of logic is an infection from our demonic culture of “postmodernism.” It must be resisted. And the best way to resist it is to immerse ourselves in God’s revelation of logic, as found in the Scriptures. This will be the subject material of my next post.
See Charles Partee, “Calvin, Calvinism and Rationality,” in Rationality in the Calvinist Tradition, ed. Hendrick Hart, Johan Vander Hoeven, and Nicolas Wolterstorff (Lanham, Md: University Press of America, 1983), p. 15, n. 13 for an example of attacks on deducing truth by logical extrapolation. The late Cornelius Van Til was notorious in this area, as are many of his followers. Consider the following statements by Van Til (documented in John W. Robbins, Cornelius Van Til; the Man and the Myth [Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1986]: “My concern is that the demand for non-contradiction when carried to its logical conclusion reduces God’s truth to man’s truth.” (p. 5)
Van Til once said, “All teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory.” (p. 25) Or consider the following statement “God is tri-une, three Persons in one - and one Person in three.” Gerard Berghoef and Lester De Koster, The Elders Handbook: A Practical Guide For Church Leaders (Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press, 1979), p. 142. This is either equivocation or a violation of the law of contradiction. There appears to be no feeling of discomfort on the part of the authors with holding to a logical fallacy. ↩
“...misapplying, or any way perverting the word, or any part of it...” ↩
“...misapplying of God’s decrees and Providences...” ↩
Gordon H. Clark, Logic (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1985), pp. viii-ix. ↩
Carl F.H. Henry, Towards a Recovery of Christian Belief (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 107 ↩
Carl F.H. Henry, Towards a Recovery of Christian Belief (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 110. Also see p. 80. ↩
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols., reprint (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 1:83-84. ↩
Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:51-53. ↩
Sproul, R.C., John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and A Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 82. ↩
Ibid, p. 80. ↩
Arthur F. Holmes, Contours of a World View (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 48. Also see 51, 52, 131. ↩
Augustine, as quoted in Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man, 103. ↩