Some theologians have a reputation for being consistently clear. Klaas Schilder isn’t one of them. The editor of this new collection of readings acknowledges that “Schilder’s style is baroque, his argument rather implicit, and the meaning often opaque” (p.18). That’s being charitable. Whatever valuable contributions he may have made, sadly, no one will remember him as a model of clarity.
Yet, at times, he breaks free from his bondage to opacity. I found one such spot in a surprising place in this Reader. It’s an essay dealing with Karl Barth entitled, “The Paradox in Religion.” Karl Barth wasn’t an example of theological lucidity either. This Swiss theologian famously wrote impenetrable prose ad nauseam. One of the key concepts of Barth’s theology was the idea of paradox. Schilder engages with that, not only in this essay, but later, at far more length, in his dissertation on Barth at the University of Erlangen. For Barth, a paradox is a contradiction – ‘A’ and not ‘A’ at the same time and in the same sense. Schilder gives this example: “The greatest justice is the worst injustice” (p.345).
But should theology traffic in that kind of irrationality? Not if we begin with Scripture, according to Schilder. Doing that, we encounter perspicuity. Scripture is perspicuous or clear. Writes Schilder:
The Reformed simply cannot do without “perspicuity.” Cursing that perspicuity is like ridiculing the milk on which we were raised to sturdy lads. If revelation had no perspicuity, if that perspicuity were a foolish or pedantic fiction, then neither our exegesis, nor our faith, nor our theology would ever get off the ground. (p.391)
Theologians need solid ground under their feet. As someone once said, you need to stand somewhere in order to get anywhere. Because the Bible is clear, it can and must function as that solid ground.
Reformed believers also hold to the simplicity of God. Schilder: “To them God is not the Irrational One, but the Simple One who never conflicts with himself, who poured himself out perfectly in the eternal Word, the Logos, and returns to himself in the Word and the Spirit” (p.391). So what if, in their theological study of Scripture, Reformed believers come across thoughts that seem to contradict?
…[T]hey do not attribute this to God but to the way they themselves are in the present circumstances. What I find as a paradox, so they say, God did not place there as such; rather, I have not yet discovered in his essence what he wanted me to find there. There must be unity, since both God and his work are one. When I am unable to find that unity there, this is not because of revelation but because of my reception of that revelation. (p.392)
The problem is not with God, the problem is not with his revelation, the problem is with me as a finite and sinful human being.
Schilder mentions a few examples: God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, his hidden and revealed will, and the relationship of sin to God’s will. Some might be tempted to use the term ‘yet.’ So, for example, we confess God’s sovereignty, but yet there is human responsibility. The Bible doesn’t speak like that. Therefore, Schilder argues that it’s better to look for a way to express the unity. So: we confess that God’s sovereignty is executed through human responsibility.
I find the last paragraph of this section worth quoting in full:
Of course, no Calvinist would deny that there are things in revelation whose unity escapes our grasp. An image we could use here is that of a rope hanging through [a hole in] the ceiling. If a second hole is drilled in the attic floor and the rope above the floor is one and unbroken, a person looking up from under the floor [through the second hole] will still see two ropes. Its higher unity escapes him or her. The difference is that Barth-Haitjema, Kierkegaard, etc., all say “The duality of the rope is true, the unity above is just outward appearance,” while Calvinists say, “The fact that I see two ropes is subsidiary; up above they are just one, and a time will come when I will see this.” Barth sings his “hallelujahs” at the division, the Calvinists at the unity. Indeed, Barth would sing no “hallelujah” at all, since this entire image is an impossibility for him. (p.395)
Schilder is clear: as finite sinful human beings, we don’t have the same perspective that God does. Yet we do have revelation and there God has revealed everything we need to know for our salvation. For the rest he calls us to trust him, also in terms of its sensibility. If it adds up for God, I can be content with that.