Archive for January, 2012

When reading Luther and Calvin, it’s hard to get very far without finding references to Augustine, for both authors make frequent reference to his work. Luther himself got his start as an Augustinian monk, and Augustine’s work was a major influence on Luther in bringing him to a Biblical understanding of grace and predestination.

While reading Augustine’s major work City of God, I came across the following passage in which Augustine lays out his views on grace and predestination in what must be one of the clearest statements on these issues by any theologian before the time of the Reformation. He writes,

“Now Cain was the first son born to those two parents of mankind, and he belonged to the city of man; the later son, Abel, belonged to the City of God. It is our own experience that in the individual man, to use the words of the Apostle, ‘it is not the spiritual element which comes first, but the animal; and afterwards comes the spiritual’, and so it is that everyone, since he takes his origin from a condemned stock, is inevitable evil and carnal to begin with, by derivation from Adam; but if he is reborn into Christ, and makes progress, he will afterwards be good and spiritual. The same holds true of the whole human race. When those two cities started on their course through the succession of birth and death, the first to be born was a citizen of this world, and later appeared one who was a pilgrim and stranger in the world, belonging as he did to the City of God. He was predestinated by grace, by grace a pilgrim below, and by grace a citizen above. As far as he himself is concerned he has his origin from the same lump which was condemned, as a whole lump, at the beginning. But God like a potter (the analogy introduced by the Apostle is not impertinent but very pertinent) made ‘out of the same lump one vessel destined for honour, and another for dishonour’. But the first one made was the vessel for dishonour, and afterwards came the vessel for honour. For in the individual man, as I have said, the base condition comes first, and we have to start with that; but we are not bound to stop at that, and later comes the noble state towards which we may make progress, and in which we may abide, when we have arrived at it. Hence it is not the case that every bad man will become good, but no one will be good who was not bad originally. Yet the sooner a man changes for the better the more quickly will he secure for himself the title belonging to his attainment and will hide his earlier appellation under the later name.” (Augustine, City of God, Book XV, Chapter 2, Henry Bettenson trans.)

Impressive work, that.

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Does anyone write a better foreword than John Robbins? Of course, were someone to put that question to me, I would have to respond, “I don’t know, since I have not read every foreword by every author.” On the other hand, were someone to ask me whether I had ever read a better author of forewords than John Robbins, I could answer with confidence, “no.” I’ve been a admirer of Robbins’ work for over ten years now, and it all started with my reading his introduction to The Everlasting Righteousness. His writing was crisp, to the point and forceful. I was hooked at once. When I got to the end, I made a mental note to myself that the author was someone named John Robbins. “I’ve never heard of John Robbins,” I said to myself, “but that was really good; I’ve never read anything like it.”

Robbins was a remarkable scholar. He had an extraordinary ability to present systematic truth in a way that is accurate and understandable. I’m convinced that one could spend years reading through whole libraries of books and come away with less sound teaching than he would get reading one or two essays by Robbins. As a personal testimony, I can say that the Lord has been taught me more truth from his Word through the ministry of John Robbins and The Trinity Foundation than any other source. It’s not even close.

I mention all this as a way of introducing A Christian View of Men and Things (CVMT), because it was John Robbins who wrote the foreword to the book, and I think it wise to start by looking at what Robbins wrote before diving into the text of CVMT proper. Robbins foreword can be summarized thus:

  1. The West is collapsing and many have noticed and commented on this ongoing collapse, but few understand the reason for it;
  2. The West is collapsing, because Christianity, the foundation of Western Civilization, has all but disappeared from the West;
  3. Clark argues in CVMT that if the collapse of the West is to be stopped and reversed, Christian, not secular, philosophy must be used to answer contemporary questions of history, politics, ethics, science, religion, and epistemology;
  4. CVMT is an outline of Clark’s Christian philosophy;
  5. Clark argues that the reason Christianity ought to be believed and other philosophies rejected is because Christianity is true and other systems of thought are not;
  6. Christianity has a systematic monopoly on truth;
  7. Because Christianity has a systematic monopoly on truth, it is impossible to successfully combine the Christian system of thought with any other non-Christian rival;
  8. The collapse of the West can be seen as the collapse of Thomistic philosophy’s attempt to do this very thing – combine Scripture with secular philosophy, in this case the attempt is to combine Scripture and the empiricism of Aristotle – and the West’s choosing of secular philosophy rather than Christ.

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Paulian Democrats

I see that Rush Limbaugh’s daily excoriation of all things Ron Paul continues unabated. Today on his website (I’m not a member so I have to read the transcript) he comments on a news piece by Erin Burnett in which she discusses the possibility of large numbers of democrats voting for Ron Paul in the Iowa Republican caucuses.

This is anathema to El Rushbo. Rush would have us believe that if Democrats vote for a Republican in large numbers, they would do so only for purposes of sabotage. No other explanation is possible or permitted. This puts Limbaugh in the position to spin the caucus results any way he wants. If Ron Paul does well in the caucuses, it’s obviously Democratic conspiracy designed to undermine the Republican party by voting for an unelectable candidate. If Ron Paul does poorly, this is evidence that Paul is just a fringe wacko whose appeal is limited to the tinfoil hat brigade. Heads Rush wins, tails Paul loses. What a deal!

But here’s another way of looking at it. What if a whole lot of Iowa Democrats come out and vote for Paul, not because they want to sabotage the Republicans, but because they actually like Ron Paul and support his ideas. Can’t happen, you say? Naive, you say? If this is what you think, I have two words for you: Reagan Democrats.

See, I’m old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. He won the election in a landslide over Jimmy Carter in part due to a phenomenon called the Reagan Democrats. The Reagan Democrats were for the most part blue collar folks who got fed up with Carter’s lack of leadership, his depressing incompetence, and the general “malaise” felt by much of the nation at that time. For more on the Reagan Democrats, please click here. These traditional union democrats crossed over to large numbers to support Reagan in the general elections of 1980 and 1984.

Now as anyone who’s followed Rush even a little bit knows, Ronald Reagan is one of Rush’s heroes. Rush loves to brag about Reagan and has himself touted Reagan’s crossover appeal as a sign of the Gipper’s greatness. So how is it that if Reagan attracts Democrats, Rush finds that a good thing, but if Paul does likewise, it’s proof positive that the good doctor is a crank? Instead of bashing Paul for attracting Democrats, by his own logic, Rush should be one of Paul’s biggest supporters.

Could it be that Paul’s crossover appeal in Iowa may be a sign, not of his weakness as a candidate, but of his strength? Could it be that in the general election large numbers of Paulian Democrats may seriously undermine Obama’s electoral base and usher in a Republican landslide? Could it be that these Paulian Democrats may even turn out to benefit the Republican party in the long run by increasing the breadth of its appeal? I know, I know, in Rush’s cloistered world behind the golden EIB microphone, this is unthinkable. But it the real world, who knows, stranger things have happened.

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As I considered what I’d like to blog in 2012, it seemed good to me to attempt something specifically Scripturalist and go about it in a systematic fashion. While I’ve read through a lot of Clark and Robbins, I haven’t done so in a way that is a thorough as I would like it to be. The main reason for this, as is often the case with amateur scholars, is lack of time. I’d love to have the time to start at the beginning of the book list John Robbins outlined in his essay A Guide for Young Christians and read right through it. Unfortunately for this not so young Christian, the demands of life make this a daunting task.

But while this coming year will likely not afford me the opportunity to read and write as much as I would like, Lord willing I hope to do at least one thing well. And if I’m going to have to pick my spots for reading and writing in 2012, those spots ought to be focused on something central. Gordon Clark’s A Christian View of Men and Things fits this bill quite well. My plan will be to blog through this important work, a book that serves as a concise outline of Clark’s philosophy, Scripturalism. Not that Clark uses the term Scripturalism in the book – that word was later coined by John Robbins – but the idea of Scripturalism is present throughout the work: the Bible alone is the Word of God written and has a monopoly on truth.

It is my intention to finish this study before the end of 2012. My prayer and hope is that it will help sharpen my own understanding of Scripturalism, prove helpful to those who are new to Clark and also serve as a point of discussion for those who already familiar with Clark and his writings.

May the Lord bless and keep you, both now and throughout the New Year.

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