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Posts Tagged ‘Gordon Clark’

2018

As once again we find ourselves at the end of one year and the start of another, I would like to thank God for blessing me with the opportunity to serve him and his church through this blog.

In March 2018, I will celebrate nine years in the blogosphere, and that’s a pretty long time in blog years. That raises an interesting question, So just what is the average lifespan of a blog anyway? Well, as is often the case, it depends on whom you ask.

According to one post, most blogs die after 100 days. Yikes! That makes Lux Lucet something like 1000 in human years! Another post puts the average blog lifespan at 33 months. Whatever the actual average number is, it appears that this space has continued to be active well past the time when most blogs have become internet history.

And that’s a credit, not to the skill or to the perseverance of the blogger, but God who has graciously provided the opportunity, the desire, the knowledge, the wisdom and the strength to continue.

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The Annunciation_Fra Angelico_15th c.

The Annunciation, Fra Angelico, 15th cen.

 

One of the many reasons I have long admired the work of John Robbins was his insistence on holding, and skill at handling, question and answer sessions after his talks.

As brilliant as his lectures were, some of his best recorded comments came in the discussions that he had with audience members after he was finished speaking.

A few years ago, Tom Juodaitis was kind enough to send me recordings of a number of sermons preached by Dr. Robbins at Reformation Chapel in Unicoi, TN.

Among the sermons was a two part series on John 3:1-17. At the end of part 2, there is a discussion among Dr. Robbins, an individual whose identity I don’t know, and Tom Juodaitis concerning the incarnation.

In this discussion, Dr. Robbins explains Gordon Clark’s teaching on the incarnation. Clarks mature thinking on this subject is found in the final book he wrote just before his death in 1985, The Incarnation. Clark’s work was at the time, and continues to be, controversial. For at its heart is the idea that Jesus of Nazareth is not, as is commonly taught, one person in two natures, but two persons in one individual, one a divine person and the other a human person.

This really shouldn’t be controversial. Just recently I heard a preacher say, correctly I would add, that Jesus is 100 percent God and 100 percent man. If this is the case, and it is, then we are logically driven to the same conclusion Clark reached.

Yet many people are offended at Clark’s thought, dismissing it as Nestorianism while ignoring the logical force of his argument.

John Robbins was one theologian was persuaded by Clark’s argument and had no problem saying so. In the discussion below, Dr. Robbins is at his best, brilliantly, simply and persuasively summarizing Clark’s argument.

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HurricaneSurvivalGuide“I don’t believe in instant Karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesnt (sic) care about them.” Thus tweeted sociology professor Ken Storey shortly after Hurricane Harvey had ravaged Texas. This raises the question, just what were the sins of Texas that called for such dreadful punishment? Apparently, it was the voters of Texas’ decision to support Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Shortly after his unfortunate tweet, Storey was fired from his teaching position at the University of Tampa.

As a Christian, I reject the mechanistic concept of Karma. But I do find it supremely ironic that, even as I write this post, Hurricane Irma is ravaging the gulf coast of Florida, the very region where the city of Tampa is located and, presumably, where Ken Storey makes his home. But unlike the good professor, I take no delight in his suffering or that of other people of Florida. May God grant them safety while the storm lasts and a quick recovery thereafter.

But professor Storey wasn’t alone in blaming hurricanes on the deplorables. Actress Jennifer Lawrence also got in on the act, opining that the storms were “Mother Nature’s rage and wrath,” in response to climate change deniers’ refusal to confess, as it were, their environmental sins. This led one person on Twitter to raise the question about the current wildfires raging in Los Angeles. If Mother Nature is angry with Texans and Floridians for dismissing the sacred doctrine of man-made climate change, why is she angry at reliably environmentalist LA? Or what about the terrible drought that California suffered for several years? Or the earthquakes? Maybe Mother Nature is confused. Maybe she has multiple personality disorder. Maybe the wrath of Mother Nature is a figment of Lawrence’s imagination.

 

Houston flooding

Houston flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

 

In all fairness, it’s not just liberal professors and Hollywood types who make prophetic pronouncements without any sound basis. In the aftermath of 911, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson found themselves in hot water for suggesting that God permitted 911 to take place because of America’s support for abortion and homosexuality. Just how Falwell and Robertson knew American support for homosexuality caused God to strike the US, they did not say.

In the Bible we find examples of people making the same type of error as professor Storey, Jennifer Lawrence, Falwell and Robertson. For instance, In John chapter 9, the disciples, referring to a man who was blind from birth, asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They assumed that the man’s blindness was the result of some specific sin, but their assumption was misguided. Jesus responded to their question by stating, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”

Job’s friends made the same mistake, attributing Job sufferings, without warrant, to some secret sin on his part, which they demanded time and time again that he confess.

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WIPFSTOCK_TemplateDoug Douma’s recently published biography of Gordon Clark titled The Presbyterian Philosopher has garnered a lot of positive attention.

I’ve just started reading it, so I’m not in a position to write a review. For reviews of the entire book, please see here for David Engelsma’s, here for Sean Gerety’s, and here for Tom Juodaitis’.

But having just read through the Introduction, I was very favorably impressed with Douma’s summary of Scripturalism, the name given to Clark’s philosophical system by John Robbins. Writes Douma,

The philosophy of Gordon Clark has been called Scripturalism because of his reliance on the truth of Scripture as his fundamental axiom or presupposition. Stated simply, his axiom is “The Bible is the Word of God.” Scripturalism teaches that the Bible is a revelation of truth from God, who Himself determines truth and is the source of all truth. In this theory, the prepositions of Scripture are true because they are given by inspiration of God, who cannot lie. For Clark, the Bible, the sixty-six books accepted by most Protestant churches, is a set of true propositions. All knowledge currently available to man are these propositions along with any additional propositions that can be logically deduced from them.”

Among the key terms in this paragraph is “axiom.” An axiom is an unproven first principle. All systems of thought, including Christianity, have unproven first principles. Both Clark and Robbins held that the axiom of Christianity is, “The Bible alone is the Word of God.”

Some Christians may be disturbed at that thought that one cannot prove the Bible is true. Somehow it doesn’t seem quite right to say this. It almost seems tantamount to casting doubt on the Scriptures and denying the entirety of the Christian faith.

I asked John Robbins about this once in an email, which (unfortunately!) I no longer have. But I recall quite well the gist of what he told me.

He explained that all thinking – this includes every philosophical system ever devised, secular or religious – must begin somewhere. That is to say, all systems of thought must have first principles, axioms, and that these axioms, because they are the starting point from which a system of thought is deduced, are by definition unproven and unprovable.

A moment’s reflection reveals why this is so. If one could prove an axiom, a first principle, then it would no longer be a first principle, whatever argument used to prove the original axiom would take over in this role.

Getting back to the axiom of Scripture, if we attempted, as some do, to prove that the Bible is the Word of God, the Bible would not be the foundation of our faith, but our own argument used to prove the inspiration of Scripture.

We would be lending more credence to our own ideas than to God’s revelation. And to do this would be impious, for there is nothing more sure than a word from God, who cannot lie.

In the end, the Christian’s belief in the inspiration 66 books of the Bible does not rest on any argument devised by man. But rather, as the Westminster Confession puts it,

[O]ur full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness, by and with the Word, in our hearts.

In other words, the Christian’s belief in the Bible is the product of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit who causes us to understand and agree with the propositions – a proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence – in the Bible.

This is not to say that the inspiration of the Bible cannot be defended. Clark wrote quite extensively in defense of the inspiration of Scripture. See God’s Hammer
for Clark’s devastating critique of various modernist theologians who sought to deny the doctrine of Scripture.

But what it does mean is that as Christians we do not have the burden of proving our first principles to unbelievers. Instead, we assume the truth of the Scriptures and use them to tear down the many high things in our day that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God.


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shepherds_illuminationFor the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

“I have no idea why justification is by faith alone,” said the hapless minister in story related to my class by Dr. Robert Reymond. The minister, it would seem, was a well intentioned but rather confused fellow.

“Good grief!,” Dr. Reymond continued, “the Bible tells right in Romans chapter 4 the reason why we’re justified by faith alone. ‘Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed…’ ”

The saints of God of justified – that is, they are declared righteous by God – not on the basis of their works, but on the basis of faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone, so that their salvation may be on the basis of God’s grace – that is, his unmerited favor – alone.

The redeemed have nothing to boast in except their great Savior. As the old hymn puts it, “Noting in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling.”

Grace is God’s giving his people, not what they deserve, but the blessings he has purposed for them out of the mere good pleasure of his will.

And nowhere is God’s grace more evident than in the birth of Christ Jesus, who, as Paul tells us, was “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

In Christ, God has made a way to save his people. The law was given through Moses. And the law condemns us, for we all are guilty of violating it. In it, we have no hope. But Christ fulfilled the law perfectly. And those who believe in him are credited with his righteousness, that they may live for God.

And while it’s important to understand the graciousness of God’s grace, it is also important to remember that his grace is never apart from the truth.

Unlike what some modern day theologians would tell you, God does not speak to us through myth or falsehood. Those who say such things impugn the character of God by their words and bring condemnation upon themselves.

God speaks to us through his Word, and his Word is truth. Always.

Jesus declared that he himself was truth, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

How is it that Christ could say “I am the truth”? Doesn’t that seem to be a rather strange way to speak? We might say that so-and-so spoke the truth. But we don’t say of him “he is the truth.” Yet Jesus described himself, not as speaking the truth, but as truth itself.

The answer, I believe, lies in what Gordon Clark taught about truth and persons. Truth, as Clark insisted, is a characteristic of propositions only. A proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence.

For example, “The ball is red,” is a propositional statement, because it states that a certain property, in this case “red”, attaches to a certain subject, “the ball”. Now if we perceive that the ball is in fact red, we would say the proposition “The ball is red” is true. If, on the other hand, the ball appears green to us, we would say the statement is false.

But what do propositions have to do with the person of Christ? It has to do with how one defines a person. A person, in Clark’s definition, is a complex of propositions. Or to put it a little less philosophically, a person is the thoughts he thinks.

Christ could say of himself “I am the truth” because all his thoughts were true. And since a person is defined by his thoughts, it is proper for Jesus to speak of himself as “the truth.”

When Christ was born in Bethlehem all those years ago, it was the birth, not of one who merely spoke the truth, but of truth itself.


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daniel-and-neb

Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

One of the key points of Gordon Clark’s Scripturalism is that we are just as dependent on God for knowledge as we are for salvation.

 

Those in the Reformed community, at least those who are actually Christians, will readily admit that salvation is by grace alone, through belief alone, in Christ alone.

But oddly, many of the same people are sound on the doctrine of salvation at the same time hold to a theory of knowledge (epistemology) that is at odds with their view of salvation.

It is not uncommon to hear some Christians talk as though there are two sources of knowledge, revelation in the 66 books of the Bible and sense experience (empiricism).

This admixture of revelation and sense experience in Christian thought can be traced back to Thomas Aquinas. John Robbins explains,

Thomas Aquinas, the great thirteenth-century Roman Catholic theologian, tried to combine two axioms in his system: the secular axiom of sense experience, which he obtained from Aristotle, and the Christian axiom of revelation, which he obtained from the Bible. His synthesis was unsuccessful. The subsequent career of western philosophy is the story of the collapse of Thomas’ unstable Aristotelian-Christian condominium (An Introduction to Gordon H. Clark)

One of the problems with Protestantism over the centuries is that it never produced a philosopher who challenged Aquinas’ theory of knowledge. As a result, Aquinas’ erroneous synthesis of “the secular axiom of sense experience…and the Christian axiom of revelation” was accepted by large segments of the Christian church.

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you-are-what-you-thinkMost of us have probably hear, and maybe even used, the saying “you are what you eat.” From a strictly physical standpoint, it would seem hard to argue with this. Our bodies are composed of nutrients we take in.

But there is another, more profound way of defining our identity. One that goes beyond the physical, touching on who we really are. And on the authority of the Word of God it is this: You are what you think. Proverbs 23:7 puts it this way, “For as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he.”

And it is for this reason that God is supremely concerned with the thoughts of our heart, the things we believe, the things we say.

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