Doug 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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