Was Gordon Clark a Theonomist?

In answering such a question as “Are you a Theonomist?”, Gordon Clark’s own common procedure was to start with defining the terms. Following such a procedure we must first define what a Theonomist is if we are to answer the question “Was Gordon Clark a Theonomist?” Once having the definition we can compare Theonomy to Clark’s own writings to see if there is a match.

Defining “Theonomy” is more difficult than one might first assume. Self-avowed Theonomists regularly declare that what their opponents understand Theonomy to be is flawed, but their own varied efforts to define the term are often to blame for the misunderstanding.

We cannot define Theonomy (as some Theonomists do) simply as “God’s Law” as the translation of the Greek roots Theos and nomos combine to be. Defining Theonomy as such leaves open the question at issue – what is God’s law?, what does God require of us today? We must, as C. Jay Engel has explained, avoid the “Theonomist trap” (http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/theology/combating-the-theonomists-trap/) “Theonomist Trappers” declare that other Christians’ views of the law are only non-Biblical “autonomy” (man’s law), but as Engel writes, “The great assumption made by the Theonomist Trapper is that in rejecting the applicability of the Mosaic Judicial Law, we are also rejecting God’s law as a whole.” In short, many Christians believe in the primacy of God’s revealed law over man’s self-made law, but there are yet different viewpoints about the applicability of God’s law, particularly the civil law.

Nor can we define Theonomy (as some Theonomists do) based on its hermenuetic, for its hermeneutic (that we should accept everything in the Old Testament not abrogated by the New Testament) is agreed to by many of Theonomy’s Reformed critics, but fails to answer that which is in dispute – that is, which laws are abrogated?

The best definition of Theonomy is not to be found in its Greek roots, nor in its hermeneutic, but in the “Theonomic Thesis.” It is this “Thesis” that distinguishes Theonomy from non-Theonomy. I believe Brandon Adams properly defines the Thesis when he writes that Theonomy is “the belief that all nations today are obligated to obey Israel’s judicial laws because they [those laws] have not been abrogated.” (https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/1689-federalism-theonomy/) In the 2015 debate between Joel McDurmon (a proponent of Theonomy) and J. D. Hall (a critic) McDurmon similarly defended the position, “Mosaic Civil Laws are obligatory for Civil Governments Today.” Though not explicitly stated in these definitions, it seems to me that what is implied is that ALL Mosaic civil laws are obligatory for civil governments today. This definition fits better in line with the rhetoric of Bahnsen of Theonomy as “the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail.”

Others disagree with this definition, believing Theonomy to only demand the obligation of nations today to obey SOME, rather than ALL, of Israel’s judicial laws. In fact, McDurmon, a leader of the Theonomy movement as president of American Vision, seems to have backed off of the “ALL” implied by the position he defended in the debate and has instead argued for the “SOME” position. He writes in 2016 that Theonomy is, “the biblical teaching that Mosaic Law contains perpetual moral standards for living, including some civil laws, which remain obligatory for today.” And argues that “no Theonomist would say that all Mosaic civil laws remain obligatory.” (http://americanvision.org/13785/theonomy-a-simple-definition/)

It was a similar wavering between two incompatible positions which led John Robbins to critique Greg Bahnsen in the former’s article on “Theonomic Schizophrenia.” (http://trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=69) Robbins writes,

Let me exercise a little 1ogical rigor here, since Dr. Bahnsen fails to do so: Either “not one stroke of the law will become invalid until the end of the world” or “some changes have been made.” Dr. Bahnsen cannot maintain that the Old Testament food laws are still valid but not binding. Dr. Bahnsen cannot eat his Theonomic pork and have it too.

Whether Theonomy is the view that only SOME of the judicial laws remain obligatory or the view that ALL of them do, it is a view that is not in accord in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 19, which states that NONE of them (in themselves) are obligatory. The Confession reads,

To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

So, did Gordon Clark agree to the Theonomic Thesis? Did Gordon Clark agree that nations today are obligated to obey Israel’s judicial laws, whether “SOME” or “ALL” of them?

Bahnsen seems to imply a link of Clark to Theonomy, footnooting Clark in No Other Standard, p. 69. The quote, which Bahnsen reproduced from Clark’s unpublished systematic theology (published later in Sanctification, p. 61) reads,

“The correct principle of interpretation is not the Baptist one of discarding everything in the Old Testament not reasserted in the New; but rather the acceptance of everything in the Old not abrogated by New Testament teaching.”

The implied link is that since Clark shares the same hermenuetic as Theonomy, he must be a Theonomist! But, although Clark held this hermeneutical view in agreement with Bahnsen, it does not mean that Clark held to the “Theonomic Thesis.” One could hold to the principle just quoted, but believe ALL the OT civil laws to be abrogated in the NT.

Rather than any evidence of Clark holding to the “Theonomic Thesis” (in either form; SOME or ALL), Clark held to the view of the Westminster Confession of Faith. He wrote in What Do Presbyterians Believe (p.183-184),

“The Old Testament also prescribed certain civil laws for the nation of Israel. The details of these laws are not obligatory on other nations, though the principles of equity that underlie them are.”

This should be of no surprise to anyone who has read Clark’s writings, for all over them he praises the Confession.

Further evidence of Clark’s opposition to Bahnsen’s view is found in correspondence between Clark and Robbins. https://douglasdouma.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/clark-robbins-and-theonomy/ Here Clark refers to Bahnsen as “not in accord with the Reformed position.” Additionally, during my research into Clark’s life for The Presbyterian Philosopher, I was told by Clark’s son-in-law Dwight Zeller that Clark explicitly told him he was not a Theonomist.

So, by what “other standard” (as Bahnsen asks) would Clark propose to base contemporary civil laws if not basing them on the civil laws of Israel in the Old Testament? Clark holds, as we’ve seen, what he refers to as the “Reformed position”, specifically the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The Confession’s position is that of general equity – the application of the moral law written upon our hearts and summarized in the 10 commandments to determine civil laws in this New Testament era. (see: http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/theology/1-cor-513-is-the-general-equity-of-deut-2221/ and http://www.peterwallace.org/old/essays/equity.htm). Note particular the quote from Calvin:

It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing else than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men. Consequently, the entire scheme of this equity of which we are now speaking has been prescribed in it. Hence, this equity alone must be the goal and rule and limit of all laws. (Institutes IV.xx.15-16)

This is also Clark’s position. (The Confessions “not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require” is not, as some Theonomists hold, the idea that we should apply everything from the Mosaic civil law which we could possibly apply today, but refers rather to the idea that some civil laws today, based on the moral law, may happen to be equivalent to a civil law of the Old Testament.)

Noting his understanding of Clark’s position, Robbins writes to Clark on April 9, 1980:

My position is that of the Westminster Confession, which states that the general equity of the judicial laws binds us even today. I believe you also take this position in your 1957 essay on The Christian and the Law in which you cite passages from the Old Testament commanding the care of animals.

This essay of Clark’s is reproduced in Essays on Ethics and Politics. Clark writes at the end of the essay, “P. S. If you have chickens, a horse, or a pet dog, study Exodus 20:10; 23:5, 12: Deuteronomy 25:4; Proverbs 12:10; Matthew 12:11; and feed them.”

Exodus 20:10 -“But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates”

Exodus 23:5 – “If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.”

Exodus 23:12 – “Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.”

Deuteronomy 25:4 – “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.”

Proverbs 12:10 – “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”

Matthew 12:11 – “And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?”

Not all of these references are to the 10 commandments, but all refer to the moral laws which are summarized in the 10 commandments. Clark speaks not of the equity between modern and Mosaic civil laws, but of the principles of equity which underlie them. That is, the moral law. And so we must conclude that Clark agrees with the Confession and was not a Theonomist.

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Free Excerpt from “The Presbyterian Philosopher”

Used with permission of Wipf & Stock Publishers. http://www.wipfandstock.com


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David Engelsma reviews “The Presbyterian Philosopher”

[To appear in the Spring 2017 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal. Reproduced here by permission.]

The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, by Douglas J. Douma. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016. Pp. xxv + 292. $37.00 soft. Reviewed by David J. Engelsma

“Oh, the damnable politics in the church of Jesus Christ,” someone has exclaimed, and rightly. No church is free of the evil. Ministers cripple or destroy their fellow ministers out of jealousy, or out of fear for their own prominent position in the church. The sin of the politics is not only the injury that is invariably done to one’s brother and colleague. But it is also the damage that is done to Christ’s church. The politics deprives the church of the gifts of the minister who is marginalized, or even driven out of the church. It is not unusual that the direct effect of the sinful mistreatment of a minister is the church’s decline, even apostasy, if the mistreated man is a forceful defender of the faith. The falling away continues and increases long after the minister thus cruelly treated and his persecutors are dead.

These miserable realities are a prominent part of the biography of Gordon H. Clark. Three of the thirteen chapters are devoted to the reprehensible treatment of Clark by his colleagues in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). Tremors of the mistreatment reverberate throughout the book.

Gordon H. Clark was a Presbyterian philosopher/theologian. Wholeheartedly committed to the Westminster Standards, both in his theology and in his philosophy, he was the unabashedly sound and outspoken Presbyterian thinker and teacher that Reformed academia and Presbyterian churches always sorely need and often sorely lack.

The OPC rejected him and virtually expelled him from its fellowship. It did this, despite the fact that, with Machen, Clark played a leading role in the formation of the OPC, as a reformation of the apostate Presbyterian churches in the early 20th century. It was Clark who nominated J. Gresham Machen as moderator of the first General Assembly of the newly formed Presbyterian Church of America, soon to be renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The OPC drove Clark out in spite of Clark’s sterling orthodoxy and recognized gifts. Clark distinguished himself, not only in the church but also at Wheaton College, where he worked for some time as a professor, as basing all his thinking, philosophical as well as theological, firmly upon the Bible as summarized in the Westminster Standards. As for his gifts, the man was brilliant, as the content of his cornucopia of books and other writings witnesses.

A presbytery of the OPC approved Clark’s ordination into the ministry of the OPC, in the face of vehement opposition. Against a complaint, the general assembly of the OPC upheld the decision to ordain Clark. But the faculty of Westminster Seminary, the authors of the complaint against the ordination of Clark, made known that it would persist in its campaign to deny Clark entrance into the ministry in the OPC. Under this heavy pressure and foreseeing that the heavyweights in the OPC would never give up their determined opposition to him, by fair means or foul, Clark left the OPC for another Presbyterian denomination. He spent the rest of his life teaching philosophy (and theology) at Butler University in Indiana and writing significant books, especially of theology.

Late in Clark’s career, an ardent disciple of Clark, John Robbins, created Trinity Foundation, to publish Clark’s books. The books are still available from the Foundation.

What makes the concerted opposition to Clark of special interest to the Protestant Reformed reader is that the attack was led by three theologians at Westminster Seminary, C. Van Til, N. Stonehouse, and R. B. Kuiper. All three were Christian Reformed in origin and theological thinking. As Herman Hoeksema suggested in his analysis of the controversy over Clark, it is likely (I would judge, virtually certain) that the theological objection raised against Clark was essentially the Christian Reformed objection against Hoeksema. The Orthodox Presbyterian professors of theology objected that Clark taught that God is truly knowable; that Clark taught that the truth of Scripture is not contradictory (“paradoxical”) and, therefore, is understandable; that Clark taught that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility can be, and must be, harmonized by the believing, Presbyterian mind (without compromising sovereignty and without comprehension); and that Clark taught that the notion of a “well-meant,” or “free,” offer of the gospel, as the teaching of a loving desire of God for the salvation of all humans, logically contradicts the Presbyterian doctrine of predestination and is, therefore, false.

The three Christian Reformed theologians at Westminster, who led the campaign to drive Clark out of the church, recognized the theology of Clark as essentially the same as that which the Christian Reformed Church had condemned in the common grace controversy of 1924. Clark affirmed the sovereignty of God, without “paradoxical,” that is, contradictory, confusion and weakening by the teaching of universal grace in the preaching of the gospel. Clark’s theology was guilty of the appalling sin of being logical, so that the revelation of God is knowable to the believing mind. The three doctrinally Christian Reformed professors at Westminster led the charge in condemning Clark’s theology and harassing him out of the OPC. They charged Clark with “rationalism.” Evidently, they had not yet thought of the slander of “hyper-Calvinism.”

Douma’s account of the controversy is fascinating, if disheartening, and his analysis of the issues is perceptive and instructive.

Understandably, Herman Hoeksema took an interest in the Presbyterian controversy at the time—the 1940s. He wrote on it in the Standard Bearer. John Robbins published Hoeksema’s articles as a book, The Clark-Van Til Controversy. Douma mentions Hoeksema’s involvement in the controversy, and recommends his book.

Clark’s leaving the OPC did not pacify his foes. They turned on his defenders in the denomination, particularly the missionary Floyd Hamilton. Their vindictive treatment of him drove Hamilton out of the OPC also. Many others left the OPC at that time.

In 2017 one can discern the further adverse consequences of the OPC’s decisions and actions in the matter of Gordon Clark. The OPC committed itself to “paradoxical” theology, abandoning, if not condemning, logical thinking (in fact, this is an abandonment of thinking; illogical thinking is an oxymoron; if it is still thinking at all, it is thinking that is unintelligible). A leading instance was the OPC’s virtual adoption of the theology of a common grace of God, consisting of a desire of God for the salvation of all humans, at least all who hear the gospel (cf. Murray and Stonehouse, “The Free Offer of the Gospel”). The contradiction of this universal grace by the doctrine of predestination, reprobation as well as election, which is creedal for Presbyterians in the Westminster Confession, is not for the OPC an argument against universal grace. Rather, the contradiction is accepted and defended as an aspect of the “paradoxical” nature of doctrinal truth. Over the years, since the 1940s, this honoring of universal (saving) grace as a glory of its “paradoxical” theology has weakened the OPC’s testimony to all the doctrines of (particular) grace. Invariably, indeed necessarily, the truth being, in fact, rigorously logical, the doctrine of universal, ineffectual grace in the “paradox” drives out the doctrine of particular, sovereign grace.

Recently, its “paradoxical” theology has opened up the OPC to the covenant theology of the federal vision. In the just judgment of God, this grievous departure from the gospel of (covenant) grace has had its origin at Westminster Seminary, with Prof. Norman Shepherd, vigorously supported by Prof. Richard Gaffin. Expelling Gordon Clark largely by the efforts of Westminster Seminary, at Westminster Seminary the OPC received Norman Shepherd. Under the influence of Westminster Seminary, the OPC has approved a covenant theology that expressly denies all the doctrines of grace of the Westminster Standards, including justification by faith alone, with special reference to the children of believers. Such is the theology of the federal vision.

When confronted by this theology’s contradiction of the doctrines of the Reformed faith in the Westminster Standards, the Westminster professors and their supporters in the OPC argue that truth is “paradoxical.” The logic of biblical revelation finds no favor in the OPC. Therefore, the illogic of heresy gains entrance.

The Gordon Clark case is unfinished business in the OPC.

Significant, and, if one can stifle his indignation, interesting as the Westminster Seminary/Clark case was, it was not all of Clark’s life. Both at Wheaton College prior to the conflict with the OPC and at Butler University after the conflict, Clark taught biblical, Presbyterian philosophy for many years. The effect of this distinctive teaching upon his many students, only God knows. Especially at Wheaton, Clark had many students who, by his instruction, became influential men in evangelicalism, including Edward Carnell, Edmund Clowney (later president of Westminster Seminary), Paul Jewett, Carl F. H. Henry (longtime editor of Christianity Today) and Harold Lindsell. Even Billy Graham took a medieval philosophy course with Clark, although obviously the course helped Graham neither philosophically nor theologically.

Some of “Clark’s boys” united as professors at Fuller Seminary in California. Carnell became president of the seminary. Carnell was among those of Clark’s students who later rejected the infallibility of Scripture and identified themselves as “neo-evangelicals,” to Clark’s sorrow.

In a fascinating vignette, Douma relates the account of Carnell and Clark’s conduct at the well-known gathering of theologians at the University of Chicago in 1962 to meet and question Karl Barth. Carnell had the honor of questioning the famed German/Swiss theologian. Answering a question by Carnell concerning Barth’s view of Scripture, Barth frankly responded that there are “contradictions and errors” in the Bible. The majority of the five hundred theologians at the gathering applauded Barth’s answer. Carnell did not press the issue further. According to the ubiquitous Richard Mouw, who also attended the gathering, Carnell responded to Barth by murmuring, “This is a problem for me too.” Clark, who was sitting next to Carnell, and evidently near Mouw, muttered, in response to Carnell, “betrayal” (208, 209).

The authorities at Wheaton pressured Clark out of the school because of his strong, unyielding Calvinism.

One weakness of the Presbyterian philosopher was his relatively mild judgment of Arminianism. There was no place for it in his own theology. He condemned schools and magazines that taught it. But his judgment of it was that it was a defective form of Christianity, rather than a gospel-denying heresy. Clark was critical of a magazine that “referred to Arminianism and modernism as ‘equally dangerous’” (154). The reason for his restrained condemnation was that Clark’s controversy was with outright modernism in the mainstream Presbyterian churches of his day. The same was true of Machen, as is evident in his Christianity and Liberalism. Fighting modernism, with its denial of the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Jesus, and the resurrection of Christ, both Clark and Machen tended to underestimate the evil of Arminianism, which did pay lip service to the fundamental truths of the Christian religion that modernism denied outrightly.

Clark…believed that although “Arminianism misinterprets Scripture on some important points,” it still accepts the Bible, and that “sincere Arminians are predestinated, all persevere in grace, and are perfectly sanctified in heaven.” Modernism, on the other hand, Clark wrote, is dangerous because “it denies the infallibility of the Bible,” it “denies the vicarious atonement of Christ,” and ultimately “leads to hell” (154).

A man of principle, Clark lived what he believed and taught. One such consistency strikes this reviewer as extreme. Clark taught two, and only two, faculties of the human soul: intellect and will. He denied that emotion is a third faculty. In keeping with this philosophical view, the night of the death of his beloved wife Clark played chess with a friend, lest the sorrow of his loss betray him (229).

To his credit, Clark worked, teaching at various colleges and writing numerous books, almost to his dying day, past his 80th birthday.

He died in 1985 and was buried near the Sangre de Christo Seminary, which carries on his legacy, deep in the Colorado Rockies.

The Reformed man or woman will read Clark’s biography, and his books, with profit, especially the student of Presbyterian theology and of Presbyterian church history.

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Clark, Robbins, and Theonomy

I admit to being somewhat of a novice on the topic of Theonomy. This post neither intends to promote Theonomy nor critique it but only to note some historical observations.

There are parts of a series of three letters between Gordon H. Clark and John Robbins which relate to Theonomy.

Letter 1: Clark to Robbins, undated (early April, 1980 is my best guess)
Letter 2: Robbins to Clark, April 9, 1980
Letter 3: Clark to Robbins, April 14, 1980

In the first letter Clark writes,

Bahnsen’s treatment of me, as also Rushdoony’s of some years ago, is logically irrelevant to the merits of Chalcedon theories. But I suppose they influence me to some extent. Similarly  the fact that Bahnsen is not in accord with the Reformed position, and was dismissed from the Seminary because of his deviation, is logically irrelevant; though it seems to me that the wisdom of the Reformed theologians deserves a certain respect and presumption of truth.

However, I shall not argue the truth of the position in this letter; right now I wish to learn about your consistency.

Although I shall have some other arguments (which seems invalid to me), your main material comes from Deut. 20. Therefore I would like to ask you

Would you have advocated the massacre of every German man, woman, and child after our victory in World War II? And if Hitler had not gone to war, would you have let the women and children go free, and just killed the men? The same question could be asked in the case of our Civil War.

You know what a fetish I make of logic; and the above is not an argument, but simply a test of your consistency.

The reference to Deut. 20 seems to be in relation to Robbins’ complete opposition to the military draft, a position which Clark does not agree with him on. (Note: part of the problem in the record is that in this series mostly only Clark-to-Robbins letters are extent and few Robbins-to-Clark letters)

In the second letter Robbins responds,

Thank you for your recent letter posting a test of consistency. I wish you would also argue the truth of the proposition “The government has the authority to conscript men (or women) for its own purposes.” … Your fetish for logic has my complete respect. … I do not, of course, rest my case on a few verses of Deuteronomy 20. I have also mentioned a few verses in 1 Samuel 8. I might also mention Exodus 21:16, as well as the eighth commandment.

As for your reference to Rushdoony and Bahnsen: I am not sure what you are driving at this in paragraph, for as far as I can tell, my views on the draft and those of Rushdoony and Bahnsen are quite different. Both of those men seem to favor a limited draft; I see no warrant for any draft at all.  …

And as for Bahnsen’s deviation from the Reformed position, if some errors are better than others, I much prefer his error (and I have not read Theonomy, but I presume its thesis is similar to Rushdoony’s Institutes) to the reigning error of antinomianism in so-called Reformed churches. My position is that of the Westminster Confession, which states that the general equity of the judicial laws binds us even today. I believe you also take this position in your 1957 essay on The Christian and the Law in which you cite passages from the Old Testament commanding the care of animals.

Now, if one accepts as true the proposition that the general equity of the judicial laws of ancient Israel binds us even today, must one therefore favor the extermination of all Germans after World War II and of all Southerners during the Civil War? Of course not. Why? Because the commands given in Deuteronomy 20:10-18 are not judicial law, as the commands in Deuteronomy 20:5-8 are. They are ceremonial law, and they expired with the Old Covenant, just as the food and sanitation laws did, which are equally awkwardly classified under the inadequate head of ceremonial law.

The extermination of the Canaanitic cities was a religious act. The verb used in verse 17, which is translated as “utterly destroy” means to devote to God for religious purposes.

And in the third letter Clark responds,

… your letter expresses a doubt as to what I meant by my references to Bahnsen. Nothing very deep. I merely wanted to make clear that Bahnsen’s attack on me, in the material you sent, which could have soured me on various proposals, was not the motivation of my letter. If you and Bahnsen agree on a point for different reasons, I am merely interested in the point and do not transfer to you any bias I may have against him.

How Deut. 20:10-18 is ceremonial law escapes me. Ceremonial law has to do with religious observances, primarily the temple or tabernacle service. It has to do with formal worship. The command against adultery, for example, is not ceremonial. It is moral, civil, and is not a direction for formal worship. The material in Deut. 20:10-18 is strictly military. So is the earlier section. That the priest speak in verses 2, 3 does not show that it is ceremonial. Priests can encourage the soldiers and instruct them as to their civil duties. Note also that verse 5 speaks of officers. Are they not military officers? So far as I can tell all of the chapter is military and not ceremonial. Hence it would seem to me that if one wishes to apply something to our present day, one would have to accept all the chapter or none.

Well, there is a lot more to these letters as far as the question of the military draft goes. (And that is an interesting topic itself) But, I’ve cut these bits out to point out some observances about Clark, Robbins, and Theonomy.

1. Gordon Clark was opposed to Bahnsen’s Theonomy.

2. John Robbins (here in 1980) seems to me to have some interest in Bahnsen’s Theonomy.  (That Robbins was pro-Theonomy early in his career was also told to me by his son-in-law Tom Juodaitis on a visit I made to him at the Trinity Foundation.) (Note also that Robbins writes “In the early days of The Journal of Christian Reconstruction I contributed a few essays and book reviews to that publication.” Robbins, “Will the Real Greg Bahnsen Please Stand Up?” Trinity Review, August 1992.) Robbins here has a strong view of what constitutes “general equity” in the Confession. His defense of his position, claiming the extermination commands of Deuteronomy 20 to be part of the ceremonial law sounds almost a bit like an argument a Theonomist might use.

3. John Robbins ardently opposed Theonomy later in his career, as evidenced by his article “Theonomic Schizophrenia” (among others) for the Trinity Review. This is after he had read Bahnsen. (which he hadn’t done yet in 1980).

4. I see a danger in Robbins of starting with a Libertarian framework and making the Scriptures fit this view. Robbins had first studied Libertarianism with Hans Sennholz at Grove City College. Later (and I believe I have the chronology correct) Robbins becomes a Reformed Christian and then some more time after that an ardent “Clarkian.” I must admit to this same error as I came to thinking through my Christian political views after already being a Libertarian. Now I would go lighter on the “Libertarian” seeing some good things in their views, but others not entirely Biblical. That is why, in a post I made in 2014 on “Libertarianism in the thought of Gordon H. Clark” I mentioned that Clark wasn’t fully a Libertarian though he shared many of their extremely-smaller-government views.

5. As for Theonomy, I’ll make one comment. Noting Robbins’ perhaps overzealous Libertarian views, it is important to make sure to study the Scriptures to reach a view, and not to first read the Scriptures WITH that view.

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Sola – Appalachian Christian Retreat


Sola – Appalachian Christian Retreat is a ministry my wife and I are founding.

I. History

On March 18, 2013 I quit my job (and 10-year career) as an engineer to attend seminary. Since seminary did not commence until September of that year, I had some 5 months free to pursue an idea brewing in my mind for the previous five years – complete a thru-hike of the 2,186-mile Appalachian Trail.

Ten days later, March 28, 2013, I (with my dog and brother who drove me there) was at the base of Springer Mountain in Georgia at the southern terminus of the AT. One hundred and forty-three days from then I reached the northern terminus on the summit of Mt. Katahdin in the wilds of Maine.

The intervening adventure brought many great highs and lows in my life – physically in mountain elevation changes, financially in an ever-decreasing bank account, and spiritually in my experiences on the trail. (Incidentally, parts of my adventure are chronicled in at least two books – (1) Don’s Brother, a Hike of Hope on the Appalachian Trail, and (2) Hiking to Beer: A Memoir.

Along the route of the trail were many hiker hostels. After spending quiet time in the woods for days, I reveled in the social atmosphere of the hostels. Most of the hostels were straight-up businesses, but others were donation-based church ministries, giving up their basements or annexes to stinky hikers to recover from their arduous days of hiking. Of these church-based hostels I stayed at one of nearly all of the major Christian denominations: Presbyterian (PCUSA), Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist, and one Roman Catholic.

However, at few of these places could one hear the gospel. Sometimes it was for lack of staff entirely. In other cases, the church hostel was too modernistic (or post-modernistic) to speak any gospel other than a bare social gospel of physical support to hikers.

After my hike was complete and I began seminary, my mind would continually come back to the hikers I had met on the trail. I thought often how the hostel experience gave great opportunities for speaking about the gospel to inquisitive seekers who intentionally have forgone most electronics and news media for their 4-6 month hikes. Continuing at seminary to pursue pastoral ministry I sought (without success) internships at various churches in our winter off-seasons. As a roadblock to pastoral ministry seemed to be in my path I started to consider another option – using my MBA and starting business, a hiker hostel on the Appalachian Trail.

As part of my research in Christian communal living I spent two months (Jan and Feb of 2016) at L’Abri Christian Fellowship in Switzerland. There I met Priscilla – also a Presbyterian, also originally from Michigan, and also interested in ministry. My attempt to scare her away with the challenges that lay ahead in my mission failed, and we got married in October of the same year. Her previous work at a small rustic resort in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan brings hospitality experience to our mission. And her cooking brings a smile to the face of all our guests.

II. Our Motivation.

Along the Appalachian Trail I met many searching individuals. They had each left their lives to push out big miles with big backpacks up big mountains. Why? The answer in each case varied. But, to a certain extent each person was searching for something.

It is my contention that all people will continue to search until they’ve found the ultimate greatest thing. No one can be satisfied so long as their are deficiencies in what they have. And thus no one is satisfied until they know the Lord, for only God is perfect. And no one knows the Lord until they believe the Gospel – the good news that Jesus died and rose again, showing him, based on Old Testament prophecies, to be the promised messiah and Lord, ushering in the kingdom of God with it’s justice and peace, and forgiving the sins of God’s people so that they are seen as righteous in his sight.

III. Our Goal

Sola – Appalachian Christian Retreat intends to be primarily a hiker hostel, catering to thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. But, there are a number other ways we hope to use this ministry. In the non-hiking season we plan to host foreign missionaries on medium-term stays. We also are looking into the possibility of 2 or 3 month “terms” where students can come stay in our quiet setting, contribute to the homestead/hostel chores, and study in our library of Reformed Christian (along with hiking adventure) titles.

We are currently searching for property near the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, or Virginia to start our ministry.

IV. How you can be involved.

1. Pray for our ministry.
2. Donate financially to our ministry. http://discoversola.com/index.php/donate/
3. Donate stuff to our ministry. http://discoversola.com/index.php/2016/12/31/a-list-of-needed-stuff/
4. Talk to your church elders and/or mission committee about us speaking at your church.
5. Like our FB page – “Sola – Appalachian Christian Retreat”
6. Considering volunteering – we’ll need help cooking, cleaning, building, and many other tasks.
7. Tell missionaries about our place as an option for them to stay when back in the states.
8. Subscribe to our newsletter on http://www.discoversola.com

Posted in Me | 2 Comments

Now Available: “The Presbyterian Philosopher” – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark

I’m glad to announce that my book The Presbyterian Philosopher – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark is now available for purchase!

After four years of effort researching and writing this book, I’m thrilled to see it come to publication. This book incorporates Dr. Clark’s personal letter collection, information from unpublished papers and sermons, letters from a half dozen archives, and interviews with his family, friends, and colleagues to detail the history of his life and give context for understanding his philosophy and the controversies in which he was involved.

The preface is written by Dr. Clark’s two daughters, Lois A. Zeller and Betsy Clark George. Endorsements for the book are from John Frame, Jay Adams, Kenneth Gary Talbot, D. Clair Davis, David J. Engelsma, William Barker, Erwin Lutzer, Frank Walker, Dominic Aquila, and Andrew Zeller.

Please contact me if you would like to review the book in your journal, or desire to interview me regarding the book for your newspaper, blog, podcast, or radio program.

Soli Deo Gloria,

-Douglas J. Douma

Book Details:

Douma, Douglas J.
The Presbyterian Philosopher
Wipf and Stock
ISBN 13: 978-1-5326-0724-0
Retail Price: $37 softcover, $57 hardcover
Pub. Date: 1/24/2017

Ordering options:

Wipf & Stock Customer Service: – Call 541-344-1528 to order.
Amazon: http://a.co/7UWwiUY
E-book: http://a.co/hNVnj8H

Taking advantage of my author discount, I can sell you softcover books at $28 a piece (and hardcovers for $42 a piece) for US orders. To order your copy (or copies) email me at douglasdouma at yahoo dot com. Then I will provide you with an address to send check or money order. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.

Update 1/31/2017: I’m now making the biography of Gordon Clark available for purchases from outside of the United States! For Canada add $10 per book for shipping and handling. For Mexico, add $15 per book for shipping and handling. For ALL OTHER COUNTRIES add $20 per book for shipping and handling. Payment can be accepted via PayPal to my email address (douglasdouma at yahoo dot com). When purchasing through PayPal, please send me an additional email with your full mailing address.



Posted in Me, Notes on the thought of Gordon H. Clark | 20 Comments

A Cornelius Van Til quote on Francis Schaeffer

In an earlier post I noted that Cornelius Van Til found issue with Francis Schaeffer’s lacking Calvinism. https://douglasdouma.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/francis-schaeffer-pseudo-calvinist/

Van Til also found issue with the apologetics of Schaeffer, his former student at Westminster Theological Seminary. (note: after studying at WTS for a year, Schaeffer transferred to and graduated from Faith Seminary). Van Til later wrote, but did not publish, a critique of Schaeffer’s apologetic (“The Apologetic Methodology of Francis Schaeffer” 1977, 54pp).

Anyways, I recently found a letter of Van Til’s in a collection of one of his friends. In the letter, of January 8, 1971, Van Til writes: 

“Francis Schaeffer’s position has one basic weakness in it. It is well stated in the illustration about the universe and two chairs that he uses. The Christian says to the materialist that all he says is fine, but that he has only half of the orange. No Roman Catholic apologist said anything worse than that. It would mean that Christianity is nothing more than a second story to be added to the first story built according to the specifications of the natural man. This approach fits in wonderfully well with Butler’s analogy and with Thomas Aquinas’ approach.”

“I do not understand Schaeffer on this point. He was here as a student and he seemed to agree with me, and a few years ago he still said that he was in large measure in agreement with me, but certainly at this critical juncture he follows a different path. I am sorry for this. He has great influence with the IVF group.”

For more on the topic of Van Til and Schaeffer see:

Two Christian Warriors: Cornelius Van Til and Francis Schaeffer Compared by William Edgar




Edit: I’ve found the preface to Van Til’s syllabus on Schaeffer:

“I have written this paper on Dr. Francis Schaeffer’s apologetics at the request of a number of WTS students. There has been a difference between these students on the question of Dr. Schaeffer’s apologetic procedure. Some have asked me, Is not his view essentially the same as yours? Does not he, as well as you, speak of the biblical position as the presupposition of the possibility of predication? Is not the difference between you two merely that Schaeffer mingles directly with non-Christian intellectuals, while you develop your ’system’ over against ’systems’ found only in books?

Others say: No, there is a difference between you two. Schaeffer uses the word presupposition but he does not mean by it what you mean by it. He does not agree with you when you say that the natural man’s basic starting-point is that of pure autonomy, correlative to pure contingent factuality, correlative to pure abstract or formal rationality; and that therefore the natural man cannot identify himself or anything beside himself and therefore cannot account for human predication. For all of Schaeffer’s claim to use a presuppositional or biblical approach, his method is still basically similar to that of the traditional Aquinas-Butler approach.

Now I agree with the opinion of the second group. From time to time I have verbally expressed the difference between Dr. Schaeffer’s position and my own. At one time I wrote Dr. Schaeffer a long memorandum about my difficulty with his approach. He could find no time to reply. In more recent times I have written notices on some of his books, and letters in answer to inquiries about his views. Dr. Schaeffer has by this time expressed his views on many modern problems in a number of publications. With great earnestness he urges the Christian view of men and things upon the college-age young people of our day. Is his method of doing so the fully biblical one? Or is it, perhaps, an attempt to combine the biblical and the traditional method?

This syllabus deals with these questions. It contains several items written independently of one another at different times. Their unity is found in that they follow Dr. Schaeffer as he has sought to help Christian young people express their Christian belief in a proper way to their non-Christian friends.”-from the Preface

Posted in Theology | 2 Comments