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, or 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.

Posted in Notes on the thought of Gordon H. Clark | 3 Comments

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.
3. Donate stuff to our ministry.
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

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.

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. I do not currently accept PayPal. 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 | 19 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.

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

Introduction to Theology by Gordon H. Clark, Introduction and Table of Contents

Table of Context


See these links for others chapters:

Chapter 1 – The Scriptures

Chapter 2 – God

Chapter 4 – Creation

Chapter 7 – Salvation

Chapter 9 – Eschatology


Introductory Remarks

Theology is sometimes held in contempt. Even devout Christians, who should be its friends, may dismiss is as hair-splitting; and some of them contrast dead orthodoxy with pulsating Christian life. Its enemies are more severe. The Logical Positivists call it nonsense. Devotees of scientism call it bigotry. Political leftists attack it as a reactionary hindrance to social advancement. But before anyone can properly adjudge it as good or evil, he must know what the word theology means.

The English word comes from two Greek words: theos-logos. As bio-logy is the study, knowledge, or science of bios, life; and as anthropo-logy is the study of anthropos, man; and as sociology is the study of society, and physiology, geology, and the rest; so theo-logy is the study or knowledge of God (Theos).

Theology is not the only strange word the student must learn. He must be willing to meet and conquer federal headship, immediate imputation, premillennialism, and even Trinity. Some people are afraid of long words; but not everyone. The people of Germany seem to like them. One of their longest is Constantinopolitanischerdudelsachspfeiffenmachergesellschaft. It means a firm in Constantinople that manufactures bagpipes. The longest English word I can think of, if you rule out ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ on technical lexicographical grounds is, Antidisestablishmentarianism. It is even more useless than the German word.

Another technical term, though an easier one, is atheism. Atheists are people who assert that there is no God to study. They may say that atoms in space make up the sum total of reality. Or in more modern science the atoms may be analyzed into neutrons, or finally into energy. But whatever the analysis, these people assert that there is nothing else. Physical reality is all there is.

It is not surprising that atheists deride theology. Since they deny that there is any God at all, they naturally consider theology false, useless, and harmful. In this they are indubitably consistent. There is, however, another group who also can consistently object to theology. These are religious people who really believe in a God of some sort, but who are convinced that he cannot be known. Atheists deny God; mystics deny knowledge. The religion of the latter is based on, and limited to trances, indescribable experiences, or inexplicable emotions. In these experiences no knowledge is obtained. It is wholly a matter of subjective feelings. There are indeed some semi-mystics who allow a theology. Schleiermacher, a German theologian of the early nineteenth century, the founder of Modernism, constructed a “theology” based on feeling. Strictly speaking, it was not theology; it was the psychology of religious experience. God himself was not the object of study; feelings were. Emil Brunner, a Swiss theologian of the mid-twentieth century, also wrote books on theology; but his “theology” is not knowledge of God. God and the medium of conceptuality, are mutually exclusive. If we talk about God, he says, we are not talking about God. But he does indeed formulate a theory of religion and tries to find some sort of use for it. Then, of course, there are the purer and more consistent mystics who, though they may write literature, do not claim to write theology. These two groups, atheists and mystics, are probably the only two groups that can consistently object to theology. True Christians, because of immaturity and ignorance, may disparage theology, but their antagonism is not consistent with the Christian faith.

Another group deserving mention, presents a puzzling appearance. They indeed assert the existence of God and their theories can properly be called theology. They do not want to be known as atheists or as irreligious, but they define God as all that exists. Spinoza used the phrase, Deus sive Natura, God, that is, Nature. Some may use the term Pure Being, or Tillich’s phrase, the Ground of All Being. Thus God is the universe itself. He is not its Creator. Since they say, God is the All, these people are called Pantheists – another technical term.

Logically there is no difference between atheism and pantheism. To deny that there is a God and to apply the name God to everything is conceptually identical. It is as though I should assert the existence of cats and try to prove it by pointing to giraffes, stars, mountain ranges, and books: they are all cats, I would say, and therefore cats exist. The pantheists point to giraffes, stars, and so on, and say, therefore God exists. But this sort of argument has no more application to God than to cats – the small domestic animals that cry meow. Those who deny God, atheists, and those who say God is everything, pantheists, are asserting that nothing beyond the physical world is real. In Christian language, and in common languages around the world, God is different from the universe as a cat is from a giraffe, and more so.

Other people are agnostics. They do not assert that there is a God; nor do they assert that there is no God; they simply say they do not know. They claim ignorance. Ignorance, however, is not a theory that one has to argue about. Ignorance is an individual state of mind. An ignorant person is not required to prove by learned arguments that he is ignorant. He just does not know. Such a person needs to be taught.

Probably most people in the United States today are atheists of a sort. If you should ask them, they might say they believe in God. But they might as well not believe in God for all the good it does them. Unless someone mentions God to them, they never think of him; they never pray to him; he does not enter into their daily plans and calculations. Their lives are essentially no different from the lives of atheists and agnostics. They are practicing atheists.

But do all these technical terms, and more to come, have anything to do with prayer and ‘heart-felt’ religion? Doesn’t Christianity consist in singing gospel choruses to rock music and electric guitars? What good is theology, what good are pedantic terms anyway?

Young students are often impatient, and they unthinkingly brush aside even important matters. But their question concerning the value of theology is proper, pertinent, and important. It has three answers. The first is: God, if there be a God, is someone we should know. If we should know stars (astronomy) simply because there are stars, and copper and iron (chemistry) simply because they are there and useful to us, so too if God is there, and if he impinges on our life in any way, we ought to know him. This first answer needs further elucidation; but before continuing with it, and before beginning the second answer, the discussion will briefly consider how it might be possible to know God. Where do we find out about God? What is the source of our knowledge? To these questions there are two answers. Some people accept the first answer and reject the second; some people accept the second and reject the first; and some use both.

The first method of finding out something about God, according to a large number of respectable authors, is to study the growth of a plant, the motion of the planets, and the fall of a stone. Now, if it should prove possible to learn something about God by this method, it nonetheless has two disadvantages. First, it is a very hard method; and, second, not much can be learned this way. Suppose we can get a microscope and examine the internal phloem of the lykopersikon esculentum (L.). Oh me, oh my, these words are too long. Well, the study of botany is still longer; and it is not immediately clear what we can find out about God in tomatoes. Or, you may observe the motion of the planets. If you look at them very carefully, you will see that the squares of their periodic times are proportional to the mean distances from the sun. But you have to look very closely. This is not easy. If we should succeed in getting this bit of information, we may conclude that God is a great mathematician and that salvation depends on majoring in math. Such was essentially what the ancient Greek philosophical school of the Pythagoreans said. They believed that a happy life after death was the reward for studying arithmetic and geometry. A somewhat similar view is held by people today who think that all the problems of this world can be solved by science. But unlike the Pythagoreans they do not believe in a life after death, nor do they think that the laws of astronomy can prove there is a God. To convince them by deducing the existence of God from the laws of science would be extremely difficult and perhaps impossible. If by some other method we first know there is a God, the study of astronomy might show that he is a mathematician. But we would have to know God first.

There is a second method, different from the science, by which we may learn about God. Where the first method had two disadvantages, this second method has two points in its favor. Instead of being hard, it is easy; and instead of providing only a little information, it furnishes us a great deal.

This second method consists of simply listening to what God tells us. If God should say to some man, “I am the Almighty God, walk before me and be thou perfect” (as he said to Abraham in Genesis 17:1), then this man would know something about God and he could tell other men. Neither he nor the others would have to study science or mathematics. All we would have to understand would be a few short words, the longest of which is Almighty.

Each of these two ways of learning about God has its own name. The first is called natural theology. Its contents are what we can know of God by studying nature. It is the hard way. It may be an impossible way. However, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle thought he could prove the existence of God by this method; and the Roman Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, copied him. But their arguments are extremely complicated. Of course the Psalms say that the heavens declare the glory of God; and the apostle makes the paradoxical statement that the invisible divine attribute of omnipotence is clearly seen in the things that God has made. Such verses as these, however, do not guarantee that Aristotle made no mistake. The apostle Paul does not so much say that men prove the existence of God by studying the stars, as he says that the omnipotence of a God previously known to exist is displayed in the stars. This omnipotence is manifest to men, not by means of a complicated argument, but because “God hath showed it unto them.” At any rate, in contrast with Roman Catholicism, Reformation theology, as found in Luther and Calvin, made no use of arguments from nature.

If the name of the first way to learn about God is natural theology, the name of the second is special revelation. It is the easy way of simply listening to what God says. There is no point in trying to prove God’s existence, for if he tells us something, he obviously exists. A non-existent nothing could not tell us anything. What is more important, if God speaks to us, in addition to knowing that there is some sort of God, we begin to learn what sort of God there is.

At first it may seem strange that knowledge of what God is, is more important than knowing there is a God. It may seem strange that his existence is less important than his nature. Nevertheless, this is the case, for two reasons. First, we have seen, a few pages back that pantheists identify God with the universe. The mere fact that they use the name God for the universe and thus assert that “God” exists, is of no help to Christianity. The late Professor Wieman insisted on the existence of God; but for him “God” is not even all the universe – he or it is only some parts of the universe. Christians are not so much interested in the existence of God as they are in what kind of God exists.

The second reason for not being much interested in the existence of God is somewhat similar to the first. The idea of existence is an idea without content. Stars exist – but this tells us nothing about the stars; mathematics exist – but this teaches us no mathematics; hallucinations exist too. A predicate, such as existence, that can be attached to everything indiscriminately, tells us nothing about anything.

When God speaks, he tells us something about himself. He tells us what sort of God he is. If then our knowledge of God does not come from mathematics and astronomy, but consists in what God has told us about himself, theology as a formal study of God will be essentially a survey of what God has said. He told Abraham that he was Almighty. Almighty means omnipotent. We are now no longer scared of long words like omnipotent. It simply means that God can do anything. But God did not tell Abraham everything about himself, either on that one occasion or on all the occasions taken together that God spoke to Abraham. To find out what sort of God God is, a student must collect and summarize all that God has told us about himself.

The mention of Abraham may lead us several paragraphs back to the question of an impatient student who asked concerning the value of such an abstruse subject as theology. There are three answers. The first answer was only started. Even at the cost of a little repetition, it may be worthwhile to retrace our steps and begin again.

First, God, if there be a God, is someone we should know. Everyone likes to receive information about their best friends, at least if the information is good news. We even want to hear bad news, such as an injury or accident, though it saddens us. If now someone like Abraham is a friend of God, news about God is welcome; and more welcome in proportion as God is a better friend than one’s classmates. To put it in a more Biblical way, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” There is more in this verse than appears to a hurried reader; but enough appears to show that one cannot be a Christian without theology – a knowledge of God.

This first point in answering the question about the value of theology is so overwhelming that any other reasons seem trivial and unnecessary. However, the American temperament, more activist and “practical” than the relatively more contemplative European mentality, may be further impressed by the necessity of theology for evangelism. To say, “Christ died, for our sins, according to the Scriptures,” is to talk theology. In fact this verse sums up a great amount of theology; and only knowledge of what is “according to the Scriptures” can insure a Biblical evangelism. Then too, when a Christian tries to evangelize college students, he meets all sorts of objections. It is fatal to dismiss these as hypocrisy, even though sometimes they are; but more often they are the deep seated opinions that have been inculcated by a humanistic education. The college student has been taught that science conclusively refutes all claims of miracles, and that it is no more possible for a man to rise from the dead than for a cow to jump over the moon. Science has put a man on the moon; maybe science sometime in the future will discover how to raise the dead; but it has never happened yet. Unfortunately some “evangelists” avoid this objection by dropping Christ’s resurrection out of their “gospel.” Either they never mention it, or as is the case with the dialectical theologians they existentialize it and define resurrection as that happy feeling of confidence when one rises out of the depths of frustration. Students under such instruction, if they had a college course in religion, believe that the Pentateuch is a compilation of several authors (dating perhaps from the time of David onwards) botched together by an unknown editor about 500 B.C. These students are possibly behaviorists in psychology, and one college girl said openly in class, “Well, I am only an animal.” In view of such evangelistic challenges it is unfortunate if the Christian knows the Bible less thoroughly than the college student knows his humanism.

There is a third reason for studying theology, a broader reason of which the second was doubtless only a part. The religion of Modernism which flourished from 1875-1925 was initiated by Friedrich Schleiermacher about the centennial year of 1800. Many Americans, people who had never heard the name Schleiermacher, came to disbelieve the Virgin Birth and the vicarious Atonement because of his influence. The great thinkers, either in theology, philosophy, or science, set a pattern that millions of people will fall into in the following century. The works of a Danish theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, about 1840, through Karl Barth from about 1920, and Emil Brunner a few years later, have produced in America as in Europe a “Christian Existentialism” that is far more existential than it is Christian.

These men and their theories are no doubt a wrong place to begin a study of theology; but after some first lessons in the Biblical system of thought, it is capitulation to ignore them. Only from strong students of theology can there arise another Athanasius to defend the Deity of Christ, an Augustine to maintain the doctrines of grace, and a Luther and Calvin to reject tradition and mysticism and defend the first principle of “Scripture alone.”

It should now be clear that the methodology of the present volume is Biblical. Neither natural theology derived from science, nor mystical theology derived from so-called ‘religious experience,’ plays any part. The content of this theology comes entirely from the Bible. The importance of methodology cannot be overemphasized.

To illustrate: Assuming that there is a God of some sort, many people, even glibly, make statements about him. One such statement might be, God loves everybody. Another statement, made in conversation by a Presbyterian elder, no less, was that Hinduism has “redemptive value.” The statement itself does not contain the word God, but it reflects a belief as to what God is and how he operates on a world-wide scale. People are making statements about God all the time. In talking with such people the basic question to ask, especially for the Christian who disagrees with the statement, is, How do you know? How do you know that God provides redemption through Hinduism? How do you know anything at all about God? How do you know? An atheist will put the same question to an orthodox Christian. He will say, You believe there is a God; how do you know, what is your evidence, why should anyone accept such a notion?

In the history of Christian theology many authors at the outset have tried to answer the atheist by constructing an argument that validly demonstrates the existence of God. Aquinas’ attempt was mentioned a few paragraphs ago. But though this seems such a logical place to begin theology, reflection shows that it is hardly helpful, from a Christian viewpoint, to prove merely the existence of some sort of God or other. Every serious mind wants to know what sort of being God is. Is he a person who loves everybody? Is God a person at all? Spinoza had an argument more complicated than Aquinas’; but the God whose existence he claimed to have proved was just the universe itself. Suppose a Hindu proved the existence of Shiva. In this case the proof of God’s existence would be the disproof of Christianity. This is why the Westminster Shorter Catechism, right near the beginning, asks, What is God? Not just any god will do.

This is one reason why methodology must be carefully considered. Is it the right method to begin with sensory experience, or with a mystic trance, and conclude with the type of God that later appears? In particular, will anything at all appear later concerning sin, atonement, resurrection, and so on? The Christian needs a method that arrives at all this. He needs a single method. Two methods produce a bifurcation that cannot be unified. Theology then would be schizophrenic. A theory of knowledge must cover all knowledge. If it does not, and if a person uses two methods he cannot answer the question, Where should the one be used, and where the other? He cannot use theory number one to define the place of theory number two, nor conversely, and hence he has no ground for choosing one rather than the other at any point. This means that he really has no theory of knowledge at all. What theory then will give us the knowledge that Christ was raised for our justification?

After World War I Karl Barth introduced a theological method that captured many seminaries and produced a voluminous literature. The method may be somewhat difficult to describe, but Barth unequivocally states what it is not: “In dogmatics it can never be a question of the mere combination, repetition, and summarizing of Biblical doctrine” (Church Dogmatics, I, 1, p. 16; Thomson tr.).

The two pages of immediate context are confusing. If Barth meant merely that the books men publish on theology are not infallible, an orthodox theologian would agree. But since Barth holds that the apostles, even in their official capacity, made a number of mistakes, this is not what he could have meant. On a later page he says, “The fact that the theology we favor is purely and solely evangelical [thought the present writer would never recognize Barth as evangelical], we can as little discuss and account for, as for the fact that we are baptized and believe” (p. 37). This sentence combines two incongruent parts. The fact that we believe, if not the fact that we were baptized, cannot be accounted for, except by a reference to God’s regenerating power and his gift of faith to us. But the fact that the theology we favor is evangelical, if it is indeed evangelical, requires a different form of accounting. This accounting can be nothing else than the method Barth forbids dogmatics to use: viz., exegesis of Scripture and logical systematization. Without this, no liberal can prove that he is an evangelical; with it he only proves that he is not an evangelical; nor can he justify his choice of which Scriptural propositions are true and which are false, let alone which non-scriptural doctrines are. For an evangelical, in the historical sense of the word, theology is – of course not “the mere combination, repetition” of Biblical texts, but – certainly a summarizing and especially a logical arranging of the main Scriptural doctrines.

The method used in this book and the theology that necessarily results are Biblical. The principle is to take the Bible as a revelation from God. In it he gives us the information he wants us to have. Our task is to collect this information, “understand” it in a preliminary way, and then systematize it. Unless God be irrational, we cannot be satisfied with disjointed, unrelated data. To understand the data in more than a preliminary way, they must be fitted together, systematized, organized. Wallpaper, a keg of nails scattered around, a kitchen sink standing on end, a heap of bricks, and some bags of cement are not a house. They must be put together, if we want something to live in. So too a Christian may have memorized a few or even many verses from several books of the Bible, he may know which is the shortest verse and the longest chapter, he may even have some elementary knowledge of the Atonement, and yet his mind can be largely the confusion of building materials scattered around loose. Well, it is good to have building materials. Indeed, they are indispensable. But it is better to live in a house.

Contrasting with the concept of theology here maintained is the very first paragraph of The Evangelical Faith by Helmut Thielicke (William B. Eerdmans, 1974). “To do theology is to actualize Christian truth, or, better, to set it forth in its actuality and to understand it afresh thereby. To that extent theology is by nature, and not merely in its pedagogical implications, historical. It has nothing to do with timeless truth. Hence there can be no timeless or supertemporal theology (theologia perennis).”

That an author, like myself, must understand theology afresh, is hardly worth saying. Of course my father knew some theology and I as a young man had to begin afresh. Knowledge is not transmitted by heredity. Furthermore, it goes without saying that I was influenced by my father, by the books I read, and by whatever other factors there may have been. But it does not follow that this “has nothing to do with timeless truth.” The aim of every orthodox theologian is to arrive at some timeless truths. In doing so, he may make some mistakes. But if he learns that God justifies some men by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, he has grasped timeless truth. Even the mere historical statement that Christ died in the first half of the first century is a timeless truth. My learning it, the pedagogical implications as Thielicke calls it, does not make it temporal, relative, or doubtful. It is the truth, and it is the truth we learn.

But Thielicke’s meaning is not exhausted in such pedagogical trivialities. What he has in mind is a completely different idea of what theology, or at least Christian theology is. On page 66 he writes, “Part of the intellectual honesty of adult man is that in the area of faith he will accept no truth-claim that conflicts with scientific knowledge.”

To this we immediately reply that so-called ‘scientific knowledge’ is no fixed irrevocable discovery. Virtually none of the physics that I was taught in my undergraduate days is now taught in physics classes. Science is tentative; it constantly changes. What is taught today will be discarded within a decade or two. The theories of light are a well-known example of scientific change. The theory of phlogiston is by now forgotten. As Einstein has replaced Newton, so a succeeding genius will replace Einstein – as he himself knew so well. Therefore Thielicke’s proposal to test every theological truth-claim by the physics of the day is foolish. It is more than foolish. The idea that science can decide in advance what God can and cannot reveal is utterly unchristian. Furthermore, his branding Christians as dishonest because they believe God instead of swallowing the presently held laws of physics is arrogant.

At this point it may prove wise to consider an objection that some reviewers are sure to make against the present volume. But it is not an objection that first year seminary students are likely to raise. The objection is that so little attention is paid to the great theological developments of the last half of the twentieth century.

There is very good reason for these extensive omissions. Briefly the reason is that they have little to offer in the advancement or explanation of Biblical theology. Karl Barth has already been cited. If a student wants to know what God said, the best source is not a man who believes that the apostles erred even in their official capacity as canonical writers. Now, it is possible and it is true that once in a while Bultmann or someone can come up with useful analyses of a verse or two. Indeed the neo-orthodox commentators are better than the old modernists. The modernists had some respect for the Bible, and they tried to twist the Bible to make it mean what they believed. But men like Bultmann are quite willing to make clear the exact meaning of a verse; for though the meaning accords with historic evangelicalism, Bultmann dismisses it as mythology. On the other hand, so pervasive are their existential presuppositions that one must wearily wade through a swamp of nonsense to find these good examples of exegesis. It is hardly worth the time.

Other authors are even more useless for our purpose. For example, James H. Cone has published three volumes, the last being, God of the Oppressed. It is a volume of so-called black theology. The title indicates and the content makes it certain that for him black theology and some other kind are not the same. This resembles the medieval theory of two-fold truth: what is true in philosophy is false in theology and conversely. That is to say, Cone’s black theory resembles two-fold truth, if he will admit that there is any truth at all in white or yellow theology. Naturally the author is not greatly interested in the Bible. Sociology, a particular form of sociology, is his canon. On this basis a wealthy American, like Abraham and Job, simply cannot have God’s truth. That eighteenth and nineteenth century slavery was reprehensible, and that injustices have been perpetrated even since 1865, does not justify the proposition that “any theologian who fails to place that question at the center of his work has ignored the essence of the gospel” (p. 9).

For us the essence or center of the gospel is the Atonement; the basis is the Trinity; the source and only source is the Bible.

Other contemporary works on theology may not be so perverted, but they are equally anti-Christian. One of them wants to replace verbal proclamation with music. Others are more mystical. But all reject the Scripture and put their whole trust in some form of experience. Since the present volume aims to give the main points of Christianity, it is only occasionally profitable to refer to theologians, better, religious philosophers, of this type. We do not aim to satisfy their values and assumptions; our contest with them is the contest between two incompatible, antagonistic religions. We do not intend to cooperate with them in a search for God’s message. Indeed, we cannot cooperate because their starting point and ours are different. What they appeal to, we reject; and the Scripture we appeal to, they reject. What we can and must do is to preach the message to them and pray for their regeneration.

With these preliminary remarks on methodology, remarks that the next chapter will expand and explain, remarks too that apply in a general way to all orthodox textbooks on theology, something about the present volume in particular needs to be added.

Written on an elementary level, this attempt has at least two defects. First, none of the great subjects receives adequate treatment. A minister’s personal library should contain several volumes on the Atonement alone. Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God extends through a thousand pages. And eschatology offers more books than anyone can bother with. The beginning student may not believe it, but the present volume is very elementary.

Yet even an elementary theology can and ought to discuss some opposing views. A student will never have a satisfactory view of the Deity of Christ without knowing something about Athanasius’ struggle against Arius and the resulting Nicene Creed. This book is not a history of theology; but who can write a chapter on justification by faith without paying his respects to Martin Luther, and his disrespects to the Pope and the canons of Trent? Such material is not only historically interesting, it is necessary logically. It is simply impossible to discuss the Atonement or Baptism conscientiously without considering objections and opposing views. Negative and positive are correlatives. To know what something is, one must know what it is not. A cat is not a dog. An even number is not an odd. And a completely wrong idea of the Atonement actually helps the student understand the truth.

The second defect of the present volume is similar to the first. To keep the discussion on an elementary level, a great deal of, let us say, philosophy has been omitted. But be it known that theology and what is commonly called philosophy are inseparable. Any discussion that eliminates philosophical problems simply hides beneath its ambiguous lines. Most unfortunately, however, the greatest philosophical difficulties occur in the early sections of a book on theology. There they are right at the start. This easily discourages the young student. For example, the ontological argument for God’s existence, which Aristotle formulated in less than four hundred words, has produced more than four hundred volumes of exhausting analyses. Students may well skip such material at first, jump forward to something easier, and return to these matters later. If newlyweds, beginners in adult life are buying a house, they must of course be interested in the dining room, the bedrooms, the kitchen, and even the wallpaper. And they may look at these first. But it would not be wise to ignore the foundation, even though they may look at it last. In building the house the foundation comes first. If buying a house already built, the examination of the basement may come last. So too a beginner in theology may consider the foundation less exciting than the wallpaper. If necessary then let him skip it and start with sin or salvation. He can return to God later on. He better had!

Now, to approach the end of these introductory remarks, the author directs the reader to the numerous Scriptural quotations in the following pages. Their purpose is not to give an exhaustive list of all the Scriptural passages on the particular subject under discussion. It is rather to remind the reader of many others by means of the quoted samples.

The actual translation more or less follows a general rule. If the quotation is simply to jog the students memory, and this is usually the case, the words will be those of the King James Version. When it is not the King James Version, the motivation is some point of meaning, some emphasis, that the King James did not sufficiently bring out.

Thus endeth the Introduction. Or, better, the introductory remarks on methodology will now be expanded in Chapter One.

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G. K. Beale on the Error of Postmodern Hermeneutics

In my semester at the Swiss L’Abri I became concerned that the staff’s commitment to respecting other’s beliefs bordered on a subjective post-modernism and led to a denial of the perspicuity of Scripture. Time and again in lectures and discussion did the topic of Biblical interpretation come up, but only after some prodding in personal conversations with the director of L’Abri was I able to get a critique of post-modernism and defense of Bible. Though L’Abri holds, as per it’s statement of faith, to the doctrine of inerrancy (and perspicuity) of Scripture, their language in practice is a far cry from those like G. K. Beale, professor of hermeneutics at the conservative reformed Westminster Theological Seminary.

In his essay “New Testament Hermeneutics” in Seeing Christ in All of Scripture, Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Beale critiques postmodernism’s view of biblical interpretation outright, explaining the perspicuity of Scripture, and giving one confidence in it’s message. I wish this same confidence in the Scriptures would be portrayed by L’Abri.

Beale writes:

The perspicuity of Scripture also contrasts the so-called postmodern evangelical view that one’s presuppositions result in a distortion of the original meaning of a text so that interpreters can only come away with interpretative conclusions that reflect their own theological predispositions. A presupposition is like a lens of a pair of glasses. If the lens is green, then everything you see is green; if blue, then everything you see is blue. For example, Democrats are accused of reading into the Constitution too much social engineering and government control because that is their lens, while Republicans are accused of reading in too much capitalism and personal responsibility. Both are accused by the other of distorting the true meaning of the Constitution.

Rather than the postmodern view that denies readers the ability to access objective meaning in Scriptures, a good biblical-theological assumption is that all interpreters have presuppositions and that some presuppositions distort the originally intended meanings of ancient texts, while other presuppositions actually guide one into the truth of text. Keeping with the above illustration, there are some theological colored lenses that cause one to see the true theological color of Scripture. The presuppositions of the biblical writers themselves as expressed in Scripture have the power through the Spirit to regrind the presuppositional lenses of those who read Scripture to lead them into the truth. (cf. John 8:32 with John 14:6, 17; 15:26; 16:13; see also 1 John 5:20).

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A Lutheran Error

“We preach faith, and any person not willfully resisting obtains faith.” – C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between the Law and Gospel, p. 15.

Lutheranism is neither Calvinistic nor Arminian. But what is it? There are at least three soteriological views I’ve heard ascribed to modern Lutherans:

1 . Salvation is a paradox. God desires all (each and every) person to be saved, yet not all will be saved. Man does not contribute to his salvation, but God does not contribute to reprobation. Why some are saved and not others is a great unsolvable paradox.

2. Salvation is the default, and must be actively combatted to be lost. This view, I had heard ascribed to Lutheranism, but had never seen in print until coming across the quote above by C.F.W. Walther, the founder of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. According to this view one loses salvation by “willfully resisting” faith. Instead of an active necessity to come to faith as emphasized in Arminianism, all one needs to do is not actively work against faith. That is, the holy spirit brings faith to all, but it is resisted by some.

3. Lutheranism is Arminian. This seems to be the understanding of Lutheranism of many Calvinists. By “Arminian” it is meant that salvation is according to a persons choice to have faith. Rather than salvation being the default, either condemnation is the default or a blank slate is the default from which man actively chooses one direction or the other – heaven or hell, faith or unbelief. Calvinists, who often believe that Lutherans hold this position, also believe that Luther himself was essentially a Calvinist in his soteriology.

I believe, regardless of which of these three views the Lutheran church actually holds, that all three of them are false.

The Bible is clear that salvation is not of man, but of God. We might not know why God chooses some people for salvation and other for reprobation, but that He does so is clear from Scripture. “So then, it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.” – Romans 9:16. If salvation were lost through “willfully resisting” then all people would be lost because all people willfully resist. That is, we resist until and unless the holy spirit comes in irresistible power to gift us faith. Let us praise the Lord for the gift of His salvation!


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