Clark and Van Til, Before the Controversy

For part of the biography I’m writing on Gordon Clark I’m researching into the relationship of Clark to his later philosophic adversary, Cornelius Van Til.

In 1936 (and perhaps in later years) Clark actually taught from Van Til’s material at Wheaton College. In prior years it seems they knew each other in Philadelphia and often had discussion on philosophy.

I’ve recently received four letters from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church archives between the two philosophers. Signs of the controversy still years away are evident in these letters. Clark, characteristically, critiques Van Til’s poor word definitions in a letter of August 28, 1937:

“You use the word knowledge in the Biblical sense of to know and love. Hence when someone objects that Paul says that the heathen know God, which seems to make possible a common ground, you reply that the heathen do not know God because they do not love him. Thus you avoid, not to say evade, the difficulties which arise from the consideration of what some call purely intellectual knowledge. But, may I ask ,when you say knowledge is knowledge and love, what does the second knowledge mean? Naturally, the definiendum cannot occur in the definition. How does this second knowledge occur? Within this strict sphere has the regenerate no common ground with the unregenerate? My impression is that you oscillate between love and that second knowledge to an extent which makes your simple word knowledge too ambiguous for exact usage.”

Later in this same letter Clark critiques Van Til’s “solution” the problem of the one and the many.  It seems that the archive is missing Van Til’s response.  Three extent letters are from Clark and only one from Van Til.


About douglasdouma

I am a husband to beautiful wife, an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church - Hanover Presbytery, and founder of Sola - Appalachian Christian Retreat ( In addition to blogging at this site I am the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher - The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf&Stock, 2017) and compiling editor of Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (Trinity Foundation, 2017). I have a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering (University of Michigan), a master's in business administration (Wake Forest University) and a master of divinity (Sangre de Cristo Seminary). I'm an avid hiker, having completed a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian trail in 2013 and the first 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016.
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5 Responses to Clark and Van Til, Before the Controversy

  1. Pingback: Doug Douma: Clark and Van Til, Before the Controversy | Reformed Libertarian

  2. Hugh McCann says:

    Doug, I think you mean “extant,” not “extent.”
    Could you publish the letters here?

    • douglasdouma says:

      Yeah, you’re right. Sometimes I don’t word so well.

      We are working on transcribing GHC’s letters. I’ve located 695 letters to date. About 200 have been transcribed. Dr. Talbot at Whitefield Seminary will likely get them published with his Whitefield Media. So, we won’t be making them available on the website, but the best will be put in the volume for publication. I’m just about done transcribing the best ones. I could use some people to proofread. If you’re interested, email me

  3. CJ Mayo says:

    Could you send me a scan of his critique of Van Til’s solution to the problem of universals? It’s a solution that is foundational to my own mediating (between Clark and Van Til) epistemology, including wrt our sense experience, so it’s of great personal interest (not to say import) to me. I’d not want to go to press with a foundation that others more intelligent than myself were able to debunk when I intuited rock-solidity.

    I would proof-read unpublished epistles as well.

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