Robert L. Reymond and Gordon H. Clark

The purpose of this post is to detail the dialogue between Robert L. Reymond and Gordon H. Clark to indicate the extent to which Reymond was influenced by Clark and answer the question whether he should be considered “Clarkian,” specifically in regards to his epistemology. The known places of dialogue (whether direct or indirect) between the two men are:

1. A letter from Clark to Reymond, Oct 24, 1974.
2. Reymond’s two disagreements with Clark in The Justification of Knowledge, 1976.
3. Clark’s first response in Language and Theology, 1980.
4. Clark’s first response repeated in “A Christian Construction, Part 2,” 1981.
5. Clark’s/Robbins’ response in Clark Speaks from the Grave, 1986.
6. Reymond’s later works.

I will be quoting from these sources at length as a resource for those interested in the questions at hand.

1. A letter from Clark to Reymond, Oct 24, 1974.

The first known contact between Clark and Reymond is the following letter from 1974. The context of this letter is the Amsterdam study committee within the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES). The “Amsterdam” or “Toronto School” of philosophy was that which followed the Dutch theologian Herman Dooyeweerd and was led by The Association for the Advancement of Christian Studies (AACS) and the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS). Concern over the unorthodox views of these groups led the RPCES to form a committee to study their views towards the goal of warning their members against their teachings. This particular letter is notable for mentioning Dr. Clark’s four weeks of lecturing at Geneva College where the recently-retired Johannes Vos had been battling against the Toronto School. As far detailing any relation between Clark’s thought and Reymond’s thought, that will have to wait until the next heading.

Oct 24 1974

Dear Dr. Reymond,

As you may have heard Dr. Young declined to be chairman of the Amsterdam committee, and someone else has been appointed. You may also have heard that for four weeks I am lecturing at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, Pa. My files and books are mainly in Indianapolis and partly at Covenant College. Hence this letter will be partial.

Gilchrist suggested that reports to Synod be brief. This seems eminently wise for an Amsterdam report. To analyze Dooyeweerd would take more than his four immense volumes.

I suggest that we compile a bibliography of works opposed to Dooyeweerd and Toronto. That is why I am sending you the enclosed sheet. I have other items at Lookout Mountain, and I made this sheet simply in order not to forget it.

After compiling a bibliography my idea would be to state the unacceptable positions on theology and morality. The concluding recommendation would be a warning that these people are not in accord with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.

I hope the committee can meet soon; but we ought to do some homework first.

Cordially,

[Gordon H. Clark]

2. Reymond’s two disagreements with Clark in The Justification of Knowledge, 1976.

Actual theological/philosophical dialogue between the two men starts in 1976 with Reymond’s book The Justification of Knowledge.

Reymond notes in the preface,

While doubtless I have been influenced, either positively or negatively, to some degree by my reading of all the men mentioned above [Benjamin B. Warfield, Cornelius Van Til, Gordon H. Clark, Edward John Carnell, and Francis Schaeffer] (and others, no doubt too), I do not regard myself as an uncritical disciple of any of them, a fact which this book will bear out. Preface, p. ix.

From both this quote and the material in the book then, we see that Reymond is influenced by Clark (and others) but should not be considered a Clarkian in a strong sense. Particularly, as we’ll see, Reymond never holds to Clark’s definitive epistemology.

Reymond, however, does share much in common theologically with Clark. The commonalities includes belief that the image of God consists of rationality (p. 17), that there is innate knowledge in man (p. 76), and that God is the ultimate cause of all things including evil (p. 78). Reymond even agrees with Clark regarding the latter’s off-disputed understanding of John 1:1. Reymond writes, “I agree with Clark when he writes, ‘Any translation of John 1:1 that obscures . . . emphasis on mind or reason is a bad translation.’” (p. 77) Reymond argues against Van Til’s position in the “Clark – Van Til Controversy,” (pp. 99-105), accurately describes some of Clark’s views (pp. 105-109), and then agrees with Clark as “a wholesome corrective to Van Til.” (p. 109).

Reymond’s disagreements with Clark begin on page 109 (and continue to page 114) of The Justification of Knowledge. He writes,

There are two related areas, however, where I am in disagreement with Clark: first, his limitation of ‘knowledge’ only to his basic axiom and to what by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from it; and second, his rejection of the role of sensory experience in the human acquisition of knowledge.

With regard to the first, Clark claims (in private conversation with me) that he is only being consistent with the subordinate Standards of his church (cf. Westminster Confession of Faith, I/vi). It is by no means self-evident, however, that the Westminster divines intended to restrict “truth” or “knowledge” to the Scriptures and what could be deduced therefrom when they wrote, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture, unto which nothing at any time is to be added. . . .” It seems clear to me that they are simply restricting religious authority (the rule for faith and practice) for man to Scripture (inherent authority in this case) and good and necessary deductions from Scripture (derived authority in this case). That is one thing. To say that they are restricting knowledge to Scripture and deductions therefrom is to affirm what the Westminster divines did not say. It is to say something entirely different from that which the Confession affirms. Furthermore, it is virtually a denial that men possess at least some knowledge from their natural awareness of divine law and from their conscience (Rom. 2:15).

Where would such an epistemology lead if taken seriously? I suggest that it would lead to skepticism, if not total ignorance. By Clark’s own admission he understand a person to be a series, no doubt, a complex one, of propositions (or meanings) such as, I suppose, (a) “Robert L. Reymond teaches at Covenant Theological Seminary,” etc. Furthermore, the person is the sum total of all such propositions that make up the total life history of the person. (cf. Clark, Festschrift, p. 412, quoting Leibniz); that is to say, a forty-year old man, who in the providence of God is going to live to the age of eighty years, is not yet a knowable person except to God. In fact, the life history of a person includes his state in the future world as well. Consequently, since all the “returns” (propositions) are not in, it follows that Robert L. Reymond is unknowable to himself and to everyone else except God. In other words, since the color of Robert L. Reymond’s eyes are no deducible from Scripture, it follows, according to Clark’s understanding of knowledge, that neither I know nor does anyone else know who or what I am. If I do not know who or what I am, I do not know for sure whether I am a man or not, I do not know whether the biblical injunctions to men to repent of sins and to believe in Christ are injunctions intended for me. If fact, since everything and everyone else is in the same process of “becoming” the sum total of the proposition which define them, I know nothing. Should Clark maintain that I, at least, still know the basic axiom and subsidiary axioms of his system, I would respond that this statement is meaningless because the “I” here is simply a pronoun standing in for an unknown entity in the sentence. Clark affirms that God, of course, knows me because He has determined al things (Festschrift, p. 412) but that does not help me very much for He did not mention me in Scripture. So where am I left? It would appear with no certain knowledge of anything! The fault he finds with the rationalist may be found with only slight modification in him: he cannot deduce from his axiom any extra-biblical historical particularities; they, therefore, remain unknown and unknowable by men!

Concerning my second disagreement, that concerning Clark’s denial to sensory experience any validity in the “knowing process,” Clark’s critics have often pointed out to him that his basic “axiom” (with its subsidiary propositional axioms) is found in a book. Nash urges: “Since Clark repudiates all sensory experience as a source of knowledge, it follows that we cannot even know what God’s revelation says. In order to know what the Bible says, I must be able to read it with my eyes or hear it with my ears or touch the braille with my fingers. But this is sense perception” (Festschrift, p. 174). What is Clark’s response? To Nash and Mavrodes, both of whom raise this issue (ibid., p. 174 and pp. 245-47), Clark simply refuses to answer until they answer his criticism of empiricism (cf. p. 415 and pp. 446-47). I believe that Clark’s problems with empiricism that lead him to reject senses as untrustworthy can be answered by many of the subsidiary axioms of biblical revelation. How does he justify the validity of the law of contradiction? It is implicit in propositional revelation, he claims. For “David” to mean anything, it must also mean “non-David.” He also goes to some length in replying to Nash, who asks him to demonstrate the legitimacy of deducing the mathematical equation, two plus two is four, from Scripture:

… Scripture does in deed teach a bit of arithmetic. Numbers, additions, and subtractions occur: after Judas hanged himself, their remained eleven disciples. Multiplication occurs and there are divisions by five, seven, and ten. If now, mathematics can be logically developed out of its principles, then mathematics can be “good and necessary consequence” be deduced from Scripture. (Festschrift, p. 468)

How willing and ready he is to employ Scripture to justify the legitimacy of logic! He is, however, as slow to hear the clear scriptural testimony regarding the validity and necessity of sense experience for knowledge as he is quick to use Scripture to justify deduction. This is to bad, for everywhere Scripture presupposes and assumes without question the significant and essential contribution that sensory experience makes in the acquisition of knowledge. It should not be necessary to point out that the very fact that God’s revelation comes to men propositionally in Scripture presupposes the validity and necessity of God-created (Ex. 4:11; Ps. 94:9; Prov. 20:12) sense experience. How otherwise, as we have noted, would anyone be aware of the mere fact of Scripture? Furthermore, it should not be necessary to expound in detail such passages as Matthew 11:4-6; Luke 24:39; John 20:27; 2 Peter 1:16-18; and 1 John 1:1-3; 4:14, et al., to determine that the self-attesting Christ speaking throughout Scripture assumes the propriety of the role of sensory experience in knowledge acquisition. I am quite ready to admit that Clark knows the philosophers. He has felt the force of the arguments of the Greek skeptics. He has, in fact, asserted that their arguments demolish empiricism. I would agree that they signalize the deficiencies of a strict empiricism which would postulate a tabula rasa epistemology, and which would claim that, beginning with sensations alone, the knowledge of “facts” may be acquired. I would agree that, without innate self-evident truths and without a revelational pou sto as a “given,” the justification of knowledge is impossible. But precisely because I accept the pou sto of Christ’s word to me in Holy Scripture and what the Scripture teaches regarding how men come to knowledge, I affirm that sensory experience does perform a God-designed task in the human acquisition of knowledge. It seems to me that no so to affirms is to set aside many passage of Scripture, indeed the fact of an objective propositional word revelation itself.

Where Clark goes astray in this connection, in my opinion, is his refusal simply to face the teaching, indeed, the self-evident teaching of many of the subsidiary propositional axioms of his central (or basic) axioms.

Inasmuch as epistemology, for Clark, is the discipline where all the controlling decisions are made, I would recommend to the student of apologetics the articles by Nash and Mavrodes and Clark’s replies to them in the Clark Festschrift. The issues are made clear in these philosophical pieces. For my part, I am not convinced by Clark’s replies that he really faced scripturally the following objection by Nash to his epistemology:

Argument I: Clark contends:

P 1. Any position that leads to skepticism is false.
P 2. Empiricism leads to skepticism.
C 1. Empiricism is false.

Argument II: Furthermore, Clark argues:

P 3. Man cannot know anything through his senses (from C 1).
P 4. Human knowledge is limited to the contents of divine revelation (The Bible).
P 5. But man cannot know the contents of the Bible save through his senses. [Nash’s contention]
C 2. Therefore, man cannot know the truths God has revealed in the Bible.

Argument III:

P 6. The only knowledge available to man is contained in the Bible (from P 4).
P 7. But, for Clark, man cannot attain knowledge (from C 2).
C 3. It follows that Clark’s view reduces to skepticism.
C 4. It follows further that Clark’s view is false (from P 1). (cf. Festschrift, pp. 174-175)

As far as I can discern, Clark counters Nash’s argument with a twofold response. First, he challenges Nash (and his other critics) to “define sensation and justify the assertion of universal propositions on that basis” (ibid., p. 415) He declares that all such efforts depend upon a “view of epistemology that I reject” (ibid.). Quite obviously then, no objection could persuade him to the contrary. In short, he rejects Nash’s P 5 in Argument II and declare that “an objection is satisfactorily answered if it can be shown to have no definite meaning” (ibid.). And, of course, no argument which depends on an epistemology which grants any role to sensory experience in the acquisition of knowledge to Clark has any meaning. Clark’s retort, I grant, is theoretically impregnable, but then does not his stance virtually become a “theoretical egoism”? But it should be recalled that earlier I declared that Clark gives a twofold response. Perhaps after all Clark does venture out of his citadel with a view that speaks directly to Nash’s difficulty. In his reply to Nash in one place he does attempt to explain how men can learn God’s thoughts apart from sensory experience. Quoting Acts 17:28, “In him we live, and move, and have our being,” Clark affirms that “the New Testament is clear: we live and move and have our being in God’s mind,” and he then draws the conclusion that “our existence in the mind of God puts us in contact with the ideas in the mind of God.” Quoting 1 Corinthians 2:16 and Philippians 2:5, Clark asserts that these verses mean that “our mind and Christ’s mind overlap or have a common area or coincide in certain propositions” (ibid., pp. 406-407). This obviously means for Clark that our thoughts, indeed, our very existence, are real only in the sense that God is thinking us and our thoughts. But this is a form of absolute idealism. Aside from the fact that the above interpretations are based on faulty exegesis, such a view hardly takes the Scripture writers seriously who always represent the objective creation as something other than God’s mere thoughts about it, that is, as a space-occupying entity standing off over against God as something other that God (but not free from God).

All this arises from Clark’s particular kind of rationalistic idealism. But there are scores of biblical passages which teach by inference, if not directly, that sensory experience plays a role in knowledge acquisition (e.g., Matt. 12:3; 19:4; 21:16; 22:32; Mark 12:10; Rom. 10:14). It seems to me, before he will convince many Christians of his position, that Clark must explain satisfactorily (in another way than is virtually universally taken) literally hundreds of passages of Scripture which employ the words “see,” “hear,” “read,” “listen,” etc. At this time, I for one am not convinced that he is in accord with Scripture when he denies to the senses a role in knowledge acquisition and would hope that he would take the Greek skeptics less seriously and the implications in many of the “subsidiary axioms” of Scripture more seriously than he does.

To conclude this section, in Van Til’s thought I have difficulty with both his insistence upon the analogical relation of human knowledge to God’s knowledge and his willingness to affirm the possibly of truth as paradox (seeming contradiction) for human understanding. In Clark’s thought I take exception to both his reduction of knowledge to his “axiom” and deducible propositions from it and his refusal to grant any epistemological legitimacy to the role that sense experience plays in knowledge acquisition.

3. Clark’s first response in Language and Theology, 1980.

On pages 142-152 of the chapter titled “A Christian Construction” in Language and Theology, Clark responds to Reymond’s comments from The Justification of Knowledge. He writes,

The general Christian public, however, who do not hold doctorates in philosophy, are more interested in an exegetical problem connected with the question previously mentioned: ‘Don’t you read your Bible?’ Dr. Robert L. Reymond of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, one of two critics who have summarized the position here maintained with commendable accuracy, puts the problem in its clearest terms. He writes,

There are scores of biblical passages which teach by inference, if not directly, that sensory experience plays a role in knowledge acquisition, (e.g., Matt. 12:3; 19:4; 21:16; 22:32; Mark 12:10; Rom. 10:14). It seems to me, before he will convince many Christians of his position, that Clark must explain satisfactorily (in another way than is virtually universally taken) literally hundreds of passages of Scripture which employ the words “see,” “hear,” “read,” “listen,” etc. At this time, I for one am not convinced that he is in accord with Scripture when he denies to the senses a role in knowledge acquisition and would hope that he would take the Greek skeptics less seriously and the implications in many of the “subsidiary axioms” of Scripture more seriously than he does.

Two pages earlier he cites I John 1:1-3, which is perhaps more pointed than the others, for it says, “That which … we have heard … seen with our eyes … our hands have handled … that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you.” Do not these words guarantee that Christianity is a form of empiricism, a system based on experience?

Now, I am willing to exegete such verses and I shall do so, briefly here and more at length in a commentary on I John that should appear shortly. But first there are one or two minor phrases in Reymond’s paragraph that call for notice. His words “denies to the senses a role in knowledge acquisition” are vague, for they do not specify what role. Animals have more acute sensations than human beings; but they know no mathematics, construct no syllogisms, nor do they write narratives Sensation does not help them in these matters. Sleeping and eating play a role in knowledge acquisition in this life, for without them we would not remain in this life. But their role contributes notes to the content of knowledge. Nutrition plays a role, but it is not true that “Der Mensch ist was er isst.” [A man is what he eats.] Philosophers who insist on giving a role to sensation in the acquisition of knowledge should first define sensation, then show how sensation can become perception, and presumably how memory images can produce universal concepts by abstraction. If this is not their scheme, and it might not be, then they should describe in detail what their scheme is. It is not enough to speak vaguely about some role or other. Plato gave the senses the role of stimulating reminiscence. Presumably this role would not satisfy Dr. Reymond. St. Augustine, though he altered his views as he grew older, gave a different role to sensation; without too much distortion one might call it a stimulus to intellectual intuition. Would that satisfy Dr. Reymond? It is hard to say because Dr. Reymond himself does not give any role to sensation. No doubt he believes that there is some such role, but I must have missed on the page on which he tells what that role is. Now, it is not necessary for a critic to explain his own view in order to reject the view he is criticizing. But if one writes on The Justification of Knowledge, the readers expect a specific explanation. This ties in with the second defect in the paragraph quoted. He thinks that I take the Greek skeptics too seriously. Of course, it is not the Greek skeptics alone that I take seriously. There are also Montaigne, Descartes, Bayle, Hume, and the contemporary experiments in psychology. It would be my desire that Dr. Reymond, with his considerable ability, might take all skepticism more seriously. Responsibility to the task of apologetics demands it. Unfortunately several conservative apologists, with whose theological views I am in substantial agreement, seem to me to have evaded this basic problem. It has been stated clearly in this monograph, and I cannot believe that it should not be taken seriously. Just one more minor point: Dr. Reymond’s disagreement with my reply to Dr. Nash (pp. 112-113) omits one essential fact: the fact that Dr. Nash does not correctly report my view. He asserts that I hold “Man cannot know the contents of the Bible save through the senses.” If I am correct in assuming that Reymond and Nash both reject the view that a sensation can be no more than a stimulus to recollection or intellectual intuition, then Nash does not correctly state my view, and hence his deductions from this statement are inapplicable to me.

However, we must get closer to exegesis. Before examining I John 1:1-3, it may be well to note that the word sensation (aisthesis) occurs only once in the New Testament: Philippians 1:9. neither KJ, RSV, NAS, nor NIV translate it sensation. It does not mean sensation. Hebrews 5:14 has ta aistheteria (the faculties of sensation). Some translators have “senses”; but clearly the word does not mean senses in the sense used in discussion on sensation. Dr. Reymond’s book does not explain a theory of language; and I would be the last to assign to him a view of language he does not hold. I only surmise that he rejects the theory of ordinary language, by which meanings are fixed by usage, for he seems to use the words see, hear, sense without considering how they are used in ordinary and scriptural language.

What did the Apostle John mean when he spoke of seeing with the eyes and handling with the hands? Did he mean aisthesis, proper sensibles, common sensibles, sensation per accidens, or what? (Footnote: Cf. Martin, Clark, Clarke, Ruddick, A History of Philosophy (New York: F. S. Crofts and Co., 1941), pp. 161ff.)

In Greek the first word of I John designates the Word of life, who in verse 4 is identified as Jesus Christ. Since the Epistle and the Gospel have the same author, it is permissible to connection this Word of Life with the Word of John 1:1. And no one should object if we equate this Word with him whom Paul calls “the Power of God” and “the Wisdom of God.” This second person of the Trinity is the subject of John’s declaration Can this eternal Wisdom be heard with the ears, seen with the eyes, and handled with the hands? Is the second person of the Trinity an object of sense? The word hearing comes first; seeing comes second. This discussion will take them in turn.

As for hearing, one should note that no one can ever hear a piece of music or a line of poetry. Our opponents, who insist on sensation as the origin of knowledge, cannot well object to an instance taken from experience. St. Augustine pointed out that to “hear” music or poetry, one must at least “perceive” the rhythm. But there is no rhythm in a single sensation. Even beyond perception it is necessary to have memory before a line of poetry can be recognized as poetry. A single sound has no rhythm or meter. The first sounds of a line must be remembered until the last sound occurs; note also that the first sound no longer exists when the last sound sounds. Therefore no one ever senses music or poetry. This Augustinian remark should satisfy any empiricist; but, of course, it is not exegesis.

As the noun aisthesis in Scripture does not mean sensation, so, too the verb to hear does not do so, either. Exodus 15:14 says, “The people shall hear and be afraid.” The meaning is that the enemies of Israel will understand the danger of being defeated in battle. In Number 9:8 someone might want to insist that God spoke in audible words; but in any case an understanding of the directions is not found in the vibrations of the air or eardrums. Deuteronomy 1:43 indicates that Moses spoke audible words. Of course, the people heard. But the verse says they did not hear. What is mean is that the Israelites did not obey. II Kings 14:11 says that “Amaziah would not hear.” Job 27:9, “Will not God hear his cry?” Other references also, such as Psalm 3:4, speak of God’s hearing prayers. Obviously, the verb hear does not designate a sensation, for God has no eardrums to be affected by air vibrations. No sensation is possible in this case. The verse in Job means, of course, that God will not favor the hypocrite by granting his petition. Similarly, Psalm 4:1, with its tow instances of the verb hear, has nothing to do with sensation. The language is figurative.

Deuteronomy 29:4 allows a transition from hearing to seeing. He verse refers to “eyes to see and ears to hear”; but does it refer to the sense of sight? The phrase is similar to that in I John, “seen with our eyes … and our hands have handled.” The verse in Deuteronomy says that God did not give the Israelites eyes to see and ears to hear. Does this mean that the Israelites had no eyeballs, retinas, and appendages on the side of the head? It does not mean even that the Israelites could not literally perceive: “the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive.” The language is figurative and means, perhaps that they did no understand what God meant, or, more likely, that they understood but refused to obey. Hence, the language of I John does not necessarily, nor plausibly, refer to sensation and empiricism.

Genesis 3:5 is not a reference to eyeballs and retina. Genesis 16:4 does not mean eyesight. Even though Psalm 13:3 refers to death, the word eyes is not literal. Similarly, Psalm 119:18. This instance cannot possibly refer to sensation, for what is to be “seen” is completely invisible. Then, most ridiculous of all, ‘the eyeballs of the Lord, on little feet, run to and fro throughout the whole earth’ (II Chronicles 16:9)

A most interesting event occurs in Daniel 5:5, which says, “In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote [Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin] . . . and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.” Was this a sensation or an hallucination? Would it have been valid for Belshazzar to infer that he saw a physical hand? The astrologers saw the writings, but was this ‘seeing’ a sensation? Did the writing remain visible on the wall until the Medes broke in and killed Belshazzar? This last question cannot be answers from the text; but it should be clear that Belshazzar’s ‘seeing’ was not what modern common opinion nor certainly modern philosophic opinion calls sensation.

Next consider a few verses from the New Testament. Acts 2:27, 31 says, “Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption … his soul was not left in hell, neither did his flesh see corruption.” This can hardly be taken as a denial of some color sensation. Acts 28:26, 27 repeats in Greek the Hebrew phrases of seeing and not perceiving; closing their eyes lest they should see with their eyes. How can this refer to sensations of color, for all visual sensations must be sensations of color and nothing else. In I Corinthians 1:26 the seeing cannot possibly be a sensation.

Further Scripture references may be added: Job 19:26, “I shall see God” cannot be understood as sensation, for God is not a colored body. Jeremiah 1:11, 13, though visions are not the sense of sight. Genesis 2:19, 11:5, and 31:50 are not about sensations. Since Moses’ body lay buried on the east side of the Jordan, did Peter see Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration? And as for Peter, allow this paraphrase of Matthew 16:13-17: Whom do men say that I am? … And Jesus said, … Peter, you never arrived at that conclusion through any empirical investigation: it was revealed to your mind by my Father. Clearly the verb to see does not always, perhaps not even usually, refer to sensation.

This must suffice for the hundred of verses to which Dr. Reymond alludes. I hesitantly suggest that his exegesis is defective because of the imposition of an untenable epistemology. But now I John. As in the Gospel of John 12:40, here, too, there is no reference to empirical sensations. The object, namely, the Word of life, the Reason and Wisdom of God, is not a physical object and cannot be literally seen and handled. It does not have a color, no any degree of hardness, wetness, or any quality of touch. Explicitly in I John the object is the truth of proposition, “God is light.” This proposition cannot be seen in any literal sense. Therefore since words are arbitrary signs, whose meaning is fixed by ordinary language, the hundreds of scriptural verbs to which empirical apologists refer, do not support the role of sensation which presumably—though they are never clear on what this role is—those apologists desire to give it.

To finish, once and for all, with the question, ‘Don’t you read your Bible?’ Abraham Kuyper in The Work of the Holy Spirit (I, 4, p. 57), beginning with a quotation from Guido de Bres, says, “That which we call Holy Scripture is not paper with black impressions.’ Those letters are but tokens of recognition; those words are only clicks of the telegraph key signaling thoughts to our spirits along the lines of our visual and auditory nerves. And the thoughts so signaled are not isolate and incoherent, but parts of a complete system that is directly antagonistic to man’s thought, yet enters their sphere.” The analogy may still be too behavioristic, but the main thought is sound.

One or two other points that Reymond makes are also worthy of mention. I have mentioned that, taking the scriptural truths as axioms, all knowledge is deducible from them. In opposition to this, Reymond and others object that this limits too much the extent of human knowledge. Reymond argues that if knowledge is limited to scriptural implications, we know nothing at all. “I suggest that this would lead to skepticism, if not total ignorance” (ibid., p. 110). Surely this is remarkable: if we know the Bible, we know nothing! At the bottom of the page Reymond repeats, “So where am I left? It would appear with no certain knowledge of anything!” It would seem to me, contrariwise, that if a theologian can deduce six hundred pages of theology from Scripture, he knows quite a lot.

Of course, he does not know everything. On the view here defended knowledge is indeed limited. But what epistemology can guarantee omniscience to man? If Reymond will retract this inference to complete ignorance, I am willing to acknowledge that some truths he very much wants to know are not obtainable on my theory.

On the previous page Reymond had suggested that the Westminster Confession does not restrict knowledge to what can be deduced from Scripture. What those divines as individuals believed, I cannot say. There was one seventeenth century writer, whom unfortunately I am unable to name, who held it possible to be infallible on one point and mistaken on others. His example was the ‘infallible’ knowledge of a ship-captain regarding the approach to a harbor. This hardly seems correct. But whatever the Westminster divines themselves thought, and whether some of them allowed for more extensive knowledge, Calvin limits knowledge to scriptural truth. In the Festschrift, The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark (pp. 92, 410, 486), one quotation from Calvin is given, and in another of my volumes a second is given. The one in the Festschrift is, “I call that knowledge, not what is innate in man, nor what is by diligence acquired, but that which is delivered to us by the Law and the Prophets.”

Cannot Calvin support his view by the statement of Paul in Colossians 2:3? “In whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hid.” If so, then no one will find knowledge elsewhere. Note also that the French Confession of 1559 says, “The Word contained in these [canonical] books … is the rule of all truth” (la regle de toute verite).

The one piece of ignorance that Reymond seems most anxious to press against my view is knowledge of oneself. Self-knowledge has indeed been a philosophical ideal ever since Socrates said, Gnothi seauton. But it is very difficult. Plotinus’ Enneads, the extreme difficulty of which philosophers all acknowledge, can be understood as a gigantic attempt to achieve self-knowledge. Even those who think the ideal is possible of attainment must wonder whether anyone has succeeded. Now, Dr. Reymond laments that, on my theory, “Reymond is unknowable to himself and to everyone else except God” (p. 110). He very correctly and adequately explains my reasons for saying so. I might add that I would be delighted to know Reymond myself, for he is a most interesting and gracious conversationalist. But two factors preclude this desideratum. First, “Reymond” is not a simple object of knowledge. “Reymond” is a name given to a very lengthy complex of propositions. On Dr. Reymond’s position it must be possible to know some of these propositions without knowing others. On his position, if I dare guess at it, this must be the case. It is only a guess because he never says who or what he is. So perhaps Dr. Reymond does not know himself. This is not too surprising. Pendennis did not know himself. Or if this literary reference is not sufficiently classical, neither did Oedipus Rex. But these are only irritating ad hominem remarks. Like the Duchess’ little boy, I only do it to annoy, because I know it teases.

Therefore, second, the Scripture says, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Did Peter know himself when he said, “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I”? Did Dr. X, who as a young man strenuously championed the inerrancy of Scripture and later asserted that Paul did not speak the truth in his epistles, now himself? Did Mr. Y., a good seminary student, know that he would die an alcoholic? Did tragic Z, a most faithful servant of the Lord for many years, know that he would be a suicide? Who can know himself? Maybe God is merciful in not revealing that knowledge to us.

In addition to the two scriptural references in the previous paragraph, consider Psalm 136:6. The psalm as a whole extols the knowledge of God; but in doing so casts doubt on a man’s knowledge of himself. “O Lord, though has searched me and known me. . . . Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain to it.” If anyone dislikes this verse, or to put it more politely, dislikes my use of this verse, he should set down on paper the knowledge of himself claims to know, and then demonstrate conclusively how he obtained that knowledge. Otherwise, objections to my view are simply begging the question.

The arguments that Reymond and others offer against my position are often plausible. To most people they sound like plain common sense. But sense not to mention common sense, offers such enormous difficulties that I must be content with y more limited knowledge.

Furthermore, Reymond himself is not an empiricist and cannot consistently make use of sensation in constructing his apologetics. His account of Thomas Aquinas attests to that. Then, with reference to Francis Schaeffer he writes, “Surely Schaeffer is aware that what a man observes is dependent on his religious pou sto. What Schaeffer observes may not be at all what another man observes” (p. 142). Yes, indeed! But how, then, can Reymond, in opposition to my detailed arguments, insist on the infallible givenness of sensation? Note also, “I am not convinced that the world is so self-evidently the world that Schaeffer sees” (p. 144). Wonderful! Then, too, Reymond’s appeal to Scripture alone, on the following page, is much to my liking: “it is Scritpure alone … not the observed phenomena.” And when he quotes me, in such a gracious fashion, against my other good friend Montgomery (p. 155), I fail to see his consistency. And since I hold him in high regard, I understand him to have accepted my position in his concluding paragraph, of which two clauses are: “the authority of the word of the self-attesting Christ of Scripture is the only ground sufficiently ultimate to justify human truth claims, and until his word is placed at the basis of a given knowledge system, that system remains unjustified and no truth assertion [none whatever] within it can be shown to have any meaning at all” (emphasis added).

If my esteemed colleague—and I do esteem him—wishes to make Scripture the sole basis of all knowledge, and then add on something from a different source, his consistency eludes me. Does he favor a Kantian combination of a priori forms and sensory content? Does he have two a priori forms of receptivity and twelve for spontaneity? This is another way of asking whether he can construct an integrated system. Similarly, he must provide a theory of language that not only preserves biblical inspiration, but also shows how black marks on white paper gives us the doctrine of the Trinity. Until he does so, he has no basis for rejecting other views.

4. Clark’s first response repeated in “A Christian Construction, Part 2,” 1981.

In this audio lecture from the Gordon-Conwell Lectures on Apologetics, Clark reads from his Language and Theology and occasionally provides additional comments. Below is the text of the audio below with Clark’s added comments bolded.

Dr. Robert L. Reymond of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, one of two critics who have summarized the position here maintained with commendable accuracy, puts the problem in its clearest terms. He writes,

“There are scores of Biblical passages which teach by inference if not directly that sensory experience plays a role in knowledge acquisition.” And he gives these various Scriptural references. “It seems to me” (me here refers to Reymond) “it seems to me that he (that’s myself) that he will convince many Christians of his position,” or “it seems to me before he will convince many Christians of his position, that Clark must explain satisfactorily in another way which is virtually universally taken, literally hundreds of passages of Scriptures which employ the words see, hear, read, listen, and so on.” “At this time I am not convinced” (he puts it very modestly doesn’t he). “At this time I am not convinced that he is accord with Scripture when he denies to the senses a role in knowledge acquisition and would hope that he would take the Greek skeptics less seriously and the implications in many of the subsidiary axioms of Scriptures more seriously than he does.”

Ah, Robert Reymond is a good friend of mine. In fact, I’m on very good terms with all my enemies, I mean my apologetic enemies.

Well, that was a quotation from Reymond. Two pages earlier he cites I John 1:1-3 which is perhaps more pointed than the others. For it says, “that which we have heard, seen with our eyes, our hands have handled, that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.” Do not these words guarantee of empiricism, a system based on experience?

I might tell you that I’ve written a commentary on First John and if you want to get my more extended exegesis of the first four verses I hope you can find a copy of it somewhere and annoy yourself by reading it.

Now, I am willing to exegete such verses and I shall do so, briefly here and more at length in a commentary on First John that should appear shortly but has now appeared. But first there are one or two minor phrases in Reymond’s paragraph that call for notice. His words “denies to the senses a role in knowledge acquisition” are vague. For the do not specify what role. And, I have talked with Reymond personally and asked him make it clear what role does he give to sensation. And neither to me in conversation nor in his books does he give any notion of the role sensation plays. There are some things maybe it … well … anyhow.

Philosophers who insist on giving a role to sensation in the acquisition of knowledge should first define sensation, which they never do, at least the Christian apologetes never do. Then show how sensation can become perception, which they never do. And presumably how memory images can produce universal concepts by abstraction. If this is not their scheme, and that is the usual scheme in the history of philosophy, if that is not their scheme, and it might not be, then they should describe in detail what their scheme is. It is not enough to speak vaguely about some role or another. Plato gave the senses role of stimulating reminiscence. Presumably this role would not satisfy Dr. Reymond. St. Augustine, though he altered his views as he grew older, gave a different role to sensation, and without too much distortion one may call it a “stimulus to intellectual intuition.” And in addition to this, you might if, I don’t suppose you will, I have written an article on the role of sensation of Plotinus. Well, he gave a role to sensation, but I don’t think Reymond would agree with the role that Plotinus assigned to sensation. You can look up my article if you want to. You’ll find it somewhere or another. And so on. These things ought to be made …

Well, Augustine and Plotinus and so on assign a role to sensation. But I don’t think it would satisfy Dr. Reymond. It is hard to say whether it would or not, because Dr. Reymond himself does not give any role to sensation. No doubt he believes that there is some such role. But I must have missed the page on which he tells what that role is. Now, it is not necessary for a critic to explain his own view in order to reject the view he is criticizing. But, if one writes on The Justification of Knowledge, and that is the title of Reymond’s book, the readers expect a specific explanation. This ties in with the second defect in the paragraph quoted. He thinks that I take the Greek skeptics too seriously. Of course it is not the Greek skeptics alone that I take seriously. There are also Montaigne, Descartes, Bayle, Hume, and the contemporary experiments in psychology. It would be my desire that Dr. Reymond, with his considerable ability, might take all skepticism more seriously. Responsibility to the task of apologetics demands it. Unfortunately several conservative apologetes, with whose theological views I’m in substantial agreement, seem to me to have evaded this basic problem. It has been stated clearly in this monograph. I cannot believe it should not be taken seriously. Just one more minor point. Dr. Reymond’s disagreement with my reply to Dr. Nash omits one essential fact. The fact that Dr. Nash does not correctly report my view. He asserts that I hold “man cannot know the contents of the Bible by save through the senses.” Now he assigns that to me. If I am correct in assuming Reymond and Nash both reject the view that a sensation can be no more than a stimulus to recollection or intellectual intuition, then Nash does not correctly state my view and hence his deductions from this statement are inapplicable to me.

However, we must get closer to exegesis. Before examining First John 1:1-3 or 1-4 it may be well to note that the word sensation, αἴσθησις [aisthēsis], occurs only once in the New Testament, Philippians 1:9. Neither King James, Revised Standard Version, New American Standard, or the NIV, none of these translate it “sensation.” It does not mean sensation. And, you know, if they want to base a sensation-ist view on Scripture you would think they’d have to find the word sensation somewhere in Scripture. But this is the only place it occurs in the New Testament and here it doesn’t mean sensation. Hebrews 5:14 has τὴν ἕξιν τὰ αἰσθητήρια, the faculties of sensation. Some translators have “senses.” But clearly the word does not mean senses in the sense usually used in the discussions on sensation. Dr. Reymond’s book does not explain a theory of language. And I would be the last to assign to him a view of language he does not hold. I only surmise that he rejects the theory of ordinary language by which meanings are fixed by usage. For he seems to use the words see, hear, sense without considering how they are used in ordinary language and in Scriptural language.

One or two other points that Reymond makes are also worthy of mention. I have mentioned that taking the scriptural truths as axiom, all knowledge is deducible from them. In opposition to this, Reymond objects that this limits too much the extent of human knowledge. Reymond argues that if knowledge is limited to scriptural implications, we know nothing at all. Quote “I suggest that this would lead to skepticism if not total ignorance.” Surely this is remarkable, if we know the Bible we know nothing? At the bottom of the page Reymond repeats, “so where am I left? That it would appear with no certain knowledge of anything.” It would seem to me (that’s myself) contrariwise, that if a theologian can deduce 600 pages of theology from Scripture, he knows quite a lot.

Of course, he does not know everything. On the view here defended, knowledge is indeed limited. But what epistemology can guarantee omniscience to man? If Reymond will retract this inference to complete ignorance, I am willing to acknowledge that some truths he very much wants to know are not obtainable on my theory. On the previous page, Reymond suggested that the Westminster Confession does not restrict knowledge to what can be deduced from Scripture. What’s this? That sentence is correct. On the previous page, Reymond suggested that the Westminster Confession does not restrict knowledge to what can be deduced from Scripture. What those divines as individuals believed I cannot say. There was one 17th century writer, who unfortunately I’m unable to name, who held it possible to be infallible on one point and mistaken on others. His example was the infallible knowledge of a ship captain regarding the approach to a harbor. This hardly seems correct. But whatever the Westminster Divines themselves thought, and whether some of them allowed for more extensive knowledge, Calvin limits knowledge to Scriptural truth.

Ah, that’s the truth, I didn’t make any mistake about that. The one piece of ignorance with Reymond seems most anxious to press against my view is knowledge of oneself. Self-knowledge has indeed been a philosophical ideal ever since Socrates said “γνῶθι σεαυτόν.” It is very difficult. Plotinus’ Enneads, the extreme difficulty of which philosophers all acknowledge, can be understood as a gigantic attempt to achieve self-knowledge. Even those who think the idea is possible of attainment, must wonder whether anybody has succeeded. Now Dr. Reymond laments that on my theory, Reymond is unknowable to himself and to everyone else except God. He very correctly and adequately explains my reasons for saying so. I might add that I’d be delighted to know Reymond myself, for he is a most-interesting and gracious conversationalist. But two factors preclude this desideratum. First, Reymond is not a simply object of knowledge. Reymond is a name given to a very lengthy complex of propositions. On Dr. Reymond’s position it must be possible to know some of these propositions without knowing others. On his position, if I dare guess at it, this must be the case. It is only a guess because he never says who or what he is. So perhaps Dr. Reymond does not know himself. This is not too surprising.

Furthermore, Reymond himself is not an empiricist, and cannot consistently make use of sensation in constructing his apologetics. His account of Thomas Aquinas attests to this. Then, with reference to Francis Schaeffer, he writes, “Surely Schaeffer is aware that what a man observes is dependent on his religious pou stou.” “What Schaeffer observes may not be at all what another man observes.” Yes indeed. Well then how can Reymond, in opposition to my detailed arguments, insist on the infallible givenness of sensation? “Note also that I am not convinced that the world is so self-evidently the world that Schaeffer sees.” Wonderful. Then too, Reymond’s appeal to Scripture alone on the following pages is much to my liking. It is Scripture alone, not the observed phenomenon. And when quotes me is such gracious fashion against my other good friend Montgomery, I fail to see his consistency. And since I hold him in high regard I understand him to have accepted my position in his concluding paragraph of which two clauses are “the authority of the word of the self-attesting Christ of Scripture is the only ground sufficient ultimately to justify human truth claims.” “And until his word is placed as the basis of a given knowledge system, that system remains unjustified and no true assertion within it can be shown to have any meaning at all.” That sounds as if I wrote it, doesn’t it. That’s what Rayburn wrote. I don’t mean Rayburn, I mean Reymond. Two men up there, Reymond and Rayburn and I get them mixed up sometimes. Doesn’t it sound like me?

No, I don’t intend you would tell from sound. And when I said “Doesn’t that sound like me” I didn’t mean sound. If my esteemed colleague, and I do esteem him, wishes to make Scripture the sole basis of all knowledge, and then add on something from a different source, his consistency eludes me. Does he favor a Kantian combination of a priori forms and sensory content? Does he have two a priori forms of receptivity and twelve for spontaneity? This is another way of asking if he can construct an integrated system. Similarly, he must provide a theory of language that not only preserves Biblical inspiration but also shows how black marks on white paper can give us the doctrine of the Trinity. Until he does so, he has no basis for rejecting other views.

5. Clark’s / Robbins’ response in Clark Speaks from the Grave, 1986.

It appears to me that this chapter (from pages 19-30) is written by Clark but likely edited by John Robbins. The material need not be repeated here as it doesn’t seem that any new arguments are made. It is possible that Clark wrote the chapter as his “posthumous lecture” joked about in an audio lecture and noted at the beginning of this book. But there are phrases uncharacteristic of him, like “Clark completely demolished Reymond’s interpretation.”

Though Robbins likely edited this section of the book, it should be noted that the title of the book Clark Speaks from the Grave was known by (and thus probably approved by) Clark himself. Clark writes on 1/11/1985 (three months prior to his death) to John Robbins, “You may return Clark Speaks from the Grave, especially if you think it needs changing because of later publications.”

6. Reymond’s later works.

Reymond often cites and even praises Gordon Clark in his later writings. In his Contending for the Faith (2005), for example, he calls Clark “The highly-esteemed philosopher-theologian of revered memory.” In addition, Reymond also continued to take Clark’s side against Van Til’s “analogism.”

It seems, however, that he never came to agree with Clark’s epistemology. On the one hand he wrote some things Clark would certainly agree with. For example, in Reymond’s Faith’s Reason’s for Believing (2008) he writes, “Thus those who begin with sense-experience, having traded the infallible biblical axiom of revelation for the fallible secular axiom of sensation, fail to realize that such a beginning can provide us with no knowledge at all.” But, on the other hand, despite Clark’s critiques, Reymond did not turn course from his positions in The Justification of Knowledge.

In A New Systematic Theology (1998) and copied also in Faith’s Reason’s for Believing (2008) Reymond writes,

Taking all his directions from the transcendent pou sto of the divine mind revealed n Holy Scripture, the Christian affirms, first, the created actuality of a real world of knowing persons and knowable objects external to these knowing persons. Second, he affirms the legitimate necessity of both sensory experience and the reasoning process in the activity of learning, for the Scriptures themselves authenticate the legitimacy of these tools of learning. Finally, he happily acknowledges that the divine mind that has revealed something of its knowledge in Scripture is his pou sto for universals in order to justify his truth claims. In short, he makes the Word of the self-attesting Christ of Scripture the epistemic basis for all reasoning and knowledge, even when reasoning about reason or about God’s revelation.

As far as I can tell, Reymond never answered Clark’s rebuttals. That is, Reymond speaks of the “legitimate necessity of sensory experience” but never specifies the role of sensory experience in knowledge acquisition. How are legitimate sensory experiences distinguished from illegitimate mirages, hallucinations, and spatial misjudgments?

Virtually all of Clark’s responses still apply to Reymond’s later works. At least at one point Reymond rejects Kantianism, so that is positive gain. But Reymond cannot be said to have ever come to Clark’s Scripturalist epistemology. Reymond doesn’t seem to have any definite epistemology. As Clark wrote of Reymond’s 1976 book, we can say also of Reymond’s similarly named chapter in A New Systematic Theology, “if one writes on The Justification of Knowledge, the readers expect a specific explanation.”

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About douglasdouma

I am a graduate of the University of Michigan (BSME), Wake Forest University (MBA), and Sangre de Cristo Seminary (Mdiv). I've learned far more from books than in school. I'm particularly in debt to Martin Luther, Ludwig von Mises, and Gordon H. Clark for any thoughts I have.
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4 Responses to Robert L. Reymond and Gordon H. Clark

  1. Ellen S says:

    I am happy to know Clark knew of the title ‘Clark Speaks From the Grave.’ I’m sure he enjoyed the humor, in fact, I’d guess he suggested it!
    Hmm, might have to read this entry over a couple more times to grasp it better.

  2. Pingback: Scripturalism and the Cessation of Continued Revelation | A Place for Thoughts

  3. Nick Sabato says:

    Doug. Thank you for writing this post. I haven’t had time to read the whole thing yet, but I am printing it out not only to upset the ecolibs by putting it on physical paper but to keep inside my copy of Reymond’s Systematic Theology. i have been wondering about how to categorize Reymond’s epistemology for some time. He seemed very much Clarkian to me but when I saw Clark pulling apart pieces of Reymond’s Justification of Knowledge I wasn’t sure. Thank you for your research. Keep up the great work.

    I also started reading your The Presbyterian Philosopher. This has also been a tremendous blessing for me, especially the chapter on presuppositionalism.

    In Christ,
    Nick

  4. Pingback: Clark and Van Til on Barth, Part 4. | A Place for Thoughts

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