Some things that didn’t make the cut for “The Presbyterian Philosopher”

I began discussing some things on the Gordon H. Clark Discussions Forum that did not make the cut for “The Presbyterian Philosopher,” the biography of Dr. Clark that I had published earlier this year.

So I thought I’d note some of these things, and maybe explain why they didn’t make the cut.

1. First, maybe this is a good time to list the articles of Dr. Clark that I’m still looking for. I found hundreds of published and unpublished papers during research into the biography and posted just about all of them on the Gordon H. Clark Foundation website. But I still haven’t found the following. If you have access to these, please let me know!

Articles in The United Presbyterian, 20 March 1950, p. 10; September 1950, p. 4-6; 10 October 1953, p. 20; 30 December 1956, p. 9.
1948. In American People’s Encyclopedia. Chicago: The Spencer Press., Democritus, Emanation.
1949. In Collier’s Encyclopedia, New York: P.F. Collier and Son. Zeno.
1967. Are We Straight on Sunday? Reformed Presbyterian Reporter, Dec.
???? Faith and Presumption in Prayer, Jan. 16, RPCES 2

2. I really wanted to look into an episode at Westminster Theological Seminary where five members of the board of trustees resigned in 1946 (effective 1947). These five were Edwin Rian, A. K. Davidson, Lawrence Gilmore, Matthew McCroddan, and J. Enoch Faw. But why did they all resign? I think this could be related to the Clark – Van Til controversy then ongoing in the OPC. I could not find any information about the reasons for the trustees’ resignations. Some comments about them were noted in the papers of Ned Stonehouse, I recall.

3. I noted the “proto-presuppositionalists” James Orr and Abraham Kuyper as precursors to the work of Clark, Van Til, and others. I had considered mentioning Valentine Hepp, Kuyper’s successor at the Free University of Amsterdam. I avoided mentioning him, however, because of lack of source material. I suspect that he largely followed Kuyper. I’m not aware of any of his own contributions to apologetics. I’d be glad to learn more.

4. I debated long and hard whether to present a major challenge to Clark’s philosophy, and a possible solution to it. This challenge is related to the doctrine of “divine simplicity.” Simply put, how is it that Dr. Clark held to divine simplicity while also arguing for the univocity of man’s knowledge and God’s knowledge? That is, if God’s attributes are really one, such that any individual attribute necessarily entails all the others, how can man know anything (and presumably share that attribute as “a knower of x” with God) but not have all of God’s attributes? I had considered making a grand contention that the Clark – Van Til controversy really was about Divine Simplicity. Van Til’s “Creator-creature” distinction is certainly related closely to Divine Simplicity. But the controversy never actually mentions Divine Simplicity, and no one seems to have asked Clark about this later. I spent months thinking about this topic, and am not satisfied with my understanding of it, nor of any “solution” in Clark or elsewhere. I’ve collected series of quotes from Clark related to the topic. Maybe at some point I’ll try to work this out further and present it.

5. One letter I never got permission to quote in the biography, and which I will leave anonymous mentioned:

“[One minister] was talking to me about Van Til’s apologetics. he said he believes he understands it thoroughly, but he does not believe that Westminster is carrying on the Old Princeton tradition—especially in this particular subject. He believes the questions of Dr Clark’s ordination (to be brought up at the Assembly) is one between those who hold to Old Princeton’s position and that of the Dutch or Van Til’s.” (An OPC member, May 16, 1944)

This is an interesting letter, but it is my contention that neither Dr. Van Til nor Dr. Clark followed Old Princeton’s position on apologetics and epistemology.

6. Finally, some things about the relationship between Dr. Clark, Dr. Robbins, and Dr. Zeller.

I spent three years studying at Sangre de Cristo Seminary under their emeritus president (and son-in-law of Dr. Clark) Dr. Dwight Zeller and his son (Dr. Clark’s grandson) the president of the seminary Dr. Andrew Zeller. I highly respect each of these men and think higher of the Zeller family than about any other I know. The lives of Dr. Clark and the elder Zeller coincided such that they knew each other for over 30 years; from the time Dr. Zeller married Dr. Clark’s daughter in 1955 until Dr. Clark’s death in 1985. Neither the elder nor the younger Dr. Zeller are strict “Clarkians” but have certainly been influenced by their “Dad” Clark. They are both retired military chaplains and Reformed ministers with their credentials in the PCA.

That being said, I trust the accuracy and fairness of the things they told me.

Likewise, for the record, though I never met Dr. Robbins, who died in 2008, I do respect his work. And so, when noting differences between Dr. Zeller and Dr. Robbins, I want to believe that they each had some valid points, but largely “saw past each other.”

So, first, what did Dr. Clark think of Dr. Robbins? Extant letters, now published in Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark evidence a good relationship between Dr. Clark and Dr. Robbins. Dr. Clark twice writes letters of recommendation for Dr. Robbins and was grateful for his work with the Trinity Foundation to publish Dr. Clark’s books. Dr. Clark had had plenty of frustrations with other publishers through the years and so was very glad for Robbins’ zeal in publishing his works.

But it is this same zeal for Dr. Clark’s thoughts (which as his biographer I surely understand and share!) that made Dr. Robbins a bit of a nuisance at times for Dr. Clark. In once instance, as Dr. Clark was in the hospital in his final days he received a call from Dr. Robbins. This is not surprising considering how Dr. Robbins’ cared for him. But, from Dr. Clark’s perspective, Dr. Robbins’ had apparently called many times through the years (they knew each other for about 12 years) and so Dr. Clark voiced his annoyance with Dr. Robbins’ calling him at that time. This I was told by the elder Dr. Zeller.

A more aggressive tone, perhaps, was mentioned by Dr. Zeller in recalling that one time (unknown year) Dr. Clark said to him, “I don’t trust that man” referring to Dr. Robbins. Now, the context for this is not clear, and its meaning shouldn’t be extended too far.

Finally, an episode I had in the biography but removed when I thought it too tangential to the topic at hand, occurred between Dr. Robbins and the elder Dr. Zeller in about 1999. This is where we specifically need to be gracious to both sides in a disagreement. The scene is that Dr. Robbins had been teaching a course on apologetics every 3 years at Sangre de Cristo since about 1990.

According to Dr. Zeller in an interview I conducted with him in 2015:

John [Robbins] had an article in his review [The Trinity Review] saying “there are no seminaries that teach solid Reformed theology” and he mentioned names. Well, a lot of these people were my friends, good Christian men. I told John, “You’re being inconsistent,” and he said [in a loud voice and pointing], “Tell me where I’m being inconsistent.” For him, being called inconsistent was equivalent to being called a sinner.

Finally, concerned about Robbins’s apologetical positions, Dr. Zeller asked him to write a paper on the place of charity in apologetics. Robbins refused, effectively ending his visiting professorship. It is possible that Zeller’s request for charity was interpreted by Robbins as a request for compromise in his system of apologetics. It seems to me, from my research, that the seminary didn’t handle the situation properly. That is, Dr. Robbins wasn’t notified of the decision and so didn’t know that he wasn’t coming back to teach. He was surprised to learn of the situation some time later. This was a very unfortunate affair.

So, let us not idolize any man, be he Clark, Robbins, Zeller or any one else. No two theologians will agree in all instances. Read, for example, the differences in political views in the series of letters between Dr. Clark and Dr. Robbins in Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark.

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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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