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.”

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

Fighting the Good Propaganda

I was asked by D. Clair Davis (former professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, 1966-2003) to evaluate a particular essay written by D. G. Hart and John Muether. This essay, “The OPC and the New Evangelicalism,” is contained in their co-authored book, Fighting the Good Fight, A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (Published by The Committee on Christian Education and The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1995).

I wouldn’t typically want to review a book (or essay) so many years after it was published, but I figured a review of it might be of some interest and value since the 15-page essay centers on the “Clark – Van Til Controversy” of which I have recently published three chapters on in my book The Presbyterian Philosopher, The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark.

The essay “The OPC and the New Evangelicalism” is to be praised for revealing that there were political matters in behind of and intertwined with the theological matters of the Clark – Van Til Controversy. But it is to be faulted for what its contends those political matters were, for its lack of objectivity as a historical essay, and for its factual errors.

FACTUAL ERRORS
Starting with the last, let us note some factual errors contained in the essay.

FACTUAL ERROR 1: LICENSURE AND ORDINATION AT THE SAME MEETING
The authors contend “He [Clark] was licensed to preach and ordained at the same meeting.” (p. 107). And they repeat “The presbytery should not have decided upon Clark’s licensure and ordination at the same meeting.” (p. 110). I’ve already noted this mistake in The Presbyterian Philosopher, p. 155, where I wrote, “in truth, there was a month between Clark’s licensing (July 7, 1944) and ordination (Aug 9, 1944). Furthermore, Clark’s application for ordination (May 9, 1942) was more than two years prior to these events. His ordination was anything but rushed.”

FACTUAL ERROR 2: THAT CLARK HELD HUMAN KNOWLEDGE TO BE “IDENTICAL” TO GODS KNOWLEDGE.
The authors contend that Clark held that human knowledge is “identical” to God’s knowledge. They write, “they [the thirteen signers of The Complaint] maintained against Clark that such human knowledge is never identical to God’s knowledge.” (p. 108). This has been a persistent error of those who have written on this topic.  It is true that The Complaint does once use the word “identical” referring to Clark’s view. The Complaint reads:

The far-reaching significance of Dr. Clark’s starting point, as observed under 1. above, is evident when we note that Dr. Clark holds that man’s knowledge of any proposition, if it is really knowledge, is identical with God’s knowledge of the same proposition.

But, it cannot be properly said that this which The Complaint maintained was “against” Clark, for Clark never held that man’s knowledge was “identical” to God’s knowledge.

In a previously unpublished paper of Gordon Clark’s from “Winter 1946/1947” Clark comments:

Before ending this part of the discussion, I wish to draw attention to the following assertions of the paper in question. On page 7, paragraph 1, are these words: “Dr. Clark’s fundamental insistence upon identity (italics theirs) of divine and human knowledge. . .” On page 8 near the bottom we find, “Dr. Clark insists upon identity of divine and human knowledge of a particular truth. . .” It is amazing that these men continue to circulate these false statements after I have so many times denied them, I denied them in the examination (cf. Transcript, 31:9–10). I denied them in The Answer (pages 20–21). I denied them in speeches in two Assemblies and in countless conversations. The Report of the committee to the thirteenth General Assembly denied them for me (page 3, next to the bottom paragraph). And in spite of all this, the committee for the complainants has neither seen nor heard these denial, and continue to make the same false statements. Truly, this is incomprehensible. (“Studies in the Doctrine of the Complaint,” published in Appendix C, The Presbyterian Philosopher, p. 265)

Rather, Clark held that man’s knowledge and God’s knowledge must be of the same (or identical) propositions. Yet, while the object of knowledge (the proposition) for Clark is identical between God and man, the mode in which man knows a proposition differs from the mode in which God knows a proposition, and thus knowledge itself is not identical. The false statement which Clark found (pun apparently intended) “incomprehensible” then in 1946/1947 continued to be made in Muether and Hart’s essay in 1995.

Whereas Clark explicitly and repeated emphasized the difference in the mode (or way) in which man knows (discursively) and the mode (or way) in which God knows (intuitively), Hart and Muether erroneously describe Clark’s position:

If we do not know the things God has revealed IN THE SAME WAY as God knows them, he [Clark] reasoned, then there is no connection between God’s and our knowledge and we are left with “unmitigated skepticism.” (p. 110)

POLITICAL MATTERS

REFORMED VS. AMERICAN OR DUTCH VS. PRESBYTERIAN?
The first two pages of the essay contend that the OPC, as a Reformed church, rejected Fundamentalism in the 1937 split with the Bible Presbyterians, and had a “coolness” to the new evangelicalism emerging in the 1940s. The next eight pages are on “The Clark Controversy” under the background of “relations between the OPC and other conservative Protestant denominations and organizations.” And the final four pages of the essay are on “The Character of the OPC.” This organization of the essay sets up what seems to be its major contention: Gordon H. Clark and his supporters were less Reformed than the group which opposed him. Hart and Muether write, “Clark’s most vociferous supporters wanted the OPC to be a church for all who opposed modernism” (p. 115) and “Ministers in the OPC who sided with Clark also hoped the church would become more evangelical than Reformed.” (p. 117) In other places Clark and his supporters are referred to as “American Presbyterians” or “the Americanist party (p. 108).”

This contention flows out of the framework of the essay that the “sometimes obscure theological debates … were always bound up with the larger question about the OPC’s relationship to the broader evangelical community and the church’s Presbyterian identity.” (p. 107)

Placing Clark and his supporters in a faction supporting greater ecumenicity, the authors appear to be linking them with the New Evangelicals. Though some of his supporters may have considered themselves more broadly evangelical, Clark saw himself as distinctly Reformed. As I argue in The Presbyterian Philosopher, the central focus of Clark’s work and life was dedication to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Presbyterianism’s defining confession.

Where Hart and Muether argue that “Clark’s most vociferous supporters wanted the OPC to be a church for all who opposed modernism,” I’ve noted of Clark himself,

In an article titled “An Appeal to Fundamentalists,” he encouraged like-minded Christians to come out of their faltering denominations and join the OPC. He was clear, however, to invite unity with fundamentalists only on the basis of following the doctrines of the original Reformers, namely the whole Reformed faith, not simply the basic tenets of fundamentalism which Clark likened to a house with a foundation but no roof. Clark’s vision was that the OPC would lead the fundamentalists under the banner of the teachings of the Westminster Confession of Faith  in their entirety. Thus, whereas Paul Woolley, in his article “Discontent!,” stated his belief that the goals of church growth and commitment to Reformed principles were mutually exclusive, Clark held that the two goals were compatible. (The Presbyterian Philosopher, p. 90)

Clark saw himself as Presbyterian, not some lesser neo-evangelical.

Though some of Clark’s supporters had sympathies for non-Reformed Fundamentalists (and thus deviated in some measure from historical Presbyterianism), the opponents of Clark deviated from historical Presbyterianism towards the views of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). For them, the CRC’s views became THE Reformed view. (see The Presbyterian Philosopher, p. 122-123.)

Hart and Muether note that the OPC did not join the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), but rather affiliated with the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (RES) consisting of itself, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), and the tiny Free Magyar Reformed Church in America. So the OPC got its wish of associating with its particular brand of Reformed theology as represented by the Dutch CRC from where Cornelius Van Til, Ned Stonehouse, and R. B. Kuiper had transferred.

Interestingly Hart and Muether note that John Murray’s minority report “reflected the theological convictions at the heart of Reformed theology.” And they contrast this with the majority who believed that a candidate, like Clark, should be licensed and ordained if he was in agreement with the “teaching of Scripture as expressed in the Westminster Confession.” But is not the Westminster Confession the “heart of Reformed theology?” Does this not betray where lies Murray’s theological convictions? Extra-confessional.

MISSING: OTHER POLITICAL MATTERS
Though Hart and Muether rightly note the question of the OPC relationship with other churches as figuring in to the controversy of the 1940s, they leave out a number of matters less pleasant to the history of the OPC.  These include questions of alcohol acceptance, the Reformed University project, and control of Westminster Theological Seminary. (See chapter 6 of The Presbyterian Philosopher)

HISTORICAL OBJECTIVITY
The essay contains many subtle elements which reveal that it was written not as objectively-minded history, but as a theologically-minded polemic; a propaganda piece of the OPC. The first of these subtleties occurs in the title of the essay itself, “The OPC and the New Evangelicalism” seeming to imply (along with other statements in the essay) that Clark was a neo-evangelical when Clark (whose case forms the majority of the essay) could hardly be placed in that camp. As also noted above, the essay uncritically takes the position of Van Til and The Complaint, misunderstanding Clark’s view of “identical.”

It is hardly historically objective to refer to one theologian, John Murray, as “notable, IF NOT UNIQUE, for his ability to derive clear doctrinal formulations from careful exegesis.” Protestantism does not have a pope.

ONE FINAL QUESTION
In a number of places in the essay reference is made to “THE qualitative distinction” between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge supposedly held by Van Til but not by Clark.

Clark’s opponents believed that Clark came perilously close to denying the qualitative distinction between the knowledge of the Creator and the knowledge of the creature. (p. 108-109)

While truth is one there is also a qualitative distinction between God’s knowledge and ours. (p. 114)

This “qualitative distinction” cannot be the mode (or way) since, as noted above, Clark held such a distinction. (Not to mention the The Complaint noted Clark’s distinction in mode saying it was good as such, but that another qualitative distinction was also needed). It cannot be the “object of knowledge” as Van Til affirmed such a distinction in 1948 and 1949. (see The Presbyterian Philosopher, 157-162). Rather the controversy became centered around the supposed distinction of “content” between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge. But it was this very term which Van Til refused to define. And likewise Hart and Muether seem unable to define it.

The whole controversy itself can be summed in a quote from a letter Gordon Clark wrote to D. Clair Davis, his student at Butler University, in 1952:

There was a question I asked the complainants which they refused to answer. If mode answers how we know, and object answers what we know, what question is answered by the idea of content? They have (to this day, as far as I know) refused to define content so as to distinguish it from mode and object.—GHC to D. Clair Davis, 14 October 1952.

Posted in Notes on the thought of Gordon H. Clark | 7 Comments

I’m in WORLD Magazine!

World_review_05-13-2017

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Scripturalism and the Cessation of Continued Revelation

Does Scripturalism allow for the possibility of continued revelation?

Outline
I. Definitions
A. The cessation of continued revelation
B. Scripturalism

II. Continued Revelation contradicted by:
A. The Westminster Confession of Faith
B. Clark’s own comments.
C. Clark’s disciples.
1. John Robbins
2. W. Gary Crampton
3. Robert L. Reymond

III. A Scripturalist Continuationist?

IV. The Incompatibility of Continuationism and Scripturalism
A. Response 1 and rebuttal – Something Other than Knowledge?
B. Response 2 and rebuttal – Knowledge in Heaven
C. Response 3 and rebuttal – Private Knowledge and Assurance

Conclusion

Does Scripturalism allow for the possibility of continued revelation?
I. Definitions
A. The cessation of continued revelation
The doctrine of cessation of continued revelation — that God has ceased revealing additional knowledge to man following the completion of the canon of Scripture — is an element of “cessationism.” Cessationism can also refer to (1) the cessation of all miracles and/or (2) the cessation of all spiritual gifts. But it is the cessation of continued revelation which is pertinent to the question at hand.

B. Scripturalism
Scripturalism is the epistemology formulated by Gordon H. Clark which limits the knowledge possible to modern man to the propositions of Scripture along with all propositions that can be logically deduced from the propositions of Scripture.

II. Continued Revelation contradicted by:
A. The Westminster Confession of Faith
The Westminster Confession of Faith (to which Clark held) reads:

“Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary;those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased. – WCF 1.1.”

And.

“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, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.” – WCF 1.6.

WCF 1.6. is a clear statement of Sola Scriptura. WCF 1.1. explicitly notes that the former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people have ceased. Thus it is clear that the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches cessationism with regards to continued revelation.

B. Clark’s own comments.
Since Clark held to the Westminster Confession of Faith which is clearly cessationist with respect to continued revelation, Clark must have held to the doctrine of cessation of continued revelation. If this argument is insufficient however, there are a number of other places in his writings where Clark clearly affirms the cessation of continued revelation:

In What Do Presbyterians Believe (1956) Clark clearly shows his opposition to continued revelation when he contrasts the Reformers’ position of “Scripture alone” (which he holds favorably) with the position of “mystics and visionaries who claimed that God spoke to them directly.” He writes,

“In the Roman church, tradition as well as the Scriptures was accepted as such a rule, and in actuality superseded and contradicted them. At the same time there were mystics and visionaries who claimed that God spoke to them directly. The rule of faith which the Reformers acknowledge was the Scriptures alone.” p. 5.

Clark opposes the need for “additional revelations” and again emphasizes the sufficiency of “the Bible alone” in his essay “The Christian and the Law” (1957) reprinted in Essays on Ethics and Politics (1992). He writes,

“God has given us all the guidance we need. We do not need Roman Catholic tradition; we do not need mystic visions, we do not need additional revelations. But we do need, and need sorely, a great deal of Bible study. In the Bible, and in the Bible alone, we find the rule of life.” p. 20.

Additionally, in a letter of November 9, 1984 Clark writes to one Mr. Thompson L. Casey,

“Your numerology, if that is the proper term, seems to me to have no Biblical basis. If you prefer frankness, rather than the silence of the Nelson publishers, your claims to having received revelations directly from God I regard as completely anti-christian. See the Westminster Confession I, vi; and the many Biblical commands neither to add to nor subtract from God’s written revelation. You have added a great deal.”

These quotes make it abundantly clear that Clark held to the cessation of continued revelation. But does Scripturalism itself necessitate the cessation of continued revelation? Perhaps a continuationist might argue that cessationism is not a necessary corollary of Scripturalism. But having read the quotes in the previous section the continuationist should admit that Clark himself was a cessationist in regards to continued revelation.

C. Clark’s disciples.
Disciples of Gordon Clark have invariably been cessationists with respect to additional revelation.

1. John Robbins
In Pat Robertson: A Warning to America John Robbins writes,

“What Paul is referring to here [1 Corinthians 13:8] is not full knowledge, which will never vanish away, either at the Second Coming or at the completion of the writing of the Bible, but the “word of knowledge,” the partial revelation that the apostles received prior to the completion of Scripture. When the full revelation, the Bible, is completed, then there will be no more need of ‘words of knowledge.'” p. 56.

2. W. Gary Crampton
In “Scripturalism, A Worldview” (The Trinity Review, March, 2011) W. Gary Crampton writes,

“Scripturalism, then, teaches that all of our knowledge is to be derived from the Bible, which has a systematic monopoly on truth.”

3. Robert L. Reymond
Though as I argue here (https://douglasdouma.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/robert-l-reymond-and-gordon-h-clark/) Raymond was not a “Clarkian Scripturalist” in the strict sense, I agree with Sean Gerety who points out that Reymond was considered sufficiently “Clarkian” to have that be an issue raised in Reymond’s ministerial transfer to the OPC. Regardless, Reymond’s views on cessationism can be found in his “What About Continuing Revelations and Miracles in the Presbyterian Church Today?” He concludes,

“Both genuine prophecy and glossolalia, as revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit, terminated with the completion of the revelatory process which was coterminous with the completion of the New Testament canon.”

III. A Scripturalist Continuationist?

The question at hand (Does Scripturalism allow for the possibility of continued revelation?) then probably wouldn’t be a question at all — given the cessationism of Clark and his disciples — except for the writings of internet theologian Vincent Cheung.

It could be argued that Cheung finds his two largest influences in Gordon Clark and the charismatic tradition, though he distances himself each of these. He downplays Clark’s influence on him saying, “Although I agree with Clark on many points, agreement does not necessarily signal influence. But as they do in many other cases, my critics tend to confuse correlation with causation.” (“Captive to Reason (2009),” p. 18.) Cheung correctly notes the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy but does not thereby rule out Clark’s influence on him.

Cheung doesn’t want to be associated with the charismatics either. He writes, “The charismatics do not represent the Bible, and they do not represent me.” (“Fulcrum,” p. 40.) And, “Although I affirm the continuation of the supernatural endowments of the Spirit, I do not call myself a Charismatic.” ( “Sermonettes, Volume 1,” p. 112.)

In his voluminous online writings Cheung calls cessationism (1) blasphemy, (2) heresy, (3) false doctrine, (4) unbiblical, (5) Satan’s ultimate protection, (6) the master heresy, (7) evil and dangerous, (8) incompatible with Christianity, (9) more dangerous and destructive than the heresies of the charismatics, (10) demonic, (11) a counter-Christian religion, (12) the reverse Gospel, (13) an anti-Apostolic cult, (14) the cessation of faith in God, (15) as serious and sinister as any heresy, (16) the great apostasy, (17) transgression, (18) not a doctrine to be argued about but a sin to be repented of, (19) amounting to preaching another Gospel, (20) one big middle finger in the face of Jesus, (21) among other heresies embraced by the Reformed tradition, (22) polytheism, (23) heathenism, (24) a revival of ancient polytheism and heathenism, and (25) the easiest and laziest of fake religions.

Cheung’s view of continued revelation he refers to as “expansionism,” a term he seems to have invented. He defines expansionism as “the biblical doctrine that supernatural powers and miracles are to increase in God’s people beyond what Jesus Christ himself exercised.” (“Expansionism, A Gospel Manifesto”) He writes, “I do not call myself a continuationist or my doctrine continuationism.” (“Sermonettes, Volume 8,” p. 37. ) In fact regarding continuationism he writes, “it is in reality so much weaker than what I believe that I take it as slander.” (“Fulcrum,” p. 9.) He contends that his being called a continuationist when he actually holds to a sub-type of a continuationism is a slander like a Christian (a sub-type of theism) being called a theist. But since the latter is hardly slanderous, neither is the former.

Cheung rejects the term Scripturalism. He writes, “I discourage an identification with Clark also because I cannot be certain that he would have agreed with some of the main points in my system. Thus it would be unfair to him to regard my philosophy as nothing more than a restatement or an application of his.” (p. 18) and “The term [Scripturalism] refers to the Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark. Although it is often applied to my philosophy, I do not embrace the term.” (p. 34) – (“Captive to Reason” (2009).)

Yet his writings frequently reference Clark. This has, in my experience, influenced many impressionable students online to believe that Cheung is a Scripturalist. They then in turn contend that Scripturalism is not incompatible with continuationism/expansionism because Cheung holds both.

IV. The Incompatibility of Continuationism and Scripturalism
Though Clark held to the cessation of continued revelation and though his disciples held to it also, is cessationism necessarily part of Scripturalism?

It is important to note that Clark’s axiom is not revelation generally, but the revelation of the Scriptures. In Clark’s Wheaton Lectures (1966) published in The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark (1968) and again in An Introduction to Christian Philosophy (1993) he says,

“Hence the postulate here proposed is not revelation as natural theology, not revelation as ineffable mysticism, not an inexpressible confrontation, but a verbal and rational communication of truths, the revelation of Scripture.” p. 62

Clark also notes in Three Types of Religious Philosophy (1973),

“Dogmatism [another term for Scripturalism] does not conflict with truth from other sources because there are no other sources of truth.” p. 9.

In each of these quotes, and in many other places, continued revelation is ruled out against the principle of Scripturalism that the Bible and the Bible Alone is our source in the present-day for all knowledge.

A continuationist arguing for the compatibility of their position with that of Scripturalism might say that it is true (per Scripturalism) that knowledge is limited to the propositions of Scripture (and logical deductions from Scripture), but that Scripture itself allows for continued revelation. But, following Scripturalism, one would have to deduce not only the doctrine (A) that a person may receive additional revelation, but would have to deduce (B) the specific revelations from Scripture, for (A) is not sufficient for (B).

Now, one may say that the Scriptures are the criteria for verifying the truth of claims of additional revelation. But, the Scriptures can only be a negative test of truth. If the claim of additional revelation is contradicted by Scripture, the claim is false; it isn’t revelation. If the claim of additional revelation is a proposition of Scripture then it isn’t additional revelational. If the claim of additional revelation is neither a proposition of Scripture nor a proposition contradicted by Scripture, it cannot be determined to be either true or false.

A. Response 1 and rebuttal – Something Other than Knowledge?
Continuationist objection: Continuationists don’t consider additional revelations to be on par with the Scripture.

Answer: The revelation of Scripture is knowledge. If items of continued revelation have some status other than that of “knowledge”, then the “revelations” are not revelations. For what can be revealed other than knowledge? God does not reveal opinions or falsehoods.

B. Response 2 and rebuttal – Knowledge in Heaven
Continuationist objection: Does not knowledge increase in heaven?

Answer: Cessationists also believe in additional knowledge in heaven. The Scripturalist limitation on knowledge as from Scripture and deductions from Scripture applies to the present world.

Clark, in fact, in his chapter “Eschatology” in First Lesson in Theology, notes of 1 Corinthians 13:12, “verse 12 asserts the continuance and multiplication of knowledge in heaven.”

C. Response 3 and rebuttal – Private Knowledge and Assurance
Continuationist objection: Assurance of salvation requires revealed private knowledge.

Answer: Clark surmounts this problem in a number of ways. Clark holds that beliefs regarding self are opinions, not self-knowledge, as they cannot be deduced from Scripture (and so be justified). Assurance itself, Clark holds, is the psychological state of certainty, not an epistemological state of knowledge. And, as the opinion that one is saved can be deduced from understanding that one is a believer, it need not be revealed to man.

a) Beliefs about oneself are only opinion, not knowledge.
Self-knowledge is not possible in Scripturalism, for the self is not listed in the Scriptures. (Clark also notes the difficulty—if not impossibility—of self-knowledge in his Language and Theology, p. 149 – 150). Rather one can only have opinions about self. Knowledge is limited to the Scriptures alone.

Clark notes this point in the Clark-Hoover debate:

Questioner: Dr. Clark, since we can’t deduce from Scripture that we are human beings responsible to God, how can we be morally responsible? How are you … how do you know that you are a human being responsible to God since you can’t deduce from Scripture that you are a human being? And if you don’t know that, how are you morally responsible? How can you be morally responsible?

Gordon Clark: In addition to what can be known by deduction, people have various opinions. They are not deduced. They may by chance be true, but we can’t really know that they’re true, because we haven’t proved them. I have a vague opinion that maybe I am almost human, though people don’t always think so. But if I am, then I am responsible for obeying the law of God. And I often try to, try to meet that responsibility but I fail considerably.

b) Assurance is not knowledge, but is equivalent to certainty. Assurance of salvation is a type of certainty. It is psychological not epistemological.

In Today’s Evangelism (1990), we see that Clark holds “certainty” to be equivalent to “assurance.” He writes,

“The Westminster Confession puts the matter very strongly. “This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidences of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God: which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.” p. 94.

We see that Clark holds “certainty” to be a “psychological act” in the audio lecture “A Contemporary Defense of the Bible” (1977):

Questioner: Dr. Clark, somewhat along the same lines, do you believe that we can know certainly, I’m not saying that we can prove it, but that we can know with certainty that we’re not right now dreaming?

Dr. Clark: You use the word certainty. People are certain of very peculiar things. Some people, I judge, a few not many, are certain that drinking vinegar will cure warts. Hence it is not particularly important in my point of view to ask or explain why a person is certain of anything. Certainty is a psychological act that is more misused than anything else. To be certain of something doesn’t mean that it is true. People are certain of many things that are false. And so that part of your question I would dismiss.

c) For one to hold the opinion that they are saved, private revelation is not necessary as the belief is deducible from the faith.

Clark writes, “Assurance of eternal life can be deduced from a knowledge that one is a believer. … if one knows, if one has a clear intellectual understanding that he believes, he should have legitimate assurance” (First John, p. 161) Here Clark uses “knowledge” in the colloquial, non-technical sense. This is clearly the case since one cannot “know” that one is a believer. That is, “I am a believer” is not something deducible from nor found in Scripture. Additionally Clark speaks of “a clear intellectual understanding that he believes” and does not raise it to the level of knowledge by providing justification of the belief.

Since assurance of salvation “can be deduced from a knowledge that one is a believer,” it is not necessary for assurance to be revealed.

In Today’s Evangelism (1990) Clark distinguishes the illumination of the Holy Spirit from the revelation of God, and so rejects the necessity of additional revelation for assurance.

“Though the wording is very clear, it may be necessary in this age to point out two places where a misunderstanding may arise. First, the infallibility mentioned is not ours, as if we are infallible. The infallibility belongs to the promises of God. There is no hint here that we rise to the level of the inspired authors of the Bible. This would be a reversal to the Romish position that a supernatural revelation is necessary. All that is necessary is the Scripture. The second point at which a misunderstanding may occur is the reference to the Spirit witnessing with our spirits. Here too, the same idea is involved. The Spirit witnesses with our spirits as we study the Bible. He does not witness to our spirits, as if giving an additional revelation. Aside from these two matters, the Westminster Confession is clear.” p. 94-95.

Conclusion
Since continuationism is incompatible with Scripturalism, Charismatics must determine their own epistemology rather than borrowing Clark’s from the Reformed tradition.

Posted in Notes on the thought of Gordon H. Clark | 6 Comments

E. Mac Davis, First Pastor of Dillingham Presbyterian Church

E. Mac Davis a.k.a. Edmund McMillan Davis (June 21, 1869 – August 6, 1905) was the founding pastor of Dillingham Presbyterian Church. The son of Alexander and Emily Jane (McMillan) Davis, he first made a public confession of his faith in the First Presbyterian Church of Knoxville at the age of fifteen. He earned a B. A. and was class valedictorian in 1890 at the University of Tennessee. In 1892 he earned an M.A. from the same school and was an instructor of Latin and English there from 1890-1893. He then studied at Union Theological Seminary* in Richmond, VA and graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1896. Thereafter he returned to the University of Tennessee as an instructor of Hebrew History and Literature (1896-1897). In 1897 Davis began his pastorate at Dillingham Presbyterian Church and remained there until 1904. From there he took a pastorate in McDonough, Georgia (in the Atlanta Presbytery) but died young the next year from “mental and physical exhaustion after a week’s meeting in the hot weather.”

Following the founding of Dillingham Presbyterian Church in 1897, and his marriage to Miss Janie Watkins Carrington of Sunnyside, Virginia in March 1899 (with whom he would have one son and two daughters), Davis next appears in the record making a request for needed items for the people of the community; specifically for used text-books and barrels of children’s clothing, as shipping by barrel was cheaper than box. (Presbyterian Standard, Charlotte, May 18, 1899. Vol XLI, No. 20.) The same source notes that Davis conducted religious services at “Barnardsville, Democrat, Dillingham, Terry’s Fork, Paint Fork, Sugar Creek, Rock View and Carson’s School house.”

Synod minutes note that Davis was the first to reside in the manse of Dillingham Presbyterian Church. They read, “The manse at Barnardsville has been completed, and Brother Davis is occupying it.” (Minutes of the Eighty-Eight Annual Session of the Synod of North Carolina, Held and Charlotte N.C., October, 1901. pg. 422-423)

Like his predecessor R. P Smith, E. Mac Davis noted the conditions in the North Carolina mountains. He wrote, “The majority of the preachers are as unread as the people themselves, unread in history and frequently unread in the Scriptures. The average preacher could not pass an examination for entrance into the sixth grade of a city school. Not one in three owns a Bible dictionary or concordance. They receive the Bible as the ipsissima verba of revelation. An appeal to it is the end of controversy—the end in one sense and the beginning in another.”

Regarding his time while pastor at Dillingham Presbyterian Church, it has been written of him, “Rev. Davis is said to have been directly responsible for the enactment of a law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of whiskey within two miles of any church in Buncombe County. He personally went to Raleigh with the petition and remained until the bill was passed by the legislature. This law, however, only affected government licensed distilleries. There still remained a number of illegal moonshine operations in the coves of more remote sections of Big Ivy.” (Dillingham’s of Big Ivy, Buncombe, and Related Families. Margaret Haile, Gateway Press, 1985)

Likewise, synod minutes note, “Brother Davis has won a great victory in his field by his valiant labors resulting in the passage of a prohibition bills covering all territory in Buncombe, Madison, and Yancey counties, except incorporated towns. We cannot over estimate what this means in the advancement of the cause of Christ in that section.” (Minutes of the Eighty-Eight Annual Session of the Synod of North Carolina, Held and Charlotte N.C., October, 1901. pg. 422-423)

The Asheville-Citizen Times recorded, “REV. E. MAC. DAVIS TO CARRY PETITIONS AND LETTERS TO RALEIGH. Editor The Citizen: The people of Ivy township are thoroughly aroused against the distillery operated and the distillery proposed to be operated between Democrat and Barnardsvllle on Big Ivy creek.” (Asheville Citizen-Times, Monday, February 11, 1901, pg. 3.)

The Charlotte news later recorded, “Until the late Rev. E. Mack Davis began preaching there about 12 years ago, the gospel was seldom heard in that section. Mr. Davis was an honored member of this Synod and did a most effective work. Moonshiners warned him that if he did not cease preaching he would be killed. He did not heed the warning, hut continued to preach. He went at once to Asheville and his life insured for ten thousand dollars, with the provision that if he should be killed the money should be used in erecting ten new church buildings in the part of the state where he was preaching. He was not killed, but his horse was cruelly treated and his hair was clipped so close as to cause the animal to resemble a mule as much as possible. Mr. Davis turned this misfortune of the horse to good account, however, he had photographs of him taken and sold enough of them to build a new church.” (The Charlotte News, Thursday, October 7, 1910, p. 7.)

Finally his deeds were recalled and recorded in the Presbyterian Standard upon his death in 1905: “In a county that had been celebrated for its number of murders, he did not hesitate to threaten the illicit distillers with detection and arrest, and on more than one occasion he led the revenue officers to the stills and helped in breaking up those sources of demoralization. It is probable that his very boldness saved his life, — that and his unfailing humor. When some of his enemies shaved his horse’s tail and mane Mr. Davis rode Jumbo to Asheville, had a photograph taken of the disfigured steed, and sold enough of them to contribute very largely to the building of a new church, upon the completion of which he publicly thanked the perpetrators of the joke.” (The Presbyterian Standard, January 4, 1905 Vol. XLVII -No. 1)

*While at Union Seminary, Davis wrote the following article: “The Distinctive Element in Christian Morality” Union Seminary Magazine, Richmond, VA, Vol. VI, No. 1, September-October, 1894.

Edit: 5/26/2017 – I’ve confirmed with Marilyn Dean Mitchem, an expert on the “Christy” series that the story of E. Mac Davis and his horse is the basis for chapter 24 of the book Christy and the corresponding TV episode “A Closer Walk.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 1.23.03 PM

Posted in Historical Pastors of Dillingham Presbyterian Church | 2 Comments

Robert Perry Smith, “The Shepherd of the Hills”

In the library of Dillingham Presbyterian Church there hangs on the wall pictures of each pastor to have called the church home. The first of these has a plaque noting “Rev. Robert P. Smith, 1896 Church Planter.” Though the honor of “Founding Pastor” of Dillingham Presbyterian Church is reserved for the second plaque on the wall – E. Mac Davis – it was Smith, working for the Asheville Presbytery, who likely preached the first sermon at the spot and whose efforts laid the groundwork for the church plant.

Robert Perry Smith (Mar. 24, 1851 – Feb. 4, 1936) was quite an accomplished man. Though orphaned at age 12, he later graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary (in Columbia, SC). He was the principle of Reidville Boys Academy (1874-1875), Reidville Girls Academy (1877-1885), and the 2nd President of Presbyterian College (Clinton, SC) (1885-1888). In 1888 he went to work in the mountains of North Carolina. After first serving as a pastor in Gastonia, NC, he worked for the Presbytery of Asheville as the Superintendent of Home Mission Work for thirty-three years. In that role he planted a number of churches in the region and, in 1904, organized the Mountain Orphanage in Crabtree near Canton, NC. The orphanage, which operated from 1907 to 1922 in Balfour, NC, moved next to its present site in Black Mountain, NC where it continues operating today as the Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth, & Families. Smith’s dedication to the mountain churches and people earned him the nickname “The Shepherd of the Hills.”

Smith was married to Ella Louise Reid (July 4, 1853 – Jan. 3, 1934), the daughter of Presbyterian minister Rev. Robert H. Reid, of whom Reidville, SC is named. In 1931 he wrote Experiences in Mountain Mission Work published by The Presbyterian Committee of Publication in Richmond, VA. He died in Asheville in 1936 and his body is buried there at Riverside Cemetery. His wife preceded him in death by two years.

Smith’s book Experiences in Mountain Mission Work tells of the interesting and unusual happenings in his travels and work in the isolated mountain regions.

Just getting to the mission field was challenging itself. Smith writes, “Of necessity the roads followed the courses of the streams. Much of the way they occupied the same space. Often the stranger asked: ‘Is the creek in the road, or is the road in the creek?’”

Recalling the all-too-common illiteracy there he wrote, “There was not a book of any kind in the home and not a member of the family could read.” (p. 24) Though “deprived of school privileges and possessing a meager vocabulary,” Smith writes of the people, “they do not hesitate to pass beyond Webster and coin a word when it is needed.” (p.30)

Poverty forced the people of the region to be industrious and insightful. For example, one man told Smith, “Twenty-two years ago I went South on a trading trip and with other things I bought this box of matches and paid fifteen cents for it. We have used only four or five out of it.” (p. 28)

That Smith and the preachers who came to the Western NC mountains were well-needed and wanted is seen in a story of Smith’s of one lady he met who had a church certificate in her trunk lying there for thirty-two years. When asked whey she didn’t just join another church she said: “I kept hoping that a Presbyterian preacher would come some day and I wanted to have a Presbyterian home for him and give him a Presbyterian welcome. I have lived to see my hopes realized, I am glad to see you.” (p. 116)

References:
http://www.presbyteriansofthepast.com/2014/07/03/robert-h-reid/
https://www.presby.edu/about/2013/04/05/pcs-second-president-robert-perry-smith
http://hendersonheritage.com/1419-2/
http://www.main.nc.us/phfc/history.htm
Dillinghams of Big Ivy, Buncombe County, N.C. and related families. Margaret Wallis Haile, Gateway press 1985.
Experiences in Mountain Mission Work, Robert Perry Smith, The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, Richmond, VA, 1931.

RP Smith on Left

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“Selected Letters of Gordon Haddon Clark” to be published.

I’ve signed a contract with The Trinity Foundation to publish a collection of select letters of Gordon H. Clark. I expect we’ll get it to print within a few months. All permissions are in place from the various archives and individuals who’ve provided letters.

During my work on “The Presbyterian Philosopher” I began typing up some of Dr. Clark’s letters to make an easily-searchable collection. With the assistance of Jaime Rodriguez Jr., Samuel Colon, and Errol Ng, I now have all extant letters of Dr. Clark’s typed up.

There are about 915 total letters, which makes for a 1200 page volume far to large to publish. So I’ve selected the most important letters, about 145 of them, for the final cut into “Selected Letters.”

Why should you be interested in this book? Well, for starters, there are 5 letters between Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til. We’ve also included correspondence with J. Gresham Machen, J. Oliver Buswell, Edward Carnell, John Robbins, and a number of others. There are comments in these letters which will further your understanding of Dr. Clark’s philosophy and others that will give you insights into 20th century American Presbyterian history.

I’ll post again when the book is ready for sale.

Posted in Notes on the thought of Gordon H. Clark | 9 Comments