Review of Luther’s Augustinian Theology of the Cross

Barone Luther

Luther’s Augustinian Theology of the Cross, by Marco Barone with foreword by David J. Engelsma. Resource Publications, Eugene, OR. 2017. 141 pp.

For first thirty years of my life I was a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Though I am now a licensed Presbyterian minister, I have retained a great interest in and love for the writings of Martin Luther. Barone’s Luther’s Augustinian Theology of the Cross, focused on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, was a welcome return for me to Luther after some years away from his writings.

At 141 pages this book is the length that nearly all books should be, with a shortness that forces brevity. It is evident from the quality of the writing that Barone spent considerable time and effort working out his thoughts on the subject and bringing the book to publication. If the book reads at times like a dissertation that is because it was a dissertation for Barone; for a master’s degree in philosophy at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland.

Barone’s introduction clearly describes the goal and path of the book. His goals are repeated a number of times throughout the book, so that even a person like myself with occasionally poor reading comprehension cannot miss the main points. The book has two major contentions: (1) Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation is essentially Augustinian in nature, and (2) that a specific “Lutheran philosophical thesis”—that all philosophies in which man is not absolutely dependent on God lead to a moralism of man seeking to reach God by human works—is confirmed in the results of the philosophies of Leibniz and Kant (as well as those of Aristotle and Pelagius before Luther’s time).

In the first five chapters Barone works through each of the 28 points of the Heidelberg Disputation explaining the Luther-Augustine connections. He has chapters on “Free Will” (points 13 through 18), “The Law of God and the Works of Man” (points 1 through 12), “The Righteousness of God” (points 25 through 28), and “The Glory and the Cross” (points 19 through 24). Although he does mention at least one difference between Luther and Augustine—Augustine’s “infusion” vs. Luther’s “imputation” of righteousness (p. 9)—I would like to have read more about the differences. Showing that Luther came to understand the “righteousness of God” as “the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith” independent of reading Augustine, but yet in agreement with Augustine, Barone shows that Luther was not slavishly dependent on the African father. (p. 8) He points out that Luther regularly quoted from Augustine, was an Augustinian monk (p. 4), and referred to Augustine as St. Paul’s “most trustworthy interpreter” (p. 3). Where Luther does not explicitly quote Augustine, Barone argues, Luther is often clearly influenced by Augustine. His case is convincing. Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation is an Augustinian document.

While the first five chapters focus on the first contention, the sixth and final chapter addresses the second contention, the more important of the two. Luther’s thesis itself is described: “any ethics set forth independently of a consistent understanding of Christianity is basically constructed on an Aristotelian or Pelagian foundation.” (p. 57) and “any theology or philosophy that attempts to ascribe part or all of the work or part or all of the merit of redemption and enlightenment to the autonomous power or will of man is a form of Pelagianism. This means that it does not properly understand the reasons for and the implications of the cross, and it is a ‘theology of glory.’” (p. 102) Barone’s contribution is to show how two philosophies, those of Leibniz and Kant, confirm the truth of Luther’s thesis. The two examples, however, point to the fact that all non-Biblical philosophies fall into the same error. Specifically, he contends, “Beyond the philosophy of the cross, there is nothing but Pelagianism.” (p. 107)

The difference between Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” and the less-than fully dependent on God “Theology of Glory” is handily summarized in a table on page 107.

Barone Chart

Naturally, neither two examples (Leibniz and Kant), nor five examples (Leibniz, Kant, Aristotle, Scholasticism, and Pelagius), nor even a thousand examples prove the contention. Barone admits as much saying his “thesis and its proof” … “do not claim to be complete and fully satisfactory” but rather “are intended to be an intellectual stimulus for further discussion.” (p. 107) However, as Barone claims, “When God is not the only one at work, man is.” (p. 107) That is, there is no tertium quid, no third option. If this is correct—that there is no third option—then Barone’s contention is correct. Whether it is correct or not (and I think it is), we Christians know of salvation by grace through faith, and so need not seek for any other salvation, whether of our own accord or in anything other than Jesus Christ. Luther’s Augustinian Theology of the Cross is a good warning against all soteriologies which attempt to give man any of the glory properly belonging to God. I pray that many Arminians will read this book.

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My Visit to the PCA General Assembly

Last week I spent three days at the Presbyterian Church in America’s yearly General Assembly, this year in Greensboro, NC. The major work at this GA was related to questions of women’s ordination as deacons. But, since I’m not a member of the PCA (I’m a licensed minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church – Hanover) and since I did not listen in on the sessions, I will not comment on the questions. Rather, this post will just note some of my experiences at the GA.


I spent most of the three days helping out in two booths. First, I spent some time helping out at the booth of my father-in-laws church website business, Five More Talents. Then, when I found that my publisher, Wipf & Stock, had a booth at the GA, I helped them run their table, and sold some copies of my The Presbyterian Philosopher.

Overall, it seemed that the layout was quite poor. The booths were in two sections (one on the main floor, and the other in the upstairs hallway) of the Koury Convention Center. The GA sessions and conference, however, were in rooms where one hardly needed to pass by any of the booths. Thus it was a lonely time for the booth vendors, and a fairly poor investment at $800 a booth for a scant few customers passing by.


I came to the GA thinking I would hardly know anyone there. But I was surprised to meet 20-25 people I knew. Not only was my in-laws family there (7 of them total), but I met up with pastors I knew from Winston-Salem (John Lindsay) and Greensboro (Nathan Kline, who I taught a Titus Bible study under for a spring project during seminary), laypersons from my old Greensboro Bible study, and a colleague from Sangre de Cristo Seminary, among others.


I was glad also at GA to run into some PCA “celebrities.” These are people, perhaps not well-known on a national scale, but prominent in the small conservative Presbyterian world for what its worth. These people are more “celebrities” to me (having read their books) than hollywood actors (whose movies I rarely watch).

So I met up with the soon-to-be-relocating-to-NC pastor Kevin DeYoung and gave him a copy of my book. I was glad to hear from him that he already knew of its existence from a book review.

At lunch on the third day Harry Reeder (Senior Pastor of the large Briarwood Presbyterian Church) sat down at the table I was sitting at. I had listened to (and do recommend) his series on “Christian Manhood Illustrated” last year. I gave Reeder a copy of my book as well, which he seemed glad to receive. He had taken a course from Dr. Clark at Covenant College in 1974.

After the lunch I tracked down Sean Michael Lucas, professor at RTS and author of a book I read last year – For a Continuing Church, The Historical Origins of the PCA. I gave him also a copy of my book and had a pleasant conversation with him.

And finally, on the last afternoon I met up with Derek Halvorsen, President of Covenant College, and had a great conversation with him about his (as he says) “most famous faculty alumni” Gordon H. Clark. I gave Halvorsen a copy of my book as well.


I had some great conversations at the GA with Aaron Gould (who I think is a “Clarkian”), a brilliant young man named Ben Harris, Wayne Sparkman of the PCA archives, and Martin Cameron, librarian at Highland Theological College.

All the good conversation at the GA got me thinking on a number of subjects. Primary among them – should I pursue a PhD in Scotland? Well, one (or three) things at a time! I’m working at a church now, working on ordination for September, and starting a ministry on the Appalachian Trail.



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“Now then…” – A review of “The Presbyterian Philosopher” by OPC minister Gregory E. Reynolds in The Ordained Servant.

Originally posted here:

The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, by Douglas J. Douma. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016, xxv + 292 pages, $37.00, paper.

Now then,” said Dr. Clark as he sat behind a small utilitarian oak table in a second-floor class room in Carter Hall at Covenant College in the fall of 1974. He then placed his pocket watch on the corner of the table as he looked out the window to gather his thoughts. He proceeded to launch us into the complex world of contemporary philosophy. These were deep waters, but the clarity of Clark’s thought enabled us to navigate.

Gordon Haddon Clark was a major influence on my life. To a novice like me in the world of Christian scholarship, Clark was a breath of fresh air with his old-school pedagogy and theology, during my final year at Covenant College from 1974 to 1975. Since most students were intimidated by his demeanor, which reminded some of Alfred Hitchcock, a few of us had him to ourselves. It only took an ounce of humility and a hunger to learn to get his attention. Underneath the stern exterior was a warmhearted man. He excelled in his knowledge of much of the history of philosophy. To this day I regularly consult his one-volume history of philosophy, Thales to Dewey.1 He taught me the discipline of thoroughly understanding a thinker’s philosophy by analyzing and articulating it in detail before engaging in critical assessment. My first assignment was Augustine’s de Magistro. Then I did my senior thesis on Jonathan Edwards’s The Freedom of the Will.

Coming out of the 1960s counterculture, I found Clark’s logical rigor to be of enormous help—although it could also be frustrating: I won only one game of chess while playing him by mail for a decade up until his death. Beyond the disciplines he taught me, his love for Scripture and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms had a lasting effect on me. I shall never forget his paternal kindness and instruction.

While Douma’s biography is clearly written by an admirer, he does a fine job in tracing the personal biography, intellectual development, and philosophy of Clark. He also doesn’t hesitate to paint an accurate picture of Clark. For anyone who has any connection with Clark’s thought or life this is a fascinating and very informative read. Some of the philosophical and theological discussions will prove difficult for those without training in these disciplines. Also, the details of some of the history, especially in the Clark-Van Til controversy, will be more interesting to those who are at least aware of some of the issues.

If that controversy is all one knows about Clark, this book will demonstrate the great value of Clark’s expansive contribution to the church, whatever one may think of his apologetics. I am convinced of Van Til’s version of presuppositionalism, but I have still learned much from Clark’s approach. I have learned to value what they both held in common as well as to identify their differences. Douma is very good at explaining both.

Gordon Haddon Clark was born on August 31, 1902, to Presbyterian parents. His father, David, was a minister who attended Princeton Theological Seminary and the Free Church College (4). At Princeton David Clark studied under A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, so young Gordon had an early and extensive exposure to the Reformed Faith. Gordon attended the University of Pennsylvania with a mature faith, having made a profession at a Billy Sunday campaign in 1915 (8). Clark thrived in a rigorous academic environment, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and completed his doctorate in 1929 with a dissertation entitled Empedocles and Anaxagoras in Aristotle’s De Anima. He began teaching undergraduate philosophy in 1924 (10–11) at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1936 he founded a chapter of the League of Evangelical Students there (13).

Chapter 2 on intellectual influences shows how he came to his version of presuppositionalism, seeking to uncover logical inconsistencies in unbelieving philosophies and worldviews, while defending the logical consistency of the Christian faith. Plotinus, Augustine, Calvin, and the Westminster Confession all had a powerful influence on his thinking. Of course, he rejected Plotinus’s doctrine of God, some of the remnants of empiricism in Augustine, and maintained that Calvin was the best interpreter of Paul. The Old School theology of Charles Hodge, the Westminster Confession, and the teaching of J. Gresham Machen were all central in the formation of Clark’s thinking (17–22).

During the era of the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Clark strongly opposed the Auburn Affirmation’s denial of the central tenets of orthodox Christianity. As an elder and a churchman he fought against this heresy in the courts of the church alongside men like H. McAllister Griffiths and Murray Forst Thompson (27). Clark especially admired Machen’s 1923 tour de force, Christianity and Liberalism, in which Machen clearly distinguished between true Christianity and the Liberalism that artfully hid its heresies under Christian language (28). Clark was deeply involved in the founding and early history of the OPC at the behest of Machen (30). Also, Clark’s father, David, was on the board of Westminster Theological Seminary, which Machen had founded in 1929. Douma concludes, “Machen, for his part, saw Clark as an ally” (31).

At the first OPC General Assembly both Clark and Van Til were elected to serve on the Committee on Christian Education. In his first year teaching apologetics at Wheaton, Clark even used Van Til’s syllabi notes. As Clark began to understand Van Til he came to disagree fundamentally with his transcendental approach. This would lead to a major controversy in the 1940s (35).

The Wheaton years (1936–43) were difficult for Clark because he “expounded theological views that irritated the college’s inter-denominational establishment, but despite conflicts with the administration and board of trustees, his years at Wheaton were some of his most productive” (38). He now had an opportunity to influence Christian students, some of whom would become notable church leaders such as Edward Carnell, Edmund Clowney, Carl Henry, Paul Jewett, and Harold Lindsell. Even Billy Graham took Medieval philosophy from Clark (43). Clark sent many students off to Westminster Theological Seminary.

Students often accused Clark of being “cold,” and he was stoic, as Douma admits, but he used this sternness to instill logical thinking and scholarly discipline in his students. If he at times emphasized the rational over against emotion, it was due partly to his stoicism but more to his proper aversion to the anti-intellectualism of the fundamentalism of his day. Once, when reading a passage from Jock Purves’s Fair Sunshine about a Scottish Covenanter martyr, I saw a tear roll down his cheek.

Chapter 5 explore the origins of Clark’s presuppositionalism, which Douma sums as the “synthesis of two factors: (1) the rejection of empiricism and (2) the acceptance of worldview thinking” (58). Clark insisted that absolute truth cannot be obtained through experience. He also believed that the senses are untrustworthy, thus disagreeing with the Scottish Common Sense Realism of his father and old Princeton (63). The idea of the logical coherence of Christianity was not new to Clark. James Orr and Abraham Kuyper held a similar view (64–7). “Clark came to believe that all knowledge possible to man is limited to the propositions of the Bible and that which can be logically deduced from the Bible” (68). This does not seem to allow for various kinds of knowledge, especially in the area of common grace and general revelation. I know that when it comes to science, however, Clark was an operationalist,2 a position consistent with the tentative nature of the scientific method, which is empirical. Clark’s rigorous defense of the infallibility of the Bible should not be forgotten by those of us who are not on board with his apologetics.

By emphasizing the importance of a Christian worldview, Clark made a significant contribution to students seeking to navigate a liberal education. On the importance of developing a Christian worldview, Clark and Van Til were agreed. Where Clark came to disagree with Van Til is in the area of epistemology. Clark rejected both empiricism and the traditional proofs for the existence of God, whereas Van Til still held to aspects of empiricism, and believed that the traditional proofs must be formulated in terms of a Christian epistemology (74).

In Chapters 6–8 Douma does a masterful job presenting the great conflict in Clark’s career and the history of the OPC. He has researched the episode with great care and presents the results in a fair and balanced way. For the most part he leaves the reader to decide. I was happy for an opportunity to revisit an old and very complex issue that I had not thought much about for decades. I learned a lot of new things about that controversy, even though I had investigated it very closely in seminary. I believe that, whatever the reader’s assessment of the issues involved, he will learn from the history, because Douma is a serious historian. I do not intend to go into much detail on the three chapters covering the controversy, or I will greatly exceed the editor’s word limit.

Clark applied for ordination in the OPC through the Presbytery of Philadelphia in March of 1943 (77). The 1944 General Assembly voted to waive the requirements of a seminary education and Hebrew. A protest was submitted arguing that the waiver was premature given the absence of “discussion of the evidence concerning Clark’s theological examination” (78). At the same time a document titled “A Program for Action” was circulated by Clark supporters which, among other things, encouraged affiliation with the non-Reformed American Council of Christian Churches, favored a recommendation against the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and pressed for the church to supervise Westminster Theological Seminary and The Presbyterian Guardian. So there were more than theological differences at play behind the scenes. “The ministers leading the Program for Action saw Clark’s ordination as an opportunity to change the direction of the denomination” (81). It is no wonder that commissioners were alarmed.

On July 7, 1944, the Presbytery of Philadelphia met to consider Clark’s ordination. He was licensed to preach, and the GA waiver of seminary education was affirmed on a 34 to 10 vote. Clark read Genesis 1 in Hebrew to prove his knowledge of the language. On August 9, 1944, Clark was ordained as a minister, becoming part of Calvary OPC in Willow Grove. Douma doesn’t make clear what the call associated with the ordination was (82). Three months later, twelve church officers, among whom were R. B. Kuiper, Leroy Oliver, N. B. Stonehouse, Paul Woolley, Cornelius Van Til, Edward J. Young, and Arthur W. Kuschke Jr., lodged a complaint against the ordination (83). Clark was surprised, since he had been the commencement speaker at WTS in 1941 and sent many students there (84). Given the objectives of the Plan of Action, the complaint is very understandable. What is sad is that the ordination was linked to these other very distinct issues (85). Douma helpfully explains the four issues causing the complaint (87–101). Douma makes the point that requirement to subscribe to a particular view of apologetics goes beyond the confessional requirements for ordination. As one who favors Van Til’s approach in rejecting the neutral bar of reason as the common ground between believer and unbeliever, I nevertheless think Douma is correct. As Clark concluded, Hodge and Machen would not have passed this ordination test (102).

A special committee of the presbytery, consisting of Clark supporters, responded to The Complaint with The Answer at the presbytery’s March 1945 meeting defending “the decision to ordain Clark and supported his theological positions” (108). Beginning in 1945 Clark accepted a position as assistant professor of philosophy at Butler University, so he sought to transfer his credentials to the Presbytery of Ohio. He was received after examination in October 1945. Earlier that year he wrote an article in The Presbyterian Guardian criticizing the OPC for assuming “the position of an isolationist porcupine” (109). From pages 110 to 127 Douma gives a helpful summary of the theological issues: the incomprehensibility of God; the relationship of the faculties of the soul; divine sovereignty and human responsibility; and the free offer of the gospel. He sums up by discussing the “overriding issue: charges of rationalism.” As Douma points out, technically, this label describes those who base their knowledge on human reason alone (127). Although there is a rationalistic aspect to Clark’s apologetic as there was in old Princeton’s, it should have remained an academic debate and not an issue for ordination.

The complaint that had been defeated at the Presbytery of Philadelphia was appealed to the Twelfth General Assembly in May of 1945. A special committee to deal with the complaint was erected, consisting of Richard Gray, Edmund Clowney, Lawrence Gilmore, Burton Goddard, and John Murray (136). The majority report favored Clark, and the GA agreed by a vote of nearly two to one. The report concluded: “Our committee is of the opinion that [The Complaint] requires the Presbytery of Philadelphia to exact a more specialized theory of knowledge than our standards demand” (137).

Although the case was over, the controversy continued, leading to Clark’s departure from the OPC in October 1948 to join the United Presbyterian Church of North America (153). Under the heading of “Changes in the Position of the Complainants” (157) Douma argues that Murray, Stonehouse, and Kuschke clarified The Complaint in the area of epistemology in order to avoid the charge of skepticism (158). I found this helpful and wish this clarification had been made at the outset.

Just when the reader may need a break from controversy, Douma digs into Clark’s long tenure at Butler University from 1945 to 1973. He produced an impressive number of books during that time (167). He became deeply involved in his new denomination, but as his daughter Betsy testified, “My dad never complained about the OP church” (172). He strongly opposed the proposed merger of the UPCNA with the PCUSA. When this occurred in 1958, he helped to lead his congregation out into the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod (RPCGS, 173). After the death of the pastor, Clark preached regularly for over eight years (175). He was truly a churchman. In 1965 he assisted in arranging a merger between his denomination (RPCGS) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) to form the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES). The EPC brought Francis Schaeffer and Covenant College and Seminary (176).

During this time Clark and Van Til both opposed Barthianism with trenchant critiques from different epistemological perspectives in their respective books in 1963: The Theological Method of Karl Barth and Christianity and Barthianism. They, also, both ardently defended biblical inerrancy (180–81, cf. 209), something Van Til would warmly recall about Clark in their later years and renewed friendship.

Douma reports on Clark’s life outside of work (176–80). On the human side Clark was a legendary chess player. A friend of mine and I once played him together. He took us both on at once and beat us handily in a matter of minutes. I recall watching him feed the wild dogs on the Covenant College quad. He kept a supply of biscuits in his suitcoat pocket. Clark also had a dry sense of humor. In a class at Covenant College he referred to distressed blue jeans as “synthetic poverty.”

In chapter 10 Douma enumerates four theological contributions of Clark. 1. An axiomatized epistemological system, built like Euclidean geometry with Scripture as the basic postulate and doctrines as derived theorems (184–88); 2. Theological supralapsarianism in which the logical order of the decrees is the reverse of the temporal execution (188–92); 3. The solution to the problem of evil (192–94); 4. Arguments for a return to traditional logic (194–98). These comprise an accurate description of Clark’s views on these major topics.

Chapter 11 on “Clark’s Boys” distinguishes between prominent leaders who strayed from the doctrine of inerrancy and those who didn’t. Clark would have been disappointed that, as a minor “Clark boy,” I became a Van Tilian in apologetics. But I heartily affirm the best of his convictions: the inerrancy of God’s Word and the summary of its teaching in the Westminster standards. Whatever our disagreements with Clark may be, we must appreciate his deep commitment to Christian scholarship and the Christian faith which he clung to, to his dying day. He defended Machen, inerrancy, and the Westminster standards. In the end Clark is on the side of the angels.

After a chapter on Clark’s theology of the Trinity and the incarnation, Douma covers Clark’s years teaching at Covenant College (1974–84). This chapter includes an interesting history of Clark’s opposition to the RPCES joining with the newly formed Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) (235–39). Ironically, one of his reasons for opposing the union was that it would be “an unmerited insult to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” due to the fact earlier the RPCES had voted against merging with the OPC, despite the OPC’s favorable vote (236).

My favorite part in this final chapter is “ ‘My good friend’—personal reconciliation with Cornelius Van Til” (240–42). I witnessed the first of four friendly meetings between the two aged apologists. It was significant that two of the original complainants, Leroy Oliver and Paul Woolley, went to lunch with Van Til and Clark after Clark spoke in chapel at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1977. Thereafter Van Til and Clark referred to each other as good friends. “Later that year, in an interview for Christianity Today, Van Til made reference to ‘my good friend Gordon Clark [who] believes in the inerrancy of the Bible’ ” (240). Remarkably, in 1983 Van Til asked Clark to speak at a dinner in Van Til’s honor. Without diminishing their theological differences, reading this was a little taste of heaven. I highly recommend this book.

When I arrive in heaven I plan on having lunch with professors Clark and Van Til.

Gregory E. Reynolds serves as the pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant.

1 Gordon H. Clark, Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1957).

2 Gordon H. Clark, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (Nutley, NJ: Craig, 1964).

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Clark and His Correspondents

In approximately one month copies of the collection of Gordon H. Clark’s correspondence I compiled, edited by Tom Juodaitis, will be available from The Trinity Foundation. The cover design has just been finalized. Check it out:

Clark and His Correspondents



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One of Dillingham’s Missionary Ladies – Miss Bertha Abernathy

Not only were pastors at work in the early years of Dillingham Presbyterian Church, but women missionaries also played a key role. Of a number of women who came to serve as Sunday school teachers at Dillingham, it is Miss Bertha Abernethy who is most well known. This can be attributed to her having been at Dillingham for many years reaching even into the youth of some current church and community members.

The Reverend R. P. Smith recounted the value of missionary ladies sent by the Home Missions Committee in his book Experiences in Mountain Mission Work (1931).

“As we investigated and studied conditions, it became more and more evident that we should emphasize secular and Christian education in starting work on mission fields. First, a day school for the children; second, a Sunday School for the children and their parents; third, preaching services for all in the community.”- p. 34 “On a visit to one of our mission points I preached to a large congregation on Sunday. At the closing of the services I explained to the people that we did not have minister enough to send and give them preaching services regularly. A good honest man in the audience rose to help and comfort me. He said: ‘We like to hear you fellows preach, and I am not saying anything agin ye, but if we can’t git both, send us the women teachers. These women teach our children books and good manners during the week and on Sunday they teach us the teachers, we can git along mighty well for a good while yet just with them doing the work.’ To which I heartily agreed and sent the teachers.” p. 47

Born in Mecklenberg County to Madison and Elizabeth Brown Abernethy, Miss Bertha (Dec. 31, 1883 – 1955) first appears in the records in 1898 as the secretary of the Children’s Band of Earnest Workers at Steele Creek Church. She later graduated from Presbyterian College, now Queens University in Charlotte, NC and taught at the Old Dixie School back in her hometown of Steele Creek, NC. She came to Dillingham in 1906, the same year the Old Dixie School was closed, and largely remained in Dillingham until some time in the early 1940s.

Miss Bertha, who never married, did work also as the Principal of the Ebenezer Mission (for at least the years 1911 – 1913). It is this famed mission which was the setting of “Cutter Gap” in the popular novel “Christy.” The lead character, “Christy,” in real life Leonora Wood Whitaker, went from her home in Dillingham to the Ebenezer Mission herself in 1909. It might have been Leonora who encouraged Miss Bertha to also work there.

Sometime after Miss Bertha returned to Dillingham, her Aunt Rena Brown came to live with her and also work for the church.

Miss Bertha worked at the church, for a time living in the Manse. She also taught school at the no-longer-existing Chesnut Grove / Dillingham School House.

Today a quilt made for Miss Bertha when she retired and left Dillingham is still in good condition, now belonging to one of the members of the church.

Miss Bertha’s own memories of mountain work were recorded in an article in 1945:

Vol. XXXV. June, 1945. No. 6.
Former Worker Writes Of Personal Experiences
Miss Abernathy Contracted “Mountain Fever”

(We asked Miss Bertha Abernathy to write us. She pioneered with Dr. R. P. Smith in the first decade of
Asheville Presbytery. Editor.)

I fully realize that there is work to do for the Lord at any spot in this world, but as for me, I would always wish my work could be done in God’s wonderful mountains. It is there that I feel nearer to Him who made them. I got my first knowledge of this in 1906, when after having chills, I sought work for the summer in the mountains of Western North Carolina, hoping to get rid of the chills. I did that very thing, but I contracted “mountain fever” which I have had ever since — now in 1945.

Dr. R. P. Smith sent me to Barnardsville, N. C, for a three months’ summer school, which was held in the Presbyterian Church there. It was situated on a hill overlooking the village. By the time I climbed the hill, and pulled the rope which rang the bell, I was completely out of breath. But O, what a wonderful view I had from the door of the church as I caught my breath!

I boarded in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Steppe, where I was treated with the greatest kindness by the Steppes and all the people in the community. I did not complete the three months — June, July and August — for it was arranged that I should assist in the public school at Dillingham, where the Presbyterian minister was the principal, since the public schools were given longer terms — these three months’ summer schools were being discontinued. So public school work — with the spiritual interest of my pupils, the Sun-day schools of the churches of the community on my heart — was my line of business for a number of years.

Thus, until about 1928, Buncombe County was my paymaster, except the few years I taught in a mission school in Tennessee. I am sure that I did not show the interest in the spiritual life of the community as my Master would have had me do it. If I could do it all over again, I would do everything very differently. A greater part of the time I boarded in the homes of the community, which I enjoyed very much. Of course, they cooked things differently to what I was accustomed — but the way we cooked was strange to them also. But how I did enjoy their “eats”!

About 1922 I built a little home at Dillingham. My mother had died in 1920. My aunt Rena Brown came to live with me. After five years in this home, it burned down one night while we were at prayer meeting. About two and a half years later my aunt fell and broke her hip, and I went to my uncle’s to nurse her. Shortly Dr. Dendy arranged for us to come and live in the manse as hostesses. Again the Home Mission Committee was my paymaster. We lived in the manse about five years, when the Dillingham Church called a pastor. Since then I have lived with my aunt in Steele Creek, near Charlotte.

So many seem to think that the people who live in the mountains are quite different from other people. But as I see it, there are the same traits in people wherever I go. I find some faithful to God, and some unfaithful. I feel that the way we have all failed is not being more and more in love with Jesus, and not being trained to think of giving as a privilege — an honor — a part of worship.

There are two things which I enjoyed most of all. The first was visiting in the homes. To be able some blight, clear morning to start up one of the creeks and drop in at every home for a few minutes — to happen at one just at meal time — to me was a great delight. I realize now that I did not talk enough about the Bible while on these visits. Another thing I especially liked to do was to sit down at the church organ and play for our folks to sing — and how they liked to sing!

One year when I was teaching the primary department at Dillingham Public School, I had 47 children on my roll by the name of Dillingham. That changed greatly, for I had only a small percentage by that name the last year I taught.

So many things have changed. When I first went there, we rode about a half day from Asheville to reach Dillingham in a bugey or hack. Now they have regular buses, and can make the trip easily in an hour. But with all the material changes, God does not change, and longs so for our love — wants to be first in our lives. Ruskin says that one thing God will not put up with in our hearts is — second place.

An entry in the Missionary Survey, June 1913 (p. 612) written by Miss Bertha introduces the Ebenezer Mission:

The Missionary Survey June 1913. p. 612

Miss Bertha Abernethy

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Gordon Clark’s views on Creation.

A number of people have asked, “What were Gordon Clark’s views on creation?” That is, was he an old-earth creationist or a young-earth creationist? (It is clear that he wasn’t a theistic evolutionist.) His views on the matter, if published, have escaped my noticed. But now I’ve found a relevant note from his papers, showing his position for at least that particular moment at which he wrote. This comes from Clark’s notes on the Westminster Confession of Faith, written in about 1943.

Clark writes,

Men were created not more than 10,000 years ago; but [there is] no indication when the material universe was created.

Well, that is the main quote of interest. Below is the whole relevant section for those who are interested:
Clark on Creation

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Scripturalism and the Gettier Problem.

Scripturalism and the Gettier Problem

By Doug Douma and Luke Miner

So the story goes, epistemologists had long held knowledge to be justified true belief (JTB). (A story to be doubted according to Alvin Plantinga.) (That Clark held to JTB rather than just “true belief” (TB) Doug has argued in Gordon Clark’s Theory of Knowledge and Luke has argued in Gordon Clark and Knowledge:  On Justification)

But the times were “a-changin” in the 1960s. Edmund Gettier’s 1963 paper “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” challenged the (supposed) long-held view of JTB and would prove to have significant impact on the field of epistemology. (Bob Dylan must have been an epistemologist. But it wasn’t until 1978 that he sang “One of Us Must Know.” By that point astute readers of Gordon H. Clark might have realized that Gettier’s problem was none of the kind.)

Edmund Gettier challenged the definition of knowledge as justified true belief by presenting cases where beliefs are true and justified but don’t count as knowledge. Basically his counter-examples to JTB occur when a person has a true belief that is based on good grounds but the belief is true by coincidence.

One of Gettier’s cases is essentially as follows: Smith has been told by the hiring manager that Jones will get the job, so he has good grounds for thinking Jones will get the job. Smith also knows that Jones has 10 coins in his pocket because he counted them himself. So Smith has the justified belief: “The man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket.” But, as it happens, Jones doesn’t get the job, but Smith gets it. Smith reaches into his own pocket and realizes that he, too, has had 10 coins in his pocket. This means that Smith’s justified belief: “the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket” is actually true. It is a true, justified belief yet it is only true by coincidence so it doesn’t amount to knowledge.

Alvin Plantinga gives a less-confusing example which Bertrand Russell gave years before Gettier’s birth. You glance at a clock and form the belief that it is 3:43pm and, as luck would have it, the clock stopped precisely 24 hours ago. Since clocks can usually be relied on and since the belief that it is 3:43pm is true, you presumably have a justified true belief but, since it’s only true by luck, you don’t have knowledge.

One shouldn’t think that Edmund Gettier completely did away with the idea that knowledge can be defined as JTB. In actuality, Gettier’s paper contributed to starting the revolution in epistemology that continues today. Epistemologists have presented a host of new models for how true beliefs are justified which have solved the Gettier problem (among the most notable new models are Reliabilism, Proper Functionalism and Alston’s Epistemic Desiderata approach). Without getting into the details, the point is that Gettier exposed flaws in certain common conceptions of justification, but his counterexamples don’t apply to other conceptions of justification. This is why Gettier began his paper by listing two different conceptions justification to which his counterexamples apply and then providing two additional restrictions on the term. People who think that Gettier buried JTB six feet deep are usually surprised to find out that the best known contemporary epistemologists are still writing about justification (see Epistemic Justification).

How is all this relevant to Scripturalism and Gordon Clark’s theory of knowledge? As you’ve probably guessed, it isn’t all that relevant. Clark used the term knowledge to refer to true belief that possessed infallible justification.” 1 Consequently, Gettier problems cannot arise in Clark’s theory. For Clark, a proposition is only justified if it is either acquired from the infallible Word of God by illumination of the Spirit, or by proper logical deduction from known (Biblical) propositions.


1 One might rightly point out that nothing in Scripturalism precludes us from using the term, “knowledge” to mean true belief with some degree of justification. Clark just didn’t use the term that way in technical discourse, though he did, in fact, sometimes use the word “knowledge” (and its cognates – know, knowing) in a colloquial or non-technical manner. If one wants to talk about fallible kinds of justification, he has multiple models of epistemic justification from which to choose in today’s literature.

Clark’s court-witness refutation of empiricism illustrates Clark’s commitment to infallible justification. He writes, “If a witness in a criminal case is shown to have perjured himself, how much credence do you give to the other statements he made. If you’re eyes deceive you once you can’t believe any of it.” (“What is Apologetics,” The Gordon-Conwell Lectures on Apologetics, 1981. Minute 36) So if a certain method (say sense-perception) produces some false beliefs, it can’t count as a source for knowledge.

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