Yep, that’s their name and this is their interview of Doug Douma, author of the new Gordon Clark biography: CLICK HERE
Yep, that’s their name and this is their interview of Doug Douma, author of the new Gordon Clark biography: CLICK HERE
Doug Douma, the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, has put together a short article demonstrating from personal letters culled as far back as 1939 that Gordon Clark has always rightly and consistently held to the position that faith is intellectual assent to understood propositions and that faith is belief; nothing more, nothing less.
Douma’s little stroll down memory lane reminded me how Clark had pointed out that Latin, from which the word faith is derived, has not served the church very well. In his monograph The Johannine Logos (now included in the volume What is Saving Faith) Clark writes on the question of faith:
“The Latin language has not been an unexceptionable advantage to theology. Dikaioo was translated justus facere; and thus the New Testament word for acquit or pronounce righteous was taken to mean make righteous. The result was a theory of infused grace that obscured the method of salvation until the time of Luther and the Reformation. So too it would have been better if the King James Version had omitted the word faith and emphasized the root meaning of belief.”
I would probably go further and say that the Latin language has been a bane on the church. One can think of the use of Latin by Rome’s priestlings as a means to keep the masses ignorant of God’s word. Let’s face it, it is hard to be like Paul’s “noble Bereans” when you can’t understand what someone is saying which is exactly how Rome likes it. Historically Latin has also been the language of the religious class, again as a means of elevating and separating themselves from the man in the pew. Further, I think the word faith is a poor choice not only because it is ambiguous, and it is, but because outside of specifically religious discussions and Christian circles no one uses it. The one exception might be when someone wants to disparage Christian belief as irrational. Not that this isn’t without some justification given that since Aquinas faith has been thought of as something that is in addition to and beyond reason. According to Thomas’ two-fold theory of truth, there are truths that can be discovered through reason and philosophy and other truths (i.e., those revealed in Scripture) that surpass “the whole ability of the human reason.” This two-fold definition wasn’t lost on the Existentialists either who similarly thought faith was a leap requiring leaving reason and the laws of logic behind. Even Webster’s defines faith as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Faith in the minds of most is something that is irrational and, because of this, actually hampers rather than enhances evangelism because it distorts the fact that truth is one, and more importantly, that God’s truth is all truth. As Clark demonstrated through his many volumes there are simply no truths that can be known apart from the revelation of God in His Word. Further, and according to the Westminister Confession, the truth of God’s Word is evidenced by the logical harmony or “consent” of all the parts of Scripture. Rather than reason being opposed to faith, faith when properly understood and applied to Scripture is the height of rationality.
Instead of being a means by which the Gospel might be understood so as to be believed, the word faith has become a stumbling block. That’s because we simply don’t use the word faith in general discussions outside of the church. It has become just more religious jargon. We may say that someone has a belief in science, or belief in evolution, or a belief in the evidence, whatever that might be, but we generally don’t say they have faith.
Also, as Clark pointed out, faith was a poor translation of the Greek noun pistis because it has no verb form. For example, we don’t say Christians are “faithers.” We say Christians are believers because of their belief in the finished work of Christ on their behalf.
It is even worse among Christians as the word faith means many things to many people and for most, it doesn’t mean anything very specific at all. Faith for many is sort of a mushy amalgam of sentimental feelings where the head is forever separated from the emotive heart. People simply attach their own often vague meaning, or, worse, their feelings, to the word and we end up talking right past each other. On the other hand, there is no confusion over the word belief, yet some, mostly elders and the seminary trained, think justification by belief alone is somehow heretical. This lack of clarity and even confusion over the word faith is the reason why otherwise well-meaning Reformed men have done such a poor job defending the biblical doctrine of justification against the heresies of Rome and, closer to home, the false soteriology of the Federal Vision and the so-called “New Perspectives on Paul.”
You can read Douma’s article here.
In 2017 one can discern the further adverse consequences of the OPC’s decisions and actions in the matter of Gordon Clark. The OPC committed itself to “paradoxical” theology, abandoning, if not condemning, logical thinking (in fact, this is an abandonment of thinking; illogical thinking is an oxymoron; if it is still thinking at all, it is thinking that is unintelligible). A leading instance was the OPC’s virtual adoption of the theology of a common grace of God, consisting of a desire of God for the salvation of all humans, at least all who hear the gospel (cf. Murray and Stonehouse, “The Free Offer of the Gospel”). The contradiction of this universal grace by the doctrine of predestination, reprobation as well as election, which is creedal for Presbyterians in the Westminster Confession, is not for the OPC an argument against universal grace. Rather, the contradiction is accepted and defended as an aspect of the “paradoxical” nature of doctrinal truth. Over the years, since the 1940s, this honoring of universal (saving) grace as a glory of its “paradoxical” theology has weakened the OPC’s testimony to all the doctrines of (particular) grace. Invariably, indeed necessarily, the truth being, in fact, rigorously logical, the doctrine of universal, ineffectual grace in the “paradox” drives out the doctrine of particular, sovereign grace.
Recently, its “paradoxical” theology has opened up the OPC to the covenant theology of the federal vision. In the just judgment of God, this grievous departure from the gospel of (covenant) grace has had its origin at Westminster Seminary, with Prof. Norman Shepherd, vigorously supported by Prof. Richard Gaffin. Expelling Gordon Clark largely by the efforts of Westminster Seminary, at Westminster Seminary the OPC received Norman Shepherd. Under the influence of Westminster Seminary, the OPC has approved a covenant theology that expressly denies all the doctrines of grace of the Westminster Standards, including justification by faith alone, with special reference to the children of believers. Such is the theology of the federal vision.
When confronted by this theology’s contradiction of the doctrines of the Reformed faith in the Westminster Standards, the Westminster professors and their supporters in the OPC argue that truth is “paradoxical.” The logic of biblical revelation finds no favor in the OPC. Therefore, the illogic of heresy gains entrance.
The Gordon Clark case is unfinished business in the OPC.
[To appear in the Spring 2017 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal. Reproduced here by permission.]
The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, by Douglas J. Douma. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016. Pp. xxv + 292. $37.00 soft. Reviewed by David J. Engelsma
“Oh, the damnable politics in the church of Jesus Christ,” someone has exclaimed, and rightly. No church is free of the evil. Ministers cripple or destroy their fellow ministers out of jealousy, or out of fear for their own prominent position in the church. The sin of the politics is not only the injury that is invariably done to one’s brother and colleague. But it is also the damage that is done to Christ’s church. The politics deprives the church of the gifts of the minister who is marginalized, or even driven out of the church. It is not…
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Doug Douma has done a masterful job. This book is a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in discovering one of the greatest minds Christianity has ever produced. That’s not hyperbole. According to John Robbins; “R. C. Sproul was once asked what 20th-century theologians people would be reading in 500 years, and he answered, ‘Gordon Clark.’ I have it on tape.” Perhaps the section that will interest most readers is the one dealing with the controversy that arose between Clark and Cornelius Van Til and assorted faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary who, unsuccessfully, attempted to block Clark’s ordination in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Douma carefully and extensively documents the entire sordid affair from start to finish and corrects the record regarding some of the fairy tales that have come out of the Van Til camp over the years (I have to think he’s going to take some heat over this).
As an extra bonus, pay close attention to the article Douma includes by Clark in the appendix; “Studies of the Doctrine of The Complaint.” Clark does a great job showing that even the Van Til faction’s lukewarm attempt at a concession after their complaint was denied and Clark exposed the group as un-Reformed epistemological skeptics, was no concession at all. Even in their backpedaling, Clark destroys his opponents a second time so thoroughly that only the frank and open admission that Clark was right and the Van Til faction was completely wrong would have sufficed. It should not be surprising that when it comes to Van Til and his many followers through the years that what they often give with the one hand they take away just as quickly with the other. That’s because when someone believes as Van Til did that (all) Scripture is paradoxical and contradictory propositions can, in fact, both be true, it’s easy to justify speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth.
The one possible and admittedly very small bone I would pick with the author is that I don’t see the passage cited from Van Til’s; An Introduction to Systematic Theology (161) as providing any genuine agreement between Van Til and Clark. Instead of Van Til “almost coming around to Clark’s position,” what I see it as a subtly worded evasion of the force of Clark’s devastating critique of The Complaint. As far as I can tell Van Til provides nothing more than a restatement of Acts 17:28 while conceding absolutely nothing. Consider these passages from An Introduction to Systematic Theology in light of the question of the incomprehensibility of God and whether or not there is any point of contact or coincidence between the truths known by God (all truth) and the knowledge possible to man (some truth):
“For man any new revelational proposition will enrich in meaning any previous given revelational proposition. But even this enrichment does not imply that there is any coincidence, that is, identity of content between what God has in his mind and what man has in his mind . . . There could and would be an identity of content only if the mind of man were identical with the mind of God. It is only on the assumption that the human mind is not the mind of a creature but is itself the mind of the Creator that one can talk consistently of identity of content between the mind of man and the mind of God (270,271).”
“[Man] never has and never can expect to have in his mind exactly the same thought content that God has in his mind (295).”
“. . . the Christian position with respect to man’s not knowing at any point just what God knows is based upon the presupposition of the self-contained God of Scripture. And this presupposition is the death of both rationalism and irrationalism. It is the death of both because it alone maintains the full dependence of the mind of man upon the mind of God . . . To say therefore that the human mind can know even one proposition in its minimal significance with the same depth of meaning with which God knows that proposition is an attack on the Creator-creature relationship and therewith an attack on the heart of Christianity. And unless we maintain the incomprehensibility of God as involved in and correlative to the idea of the all-controlling power and knowledge of God, we shall fall into the Romanist and Arminian heresy of making the mind of man at some points as ultimate as is the mind of God (297, 298).”
This minor caveat aside, this really is an outstanding biography of really a wonderful elder brother in Christ and one of the greatest minds of any generation. The book nicely captures a sense of the man and not just the controversies that often defined his life. Clark’s dedication to painting later in life, albeit ever so badly, really speaks to Clark as what was once called a true “Renaissance” man. The sadness expressed at the loss of his wife Ruth was particularly touching. It was also interesting and sad that his only seeming respite from controversy was during his long tenure as the head the philosophy department at a Butler University, a secular university. I suppose the blessing is that leaving the ugliness of ecclesiastical politics aside Clark was able to focus on writing and leaving his ever-expanding number of eager students with plenty to read and digest.
Doug Douma’s bio on Clark is now available. Read about it below…
I’m glad to announce that my book The Presbyterian Philosopher – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark is now available for purchase!
After four years of effort researching and writing this book, I’m thrilled to see it come to publication. This book incorporates Dr. Clark’s personal letter collection, information from unpublished papers and sermons, letters from a half dozen archives, and interviews with his family, friends, and colleagues to detail the history of his life and give context for understanding his philosophy and the controversies in which he was involved.
The preface is written by Dr. Clark’s two daughters, Lois A. Zeller and Betsy Clark George. Endorsements for the book are from John Frame, Jay Adams, Kenneth Gary Talbot, D. Clair Davis, David J. Engelsma, William Barker, Erwin Lutzer, Frank Walker, Dominic Aquila, and Andrew Zeller.
Please contact me if you would like to review the book in your journal, or desire to interview me regarding the book for your newspaper, blog, podcast, or radio program.
Soli Deo Gloria,
-Douglas J. Douma
Douma, Douglas J.
The Presbyterian Philosopher
Wipf and Stock
ISBN 13: 978-1-5326-0724-0
Retail Price: $37
Pub. Date: 1/24/2017
Wipf & Stock Customer Service: Available Now! – Call 541-344-1528 to order.
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Taking advantage of my author discount, I can sell you books at $28 a piece for US orders. To order your copy (or copies) email me at douglasdouma at yahoo dot com. Then I will provide you with an address to send check or money order. I do not currently accept PayPal. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.
As readers of God’s Hammer know Dr. Gus Gianello was a regular contributor to this blog. Sadly I received word this week that Gus had returned home to be with his Lord. Over the years Gus and I knew each other in the “virtual world” as he was a regular commentator here and he and I had many email conversations over the years. Gus was always a great encouragement to me and to many others. He will be greatly missed. I look forward to meeting him in person one day in Glory.
Gus’ family has set up a “Go Fund Me” page to help pay for funeral expenses, retire some outstanding debt so it won’t be a burden on his family, and bury him near Pheonix, Arizona. Please consider donating to this effort.
I have never understood the fascination with John Piper. Years ago my pastor gave me a copy of Piper’s The Pleasures of God telling me it was his favorite book. Even then, and while still wet behind my newly Reformed ears, I thought Piper was a bit muddle-headed and self-contradictory. As a result, I have spent very little time following him over the years. I did make an exception when I read his atrocious ode to Daniel Fuller in Future Grace. That book helped explain, at least for me, why Piper would align himself with Doug Wilson, the chief spokesman for the heretical works based Federal Vision, even inviting him to participate in various “Desiring God” conferences.
I suspect people like Piper because his “yes and no” theology allows everyone to have their ears tickled at the same time. It also helps that we live in an age where, for many, the abandonment of reason means to think “in submission to Scripture” and is considered the height of Christian piety (insert Isaiah 55:8 here). That’s why it was no surprise to see Piper’s “yes and no” theology on display recently on the Facebook page: Calvinism: Fellowship, Debate & Discussion. The post that started the ball rolling included a link to a short piece titled: “Isn’t Unlimited Atonement More Glorious Than Limited Atonement?” In it, Piper sets out to defend limited or what he prefers to call, “definite atonement.” Most of his response is solid. For example, Piper argues:
Those who espouse definite atonement affirm all of that; namely, that the death of Christ did effectively secure the complete, eternal, full salvation of God’s elect, the bride of Christ, including the fulfillment of the promises of the new covenant to take out of each one of his chosen people the heart of stone, put in a new, believing heart, and cause us to walk in his statutes.
So far, so good. But then he adds:
[Christ] died for everyone without distinction in John 3:16, in that sense: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” — in what sense “for the world”? — “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is because of the atonement that that is possible. You can say that to everybody.
So, which is it? Did Christ die in order to ”effectively secure the complete, eternal, full salvation of God’s elect, the bride of Christ” or “for everyone without distinction.” The elect and everyone without distinction are mutually exclusive categories. The former is limited to a particular people known by God and the latter to an amorphous faceless humanity who are no particular people at all. Piper wants it both ways and by interpreting John 3:16 like your typical A-1 Arminian he places himself outside of the Reformed tradition which understands the “world” of John 3:16 in terms of non-Jews hearkening back to God’s promise to Abraham in Gen 17. Or as Paul explains in Galatians 3:14: “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” And, again in Galatians 3:29; “And, if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” Or, as that far more consistent Reformed Baptist theologian John Gill explains:
…not every man in the world is here meant, or all the individuals of human nature; for all are not the objects of God’s special love … nor is the whole body of the chosen ones, as consisting of Jews and Gentiles, here designed; for though these are called the world, ( John 6:33 John 6:51 ); and are the objects of God’s special love, and to them Christ is given, and they are brought to believe in him, and shall never perish, but shall be saved with an everlasting salvation; yet rather the Gentiles particularly, and God’s elect among them, are meant; who are often called “the world”, and “the whole world”, and “the nations of the world”, as distinct from the Jews; see ( Romans 11:12 Romans 11:15 ) ( 1 John 2:2 ) ( Luke 12:30 ), compared with ( Matthew 6:32 ).
While I had to dig back a bit to find it, Piper made virtually the same “yes and no” claim regarding the imagined universal nature of the atonement in The Pleasures of God where he warns the reader to “not allow some alien logic to force [you] to choose between these two teachings of Scripture.” I admit, I have no idea what sort of logic aliens might use, but on this planet, we’re stuck with things like the law of contradiction and excluded middle. So, what “alien logic” would forbid Piper or anyone else from harmonizing the teachings of Scripture, particularly when dealing with something so central as the atonement? Only by adopting a non-scriptural premise can one be forced to maintain a non-biblical conclusion. The problem is not with logic but with Piper’s exegesis that leads him to reject the clear teaching of Scripture regarding Christ’s atoning work for the elect alone. Consequently, there is no sense in which Christ atoned for the sins of everyone universally considered. I freely admit that God does not reveal himself exhaustively in Scripture, and, with Calvin, I affirm that we cannot go further than Scripture permits. However, this is not one of those cases. Piper’s solution to the atonement is to abandon logic. Maybe that’s why he’s such a popular preacher.
Now, someone (a PCA pastor who will remain anonymous since I didn’t ask his permission to quote him here) asked; “What are the effects of the atonement? And are some of those effects suitable or fitting for the non-elect?”
To answer that, I think one only needs to consider countries where the Gospel has taken root and the civilizations they have produced. Compare those countries with countries devoid of the Gospel or where it has been replaced by clever a counterfeit like Romanism (see also John Robbins’ booklet, Christ and Civilization). There is no question that the non-elect fare much better in Christian countries (even in post-Christian countries like our own) than, say, in Muslim countries or under the thumb of some sort of some authoritarian tyrant. Let’s face it, nobody lives well in North Korea.
Next, my interlocutor asked; “Could that be the kind of distinction Piper has in mind?” While you might say that some temporary benefits of Christ’s particular atonement extend beyond those for whom Christ died, that’s no consolation for those spending their eternity in hell. Besides, you cannot validly infer non-saving benefits to the non-elect from John 3:16 correctly understood. That’s because the non-elect are nowhere in view.
Then came this reply:
Your first point is right–he does approach John 3:16 in a way that Reformed folks don’t, and that sets off an alarm. Your second point is wrong because I’ve shown that he’s not saying what you claim–he’s not saying it’s binary, and you have to believe both A and Not A. He’s saying the atonement has aspects that apply to all.
Since Piper interprets John 3:16 in a way that the Reformed traditionally have not, it is impossible to see how he’s not saying we must believe both A and Not A. The point being, it’s impossible to maintain an Arminian or universalistic understanding of John 3:16 and not contradict Reformed soteriology.
To illustrate this point again, and from the same article, Piper argues:
The transformation that made faith a reality was secured in the atonement for the beneficiaries of the new covenant. In other words, a new heart was purchased for God’s people in the atonement. This is more than the purchase of a possibility. This is more than the purchase of an offer of salvation. This is the real purchase for God’s people of God’s sovereign work to take out the heart of stone and put in the new, believing heart of flesh. Nobody would believe if that hadn’t been bought for them [emphasis mine].
Later he adds:
It not only purchases a genuine offer to the whole world in terms of John 3:16, but goes beyond the offer and actually accomplishes the triumph over unbelief and hardness of heart and brings to pass salvation and all the purposes of God that depend on it.
Where is this genuine offer given to “the whole world”? As already noted, it is nowhere found “in terms of John 3:16.” It seems to me that Piper wants to proclaim to all men that Christ died for them and has a wonderful plan for their life on the condition that they believe. But, then he says; “Nobody would believe if that hadn’t been bought for them.” Again, Piper wants it both ways and ends up with a completely incoherent view of the atonement. It’s like saying I bought some candy for my daughter, but I also offer it to my son even though I have no intention of ever giving him any.