Rusted Memories

G.L.W. Johnson is the senior pastor at Church of the Redeemer in Mesa, Arizona, and the editor of B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought. Recently, Johnson has been busy at Lane Keister’s Greenbaggins blog offering up a series of reviews of John Muether’s new biography, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman. In his latest installment Johnson provides some homey recollections of time he spent with both with Gordon Clark and the man he most admires, Cornelius Van Til.

Before getting into the substance of Johnson’s reminiscence, I should point out that this is the same Pastor Johnson who, when asked to consider John Robbins’ dispute with Muether examined in Can the Orthodox Presbyterian Church be Saved? , or perhaps even giving him a call to get his side on Muether’s questionable take on the Clark controversy, said he “wouldn’t give Robbins the time of day.” He then went on to justify his snide, sinful and unprovoked attack on his brother in Christ by saying: “Anyone who claims to be ‘Reformed’ and yet describes both Bavinck and Vos as the two ’sinister’ figures behind Van Til would merit only Warfield’s contempt.”


Now, admittedly, I couldn’t find any instances where Dr. Robbins’ described either Bavinck or Vos as “sinister” or that they were somehow the “puppet masters” behind Van Til. Maybe I missed something or maybe this is a good reason for Johnson not to trust his memory. Robbins does cite some short incoherent babble from Bavinck that very much tracks the later anti-intellectual and incoherent babble repeated by Van Til. So I asked Johnson was Robbins wrong for doing so? Johnson didn’t say. Robbins has also been very critical of the entire biblical theological movement that has both jettisoned logic and usurped systematics in any number of Presbyterian and Reformed circles and seminaries. Again, I fail to see the problem.

As for how Warfield might or might not view Robbins, I have no idea how pastor Johnson could possibly know this since Warfield died in 1921 more than twenty years before the Clark/Van Til controversy and well before Dr. Robbins was even born. I guess because Johnson edited a book on Warfield that it now qualifies him as some sort of clairvoyant mystically channeling the thoughts of Warfield. Of course, it’s always possible that if Warfield were alive today that he would be on Keister’s blog rebuking Johnson along with Muether and Keister for defending Van Til’s bankrupt and antichristian epistemology along with his sordid attack on Clark. I confess, I don’t know, but then I don’t claim to speak for the dead.

Getting back to plumbing Johnson’s memories, he begins by recounting a charming story of how he had the opportunity to drive Van Til to Faith Theological Seminary in his old faded blue 1966 Peugeot with rusted out floorboards so that they could both hear Clark lecture on Empiricism. It should be noted at the time of this little road trip, both Van Til and Clark were now in their eighties, which, for Johnson, means that his little road trip was more than twenty years ago. Johnson goes on to note how friendly and cordial both men were toward each other following the lecture. It evidently impressed Johnson that Clark exemplified what it means to be a Christian and held no grudges against his former adversary. Then, later that week, while Clark was visiting Johnson’s home and after enjoying a pleasant dinner with his family, Johnson claims that Clark dropped a bomb by telling him that Ned Stonehouse, and not Van Til, “was the guy in the black hat” in the whole controversy.

This latest expanded version of events, complete with faded blue ‘66 Peugeot with rusted out floorboards all drawn from Johnson’s decades old memory, is intended to support his earlier claim that “[Van Til] was enlisted as the one to actually argue the case . . .” but that it was Stonehouse who “led the opposition to [Clark] in the OPC.”

Admittedly, if true this would certainly be news. After all, both defenders of Van Til and Gordon Clark have universally understood the controversy in the 1940’s as a clash between two Reformed giants and one that pitted Van Til against Clark in a major battle between two competing and mutually exclusive epistemologies. Now, according to Johnson, the real fight was between Gordon Clark and Ned Stonehouse, a man not known as a particularly original thinker, certainly not anywhere near the caliber of either Clark or Van Til even on a good day.

When asked to corroborate this story, perhaps by providing something from Clark’s many letters, articles, or books, or even something Van Til may have wrote, Johnson’s reply to me was: “God is witness between us.”

While God might be Johnson’s witness, this certainly doesn’t help Lane Keister who also stated his own version of events. Keister said that according to Muether, and the book Johnson is supposed to be reviewing, that “[John] Murray was the primary one pressing charges.” Keister added that not only was Van Til not the one pressing charges but that Van Til even “sharply disagreed” with them. Of course, even here it is a little difficult to see how Van Til might have “sharply disagreed” with the charges since he not only signed the complaint against Clark, but according to the Presbytery’s minutes of the case, he made an impassioned “plea for a serious consideration of the Complaint.” Hardly the actions of a man who “sharply disagreed.” I’d hate to imagine what Van Til might have done if he actually agreed with the charges.

Further, if Van Til “sharply disagreed” with the Complaint, then why would Muether write in Van Til the Controversialist that in the “larger context of Reformed ecclesiology, Van Til’s role in the Clark controversy, far from being an embarrassment, becomes one of his finest moments.” If this is to be considered one of Van Til’s “finest moments,” then why would he and Keister now be trying to paint Murray as controversy’s chief architect and mover, whereas Johnson tried to hand the ball to Stonehouse?

These men need to get their stories straight.

Of course, one would have thought that in the larger context of Reformed ecclesiology the scurrilous attack on Clark would have been a notable low point regardless of who is left holding the ball. And rather than defending Reformed ecclesiology, and as Dr. Robbins observed, “The WTS faction opposed Reformed ecclesiology and defended the independent, parachurch status of Westminster Seminary, which was its power base in controlling the OPC.” Anyone interested in seeing how this very un-Reformed ecclesiology operates needs to read O. Palmer Robertson’s historical account of the Shepherd controversy as it raged for seven years at WTS.

So, according to these latest revisionist, the Clark/Van Til controversy is either the Clark/Stonehouse or the Clark/Murray controversy. Consequently, not only did both sides have it wrong for all these years, but thanks to Johnson, Keister and Muether, Van Til is now recast as an unwilling participant and even someone who “sharply disagreed” with the attack on Clark. Again, this is all news to me.

I’ll have to wait to see how Keister and Muether backup their claim that Murray was the man and Van Til was somehow a reluctant and unwilling participant who “sharply disagreed” with the charges. In the meantime, where is the substantiation of Johnson’s claim that Stonehouse was the primary figure in the attack against Clark and that Van Til was somehow dragged into or simply “enlisted” into the controversy rather than being a willing participant, much less the prime mover and intellectual force behind the Complaint? I can only think Johnson has never noticed the many references to Van Til throughout Clark’s works – precisely as it relates to the central questions raised in the case – not to mention the direct mention of the case itself? Or, Van Til’s many references to Clark referring to Clark as a man deeply entrenched in the “sin” of “rationalism” who was busy advancing a dangerous and antichristian theory of knowledge? Of course, and at the very least, Clark most certainly was familiar with Herman Hoeksema’s editorials in The Standard Bearer all written during the height of the controversy and later compiled and published by the Trinity Foundation, all identifying Van Til as the intellectual and driving force behind the attack. Did either Clark or Van Til publish anything anywhere that controverts Hoeksema’s reporting of the major players in the whole affair? Funny, I can’t find even a mention of Stonehouse as being the primary instigator and architect of the controversy in any of Clark’s works or in Hoeksema’s account of the events as they unfolded. I haven’t found anything yet in Van Til’s works either. Perhaps there is something buried in that massive CDROM of his sitting on my shelf and I just missed it?

Was Ned Stonehouse very much involved in this orchestrated and well crafted hit on Dr. Clark? Of course he was. So was that “Christian gentleman” John Murray. The record speaks for itself. It was the Clark/Van Til controversy and not the Clark/Stonehouse or the Clark/Murray controversy. After all, whose philosophies were on the table and on the line in that debate? Ned Stonehouse’s? John Murray’s? Give me a break.

It was Van Til’s doctrines, primarily those centering around his analogous view of truth and love of biblical paradox, the very heart of Van Til’s doctrine of the incomprehensibility, that made up the central issues in the Complaint. To now try to minimize his role, even to the point of removing him completely as a willing participant in a vain attempt to magically exempt him from any culpability in the attack, seems, well, disingenuous and very ungentlemanly.

Besides, if Johnson’s memories of what Clark may have said some twenty plus years ago during a private dinner conversation at his home are correct, and have not been distorted by time like the old rusted out floorboards in his faded blue ’66 Peugeot, how then can he explain Clark naming Van Til as the “guy in the black hat” even as late as in his final book – a book Clark arranged to be published posthumously so he could answer his critics one last time and from the grave? Clark wrote:

“Cornelius Van Til . . . furnished the basic content of A Complaint. “

As mentioned, Stonehouse was a major player in the controversy. As was John Murray, R.B. Kuiper and almost a dozen lesser men who made up the WTS faction aligned against Clark. Could it be that Stonehouse was particularly vicious if not downright personal in his attacks against Clark and that this explains why Clark would identify him as “the man in the black hat?” Perhaps? Who knows? Have historians up until now been wrong in identifying the WTS faction that launched an unprovoked attack against Clark with Van Til? I have to think this would require a little more than just some personal old and faded memories from a private dinner conversation that happened more than twenty years ago. Just like the holes in Johnson’s floorboards, it appears there are more than a few holes in this story as well.

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13 Comments on “Rusted Memories”

  1. magma2 Says:

    I see Johnson has already taken me to task for originally stating in my piece that he is “one of” the editors of Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought when in fact he is the *only* editor. Having not read the book and seeing the names David B. Calhoun and Mark A. Noll listed alongside Johnson’s name on a book listing, I didn’t want to give Johnson more credit than he deserves.

    I have corrected my honest mistake. Now will Johnson correct his mistakes, not to mention repent of his public sin against his brother in Christ, John Robbins?

    Nah, it seems the only type of response we’ll get from Johnson is just more abusive ad hominem arguments like the one he provided on Greenbaggins in answer to my blog. Johnson writes:

    Sean Gerety has deep seated bitterness against CVT, not merely against VanTillianism but personal animosity against CVT -which given that he is closely associated with John Robbins , who openly declared that he does not consider CVT to have been a Christian-I guess this was to be expected.

    I should point out that Pastor Johnson made this same charge against Dr. Robbins to me privately, but seeing that he’s chosen to make his charge public . . . .

    Not only have I *never* read anything like that in print where John calls Van Til a non-Christian (beside how could John possibly know this), but he has never said anything like this to me personally. I will also add that when I asked John about Johnson’s charge he emphatically denied it.

    Oh, but that’s right, Johnson remembers John saying it so it must be true. After all, we all can see now just how trustworthy Johnson’s memory is.

    Besides, talk about being bitter. Johnson didn’t even mention the nice job I did doctoring up a picture I found of an old ’66 Peugeot 404. At the very least, I thought he would appreciate my attempt to help him recapture another lost memory.

  2. qeqesha Says:

    Sean Gerety has deep seated bitterness against CVT, a man Sean never personally knew! This is incredible! But of course, Johnson expects his little puppies and lap dogs to believe him, on Johnson’s papal dignity! Why does Johnson not reply point by point and refute your piece above? Their untruthful reconstruction of history shows to what extent these man will go in their sinful pursuit of a hostile agenda against the truth in all its forms. Johnson’s comments underscore once more, van Tillian anti-intellectual bankruptcy and irrationalism and the fatal poison it is.

    Instead he scrounges for a minor point and makes a meal out of it!

    Nice job on the old Peugeot 404, but then it might not have been a Peugeot, given Johnson’s recollection of the past!


  3. magma2 Says:

    Thanks Denson. I did think the Peugeot had a nice dreamy quality about it.

  4. greenbaggins Says:

    Sean, I never said that Van Til sharply disagreed with Stonehouse and Murray. Muether didn’t say that, and neither did Johnson. Get your facts straight.

  5. magma2 Says:

    Hi Lane. You wrote:

    “Murray was the primary one pressing charges. Van Til was not (see the Muether book for confirmation). Van Til sharply disagreed.”

    Maybe you need to get your own facts straight or are you suffering from the same memory affliction that Pastor Johnson seems to be suffering from? You guys really need to lighten up.

  6. greenbaggins Says:

    Ah, now I see where the confusion is. My bad, and poor communication on my part. What I meant was that Van Til sharply disagreed with Clark, not sharply disagreed with Murray. My point was that despite such sharp disagreement, there was common ground between them which Clarkians today seem unable to acknowledge.

  7. qeqesha Says:

    greenbaggins said,

    April 16, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Re. 94

    Murray was the primary one pressing charges. Van Til was not (see the Muether book for confirmation). Van Til sharply disagreed. However, you seem to allow no common ground between the two of them. Every time a controversy starts, the combatants are more vitriolic than they need to be. Van Til’s followers have toned down that rhetoric quite a bit since the 1940’s. If anything, Clark’s followers have dialed up the rhetoric. I don’t know of very many, if any, Van Tillians today who would prosecute a Clarkian in their Presbytery. But I feel relatively certain that there are Clarkians today who would press charges against Van Tillians. In other words, Sean, I am looking at the whole scope of the controversy since the 1940’s.


  8. qeqesha Says:

    Another “proof” that Muether has shown that Van Til was actually mostly silent!(At Greenbaggins)
    ReformedSinner (DC) said,

    April 27, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Magma, #233,

    Reading a couple of lines here and there does not conclude “baseless attacks” by Van Til. Afterall, these “baseless attacks” are supported by John Murray and many OPC elders, teachers, and pastors. Unless of course you want to pronounce yourself the ultimate judge on this supposively “Van Til-Clark” controversy (which Meuther has masterfully shown us that Van Til was actually mostly silent on this issue, but it was Murray that took up the task of showing up Clark.) Also, Clark and Van Til are on friendly terms, but unfortunately both camps of self-proclaimed disciples of each are trying their hardest to drive a wedge, the further apart the better, between them.

    Van Til and Clark tried their best to converge, but unfortunately others after them tried their best to bring in “knock down” arguments.

  9. magma2 Says:

    Ah, now I see where the confusion is. My bad, and poor communication on my part. What I meant was that Van Til sharply disagreed with Clark, not sharply disagreed with Murray.

    To say that VT “sharply disagreed” with Clark is like saying snow is white and grass is green. Besides, this undercuts your entire argument that these men shared common epistemological ground. They did not. To state the painfully obvious, they sharply disagreed. Yet, elsewhere on that same thread you wrote “it wasn’t Van Til at all who pushed for the trial of Clark, but rather John Murray.” Was that *at all* another example of poor communication skills?

    Anyone reading the comments by Vantilians on your blog, yours included, would think VT and Clark were old pals who very much agreed on such basics as univocality, analogy, paradox, the nature of truth, etc., but there was no agreement whatsoever. That’s what the Clark/Van Til controversy was all about. Yet, you, Johnson, Muether and the other Vantilians on your blog are busy trying to whitewash the whole affair in a desperate and transparent attempt to make that big nasty black mark on Van Til’s reputation magically go away. This is myth making in action.

    My point was that despite such sharp disagreement, there was common ground between them which Clarkians today seem unable to acknowledge.

    The fact that you would even ask on another blog “why does Van Til get the entire brunt of blame, while Murray and Stonehouse get off relatively unscathed?” demonstrates your complete failure to even grasp what was at issue – or even whose ideas were on the chopping block. Of course, I don’t really blame you. You are a graduate of WTS, and, while probably not totally brainwashed, I suspect it’s more the result of cultural osmosis. Sort of like peer pressure for M.Divs. I mean, you couldn’t even bring yourself to publicly acknowledge on your blog the danger of thinking it an act of Christian piety to bow one’s mind before biblical incoherence and antinomy and call it just another instance of the Creator/Creature distinction.

  10. rgmann Says:

    Denson, this was my response to what Reformed Sinner (DC) wrote on Lane’s blog, post #244. I don’t recall anyone responding to it though:

    Reading a couple of lines here and there does not conclude “baseless attacks” by Van Til. Afterall, these “baseless attacks” are supported by John Murray and many OPC elders, teachers, and pastors. Unless of course you want to pronounce yourself the ultimate judge on this supposively “Van Til-Clark” controversy (which Meuther has masterfully shown us that Van Til was actually mostly silent on this issue, but it was Murray that took up the task of showing up Clark.)

    According to Herman Hoeksema, Van Til was very much a part of these “baseless attacks” against Gordon Clark, and was one of the Westminster Seminary professors who signed the Complaint against Clark’s ordination to the ministry. In a collection of editorials for the Standard Bearer, published in the mid 1940s (when the Clark-Van Til controversy began), Hoeksema wrote:

    It appears that on July 7, 1944, a special meeting of the Presbytery of Philadelphia was held, for the purpose of examining a certain Dr. Gordon H. Clark with a view to his licensure and ordination to the ministry. Against the fact that this meeting was called, as well as against its proceedings and decisions, the protest or “Complaint” is directed. It is signed by a dozen signatures, among which are the names of some well known to us: R. B. Kuiper, C. Van Til, and N. B. Stonehouse…

    The first part [of the main body of the Complaint] deals with Dr. Clark’s alleged erroneous views concerning the incomprehensibility and knowability of God (2-6).

    The second part concerns Dr. Clark’s “view of the relation of the faculty of knowledge, the intellectual faculty, to other faculties of the soul” (6-10).

    The third part accused Dr. Clark of maintaining “that the relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility to each other presents no difficulty for his thinking and that the two are easily reconcilable before the bar of human reason” (10-13).

    The fourth part is an elaboration upon the statement that “in the course of Dr. Clark’s examination it became abundantly clear that his rationalism keeps him from doing justice to the precious teaching of Scripture that in the Gospel God sincerely offers salvation in Christ to all who hear, reprobate as well as elect, and that he has no pleasure in any one’s rejecting this offer but, contrariwise, would have all who hear accept it and be saved” (13-15). (The Clark-Van Til Controversy, pg. 1-2)

    In light of these incontrovertible facts, it seems quite silly to argue that “Van Til was actually mostly silent on this issue.” It’s like saying that John Hancock was “mostly silent” on the issue of independence from British rule. Moreover, unless Van Til publicly renounced these attacks against Clark at a later date (which I’m unaware of), then it hardly seems unfair for Clark’s defenders to denounce Van Til’s complicity in the matter. And they were indeed “baseless attacks,” as the ultimate vindication of Clark demonstrates:

    The controversy, begun by the Westminster Seminary faculty led by Cornelius Van Til in 1944, raged for years; it was finally settled in 1948. Clark was not deposed from the ministry and both the Complainants and the Presbytery of Philadelphia were scolded for their behavior. (The Clark-Van Til Controversy, Foreword, viii)

  11. qeqesha Says:

    rgmann Says:
    May 2, 2008 at 4:05 am

    Denson, this was my response to what Reformed Sinner (DC) wrote on Lane’s blog, post #244. I don’t recall anyone responding to it though: ….”

    That is so spot on! I doubt if any of them has any answer to your post above!!!
    As I quoted above, (the evidence for their revisionism of history), Van Till is now painted as an affable quiet old man, who spent most of his time swingning from a hammmock and contentendly picking his teeth and smoking a cigar, while naughty Murray and Stonehouse threw stones and invectives at Clark. All they can come up with are baseless ad hominems and complaints about the poor breeding of Clarkians.

    Example from Greenbaggins
    Ron Henzel said,

    April 19, 2008 at 9:19 am


    I started reading John Robbins’s literature long before I was aware that he was a disciple of Clark and hostile toward Van Til. None of the material I initially read from him had anything to do with that controversy. Even so, I was almost instantly put off by his incessantly belligerent tone, contentious style, combative posture, and inflammatory rhetoric. In the many years since I first picked up a copy of one of his books, my reaction to his approach has only intensified. His current website bristles with links to “Intellectual Ammunition,” “Horror Files,” and his very own “Manifesto.” I’m not saying there is nothing of value to be found there. Robbins is clearly brilliant and has much to offer. But the fact is that his approach tends to attract a certain embattled mindset, and I have seen much unnecessary and sinful aggressiveness result from it. “>>>>

    Can you believe this? In the face of the serious issues at the very core of the christian faith, that John has had to devote so much time adressing, all Ron can say is that John Robbins does not come through as well bred, and a gentleman!! This is a typical excuse of course for rejecting the truth. But he finds the wolves that are at the centre of the present attack on the gospel, and those guilty of silent complicity to this attack ….. gentlemanly!

    I’ve known Gary for nearly 25 years. We met in 1984, when neither of us were in a Reformed church, …. I am strictly reporting how Robbins comes off to someone who, until recently, has been largely ignorant of the ax he’s been grinding on the heads of Van Til’s followers.

    Defense of the truth and the gospel is dimissed as an “ax he’s been grinding on the heads of van Til’s followers”.

    Gary L.W. Johnson is one of the finest Christian gentlemen I’ve ever known, but I have never seen him back off from controversy when it comes to the truth of the Gospel. Meanwhile, I’ve seen you assault the reputation of Van Til here far more than Gary has addressed Robbins’s behavior, and over an issue that apparently only Robbins and his followers believe is central to the Gospel.

    Sean’s opposition to van Til’s paradox theology and embrace of the absurd is labeled “assault(ing) the reputation of Van Til ..”! There is no substantiation as to why Van Til’s views should not be condemned as the damnable nonsense that they are, a hindrance to the light and clarity of the gospel, and a reverting back to medievalsm.

    Just amazing!


  12. magma2 Says:

    In light of these incontrovertible facts, it seems quite silly to argue that “Van Til was actually mostly silent on this issue.” It’s like saying that John Hancock was “mostly silent” on the issue of independence from British rule.

    You’re absolutely right Roger. The facts are incontrovertible, or so you would think. You would also think it would cause these men a moment’s pause when Clark wrote in Clark Speaks from the Grave; “Cornelius Van Til . . . furnished the basic content of A Complaint.” I realize it’s a lot to ask, but you would think this would be enough to cause that “prefect Christian gentleman” Johnson to reconsider and start to question his memory. Not a chance. None of these men, Lane included, are going to let things like facts get in the way of their myth building and revisionism. I wonder if this is a symptom of Christian postmodernism or perhaps something old fashion like the fruit of idolatry?

    I think it’s obvious that these so-called “Christian gentlemen” treat the heretics and false teachers of the Federal Vision, men they call their “brothers in Christ,” better than they ever treated Clark or any of his supporters — that goes for Lane Keister as well.

    And, since Denson brought up Ron Henzel’s defense of GLW Johnson, a man Henzel calls “one of the finest Christian gentlemen” he has “ever known,” I contacted Pastor Johnson yesterday following his comments on Lane’s blog and wrote:

    Since I was banned from posting on Lane’s blog, I answered you on mine.

    To which this fine Christian gentleman replied this morning:

    Church of the Redeemer to me 7:20 AM

    In part III of the CVT review I will cite chapter and verse from Robbins on the sinister influence of Bavinck and Vos on VT- by the way Lane has removed the side column link to your sewer blog.

    Can you feel the love?

    I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to part III. 🙂

    A little taken aback by his response, even addressing me as “Turd,” I asked him if he would mind if I shared his private remarks with others, this was his reply:

    Your behaviour and your association with the equally reprehensible John Robbins speaks volumes about you. I could careless what you do. Gordon Clark would diavow the both of you for your vileness. I will not have anymore to do with you. You are insnared in web of sinful bitterness-you can quote me on this. GLW Johnson

    Not only can Johnson channel the dead Warfield, but now he even thinks Gordon Clark is speaking through him. I guess it’s considered bad behavior and downright vile and sinful to question Johnson’s memory, not to mention his necromancy.

    Consider him quoted.

  13. qeqesha Says:

    Turd? and this from “one of the finest gentleman”!
    John Robbins is reprehensible??? Defending justification by faith alone is reprehensible?? Warning christians against the dangers of irrationalism and pious sounding nonsense is reprehensible??

    Obviously, these “gentlemen” have other priorities other than the truth and the glory of God.


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