Archive for August 2010

The Clark-Van Til Controversy as Politics – The Failure to Unify

August 28, 2010

Benjamin Wong on the Yahoo Scripturalist list asked if I would post his observations concerning the immediate fallout of the Clark/Van Til controversy that he culled from The Presbyterian Guardian.  Despite failing in their attempt to defrock Clark, and despite being disciplined by the Philadelphia Presbytery, Van Til and his associates at Westminster Seminary persisted in their attack against Clark’s supporters until they drove them all out of the OPC including Clark himself (John Robbins recalled that Clark regretted not staying in the OPC to continue the fight).   Wong’s observations, drawn from a smattering of old reports from the Guardian’s archives are relevant today as the war waged by Van Til and his followers against Gordon Clark is very much alive and well: especially by those associated with Westminster Seminary (both East and West).   While I think there can be little doubt that the controversy in the 1940’s centered around Westminster’s independence as a para-church organization  which Clark and his associates threatened (documented in John Robbins’ booklet, Can the OPC be Saved?), the underlying irrational  philosophy of Van Til continues to pollute the minds of countless young seminary students and church men to the detriment of glory of Christ and His Church. Wong has also provided an index of Clark related material from the Presbyterian Guardian that can be found in the combox of the Valuable Archive post below.

By Benjamin Wong

1. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) has made the entire collection of The Presbyterian Guardian available at its website:

I like to thank the OPC for making them available.

2. By my count, there are at least 45 editorials, articles, communications, news items, letters to editors, etc. in The Presbyterian Guardian that are relevant to the Clark-Van Til Controversy.

They are a fascinating read.

One thing (among many others) that struck me is that after the Van Til faction has taken effective control over the OPC, they did not attempt to unify the denomination.

Rather, the Van Tillians did not stop until they drove their opponents out of the OPC.

3. Although I am a Canadian, I watch my share of American TV.

In a typical American national political convention (Republican or Democrat), after all the campaigning is over there will be a winning candidate.

Typically, in his acceptance speech to the convention, the winning candidate will reach out to the losers to unify the convention.

Losing does not mean the losers have to give up their positions.

But as members of a political party, they are expected to endorse the party platform.

At a minimum, the losers are expected not to work against the party platform.

But this symbolic gesture of reaching out to the losers to unify the convention is very important – it helps to heal the animosities that have developed between the candidates during the

4. But it was not so with the Van Tillians.

The Van Tillians were very good in the tactics of church politics:

(a) They took control of the Editorial of The Presbyterian Guardian (i.e. control the propaganda).

(b) They defeated the attempt to place Westminster Theological Seminary under OPC oversight.

(c) They progressively took over key positions at Presbyteries and the General Assembly of the OPC.

(d) Graduates of Westminster Theological Seminary began to fill the pulpits of the OPC and gained influence at the grassroots level.

But after they took effective control over the OPC, the Van Tillians did not stop.

They continue their church politics until they drove their opponents out of the OPC.

There was to be no “unifying the convention”.


Secrecy in the Siouxlands

August 26, 2010

I have reported quite a bit on the strange behavior of the Siouxlands Presbytery (SP) in recent months.  One of the more disturbing bits of strange behavior is their attempt to bind bloggers and keep them from reporting on Presbytery’s actions.  Recently Wes White removed a number of documents from his blog after a member of the SP claimed that White was in violation of the following injunction: “[I]n response to the protest [of Good Shepherd PCA], Presbytery requires bloggers, who post the minutes, attachments, and appendices of a Presbytery meeting on the internet, to cease this activity and to remove their postings.”

White’s imagined “sin” is that he posted relevant documents pertaining to presbytery’s investigations of himself and Brian Carpenter (you can find a few of those banned documents here, here and here).  Maybe I’m missing something, but I fail to see how a person can be publicly investigated by a presbytery and not to be able to publicly discuss or display the relevant documents in public – even when they’re the one being investigated.  Also, by what right can a Presbytery gag bloggers?  Could White have posted those “offending” documents on a list serve or discussion group like Yahoo Groups or the Puritan Boards? If not, why not?  How about email?  Can a Presbytery bind a man’s conscious and forbid him from using that too?  I suppose next the SP will ban the use of the United States Postal Service and restrict its use to just Presbytery approved mailings.

What if the SP’s injunction was instead: “Presbytery requires pork eaters to cease this activity and remove all pork products from their home.”   Would anyone in their right mind be required to submit to such an injunction?  Of course not.  Consequently, I fail to see what biblical imperative is violated by posting public documents on a public forum like a blog?

Interesting, White says he doesn’t believe his posting of these various documents violates Presbytery’s injunction.  But, even if it did, he writes:

I do not believe that the Presbytery has the right to say that I cannot publish these items. I do not think that they have the right to say so even if they are part of the minutes, but, again, I do not want to make this a bigger issue than it needs to be.

White concludes his remarks by stressing; “we must be careful not to bind the conscience contrary to the Word of God.”  Yet, if White believes it’s within his rights to posts documents his Presbytery, for some odd reason, would rather not have posted, isn’t he permitting his conscience to be bound in a manner contrary to the Word of God?

Scott Clark has also chimed in on recent attempts to silence evil bloggers with some excellent practical advice including “develop a thicker skin.”  Admittedly, and somewhat hypocritically, Clark doesn’t exactly exemplify someone with a think skin as he has systematically banned Scripturalists from commenting on his blog, including yours truly, claiming followers of Gordon Clark are irritating and  “unreasonable.”   However, the big difference in all this is that Scott’s blog is his own and he’s free to ban anyone he wants.  So while I would drawn the line somewhat differently than Scott does, as irritating Vantilian irrationalists and assorted paradox mongers are always welcome to post their remarks and objections on my blog, I have banned Marc Carpenter and the one follower of his “Outside the Camp” along with one other person who just proved himself to be an incorrigible bore.  However, presbyteries and church officers acting in their official capacity as members of an ecclesiastic court have no such luxury.

James Thornwell wrote:

The scriptural view of the Church, as a visible institution, is that she is a mere instrumentality employed by Christ for the purpose of accomplishing His own ends. She has no will, wisdom nor power of herself. She is the instrument, and He the agent. She is not His confidential agent, to whom He communicates His will, and leaves it to be executed as she may see best. She is a positive institution, and therefore must show a definite warrant for everything that she does. It is not enough that her measures are not condemned. They must be sanctioned, positively sanctioned, by the power which ordains her, or they are null and void.

I see nothing in Scripture that could possibly warrant any Presbytery from restricting the discussion and dissemination of official church documents.  Is the PCA now a secret society like the Masons?  Evidently those in the Siouxlands Presbytery think they are.

However, in politics there is a saying that you can’t kick every barking dog, which simply means you need to pick your battles.  White was probably correct in pulling down the offending documents so that, in his words, “this does not become a distraction from the central issue, which is the teaching of Federal Vision theology.”  I think we can all agree to that.

A Little Federal Vision Update

August 17, 2010

It looks like this fall may tell us quite a bit about the future of the Federal Vision within the PCA. Then again, maybe not.  I suspect there will be another little flurry of activity, a bit of foot stomping on both sides, and more posturing by Presbyteries feigning their allegiance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ over against the false gospel of the FV, all the while systematically ignoring the Federal Visionists right under their noses.  I know, I know.  My wife calls me a “negative Nancy.”  Yet, I predict no FV man will face any disciplinary action, other than being inconvenienced, and no FV man will be brought to trial for teaching their corrupt “parallel soteriological system.”  After all, the PCA is now an official “Big Tent” denomination.  Of course, this didn’t happen over night.  It’s been a number of years since elders and deacons were required to actually subscribe to the Westminster Confession, much less believe that the Confession actually contains the system of doctrine taught in Scripture.  For example, since 2000 elders can believe virtually anything they want concerning the Days of Creation, even if what the Bible calls a day is in fact a real day at all.  Scripture, after all, is much more elastic in the way it uses words like day, salvation, justification, union, election and any number of terms central to the once historic Reformed and Protestant faith.  I’m increasingly convinced in the PCA the Confession is a virtual dead letter, or, at very least, an antiquated curiosity from the days when men used to make their wives and daughters wear doilies on their heads to go to church.  The supremacy of doctrine and fidelity to the Scriptures has been replaced by relationships and community building.

Also, you have to wonder if there is any genuine system of doctrine taught in Scripture at all, since in the minds of most PCA elders and seminary profs the Scriptures themselves are, in principle, hostile to systematization as they contain any number of antinomies and conflicting “truths” impenetrable to the human mind.  Contradictions in Scripture, even if they’re only apparent, make the very notion that the Confession actually contains the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture philosophically suspect and better suited for the unsophisticated and naive.  A quaint notion for those with their heads still in the 17th century perhaps, but for modern day PCA pastors enamored by new perspectives and Starbucks, confessional standards are just a brickbat used by self-styled TR’s to beat others about the head.  Isn’t it time we all grew up?

Then there was the issue of the so-called “good faith” subscription which the PCA passed in 2003.  As Andy Webb presciently argued from the floor of the General Assembly:

Once we pass this, our presbyteries will be empowered to grant exceptions to any doctrine we confess is taught in Scripture by a simple 51% vote.  Once those exceptions are granted, precedent is set, and that doctrine will never again be an impediment to the ordination of any man. . . . Gradually, but inevitably, our standards will be eroded. This will not happen overnight, there will be no immediate catastrophe, in fact the initial action will probably be hailed as a triumph. But while I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, if we do make this decision, I foresee a day when presbyters—watching as men who believe things they thought unthinkable are ordained—will wish they could come back here to this moment in time and change what happened.

Today presbyteries can and do allow for any number of “exceptions” to the Standards, or, even more malignantly, decide for themselves if any exception is an exception at all.  David Coffin said at the time that the so-called “good faith” subscription would lead to the “balkanization of our denomination.”  I wonder if he ever imagined that that balkanization would center around the doctrine of justification as the false gospels of the FV & NPP that have continued to metastasize throughout the entire PCA to the point where there are now recognized FV Presbyteries that, at the very least, protect and provide cover for known FV pastors, not to mention dozens of other individual churches that embrace these and other doctrinal novelties.  (more…)

A Scientific Lesson in Avoiding Theologial Nonsense

August 12, 2010

During a recent business trip out West, I read Thomas Gold’s The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels. In a nutshell, Gold’s thesis is that oil is an inorganic or “abiogentic” substance that the earth produces naturally. I got interested in the topic when I was lamenting to a friend that it’s too bad that oil isn’t a renewable resource. He responded saying that perhaps it was and referred me to an article at World Net Daily, which in turn led me to Gold’s book.  As World Net puts it; “The theory is simple: Crude oil forms as a natural inorganic process which occurs between the mantle and the crust, somewhere between 5 and 20 miles deep.”  As one reviewer on Amazon reminisced after hearing Gold lecture years ago,  “Gold started out, ‘I always thought it strange that before the dinosaurs died, the majority of them hiked to Saudi Arabia!'”

Gold does a good job of mustering any number of compelling pieces of evidence to support his theory, which, of course, has direct geopolitical implications as fear mongers and environmental religionists use everything from the “War on Terror” to BP’s little leak to justify everything from our continued meddling abroad to attempts here at home to pass things like the authoritarian and intrusive “Cap and Tax” legislation.   Admittedly, Gold does goes off into la-la land  by using his theory of a “deep hot biosphere” to support the evolutionary myth concerning the origins of life.  But, my interest here is neither science, politics, evolution, or even oil.   Rather, it has to do with logic and theology.   Gold writes:

I spent years puzzling over the conflicting evidence of petroleum formation. For reasons explained in the previous two chapters, how could the abiogenic theory be squared with the equally strong evidence of biological activity? As it turned out, the problem had become a paradox only because arguments on both sides contained an unrecognized hidden assumption.

There are no real paradoxes in science; the apparent paradoxes are merely nature’s polite way, sotto voce, of informing us that our understanding is incomplete or erroneous. With respect to the petroleum paradox, the unrecognized assumption on both sides of the debate was an unquestioned belief that life can exist on *at the surface of the earth.* None of us had considered that a large amount of active microbiology could exist *within the earth’s crust,* down to the deepest levels to which we can drill.

So, here is my question: why are Reformed theologians half as stupid as secularists and scientists when they tell us to “embrace with passion” the so-called apparent paradoxes of Scripture? To modify Gold somewhat, there are no real paradoxes in Christian theology; the apparent paradoxes are merely God’s polite way of informing us that our understanding is incomplete or erroneous.  To put it another way, apparent contradictions in Scripture are God’s way of telling us we need to go back to the exegetical drawing board and recheck our premises.

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