Archive for January 2016

Faith is Assent

January 23, 2016

As mentioned in previous posts, there are those at Whitefield Theological Seminary who are teaching their impressionable students that Gordon Clark held to the traditional threefold definition of saving faith; i.e., the tautological and meaningless combo of notitia, assensus and fiducia.  The argument being advanced by those at Whitefield, and most militantly by its students, is that John Robbins and The Trinity Foundation surreptitiously altered Clark’s book, Faith and Saving Faith.  This calculated and even orchestrated attempt to smear the good name of the late John Robbins and the ongoing work of the Trinity Foundation is scurrilous, sinful and stupid.  While I’ve shared part of a transcript from a lecture Clark gave in 1977 defending his view that faith is assent and that the addition of fiducia or trust to faith’s definition adds precisely zero to any understanding of what faith is, I also thought it would be helpful for some to actually hear Clark in his own words.  While there is considerably more in this question and answer session that is relevant and helpful, and I would recommend people download and listen to the complete lecture, The Defense of Christian Presuppositions in Light of Non-Christian Presuppositions, I just want people to hear how emphatic and insistent Clark is in his defense of faith, all faith, as the combination of understanding and assent.

Perhaps listening to Clark’s answers here will also help confused Van Tillians like Steve Hays who thinks because Clark rightly points out that true assent can never be hypocritical that Michael “Hare Krishna” Sudduth must have been a Christian and sincerely believed the Gospel before his so-called “de-conversion” into abject paganism. As I attempted to explain in my reply to Hays, but probably didn’t do a very good job of it (see Revenge of the Magic Lizard People), Hays’ argument doesn’t follow.  I suspect he knows it too, but his whole mission at Triablogue and as John Frame’s dutiful underling, has been to discredit Gordon Clark at every opportunity. While I have no doubt that Sudduth at one time did assent to many of the truths of Christianity, I have no reason to believe that Sudduth ever assented to the truths of the Gospel specifically justification by belief alone and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.  As John Robbins explains in his piece, Why Heretics Win Battles (which further exposes the false teachers of the Federal Vision like Doug Wilson and Rich Lusk):

Westminster Larger Catechism Question 72 is usually misread by people looking for some esoteric and complicated definition of saving faith as something more than understanding of and assent to the Gospel. What the Catechism actually teaches is that one must not only assent to the truth of the promise of the Gospel, but also to the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers:

“Justifying faith is a saving grace wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the Gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.”

The Catechism is concerned to make clear what truths one has to believe in order to be saved. It is not discussing the psychology of the act of believing, still less is it disparaging assent to the truth of the Gospel.

Among other things, this Catechetical and Biblical definition of justifying faith asserts what Wilson et al. deny: that sinners are saved by believing the doctrine of justification by faith alone. That is precisely what the Larger Catechism asserts. If the Catechism is correct, Lusk is lost.

Also important to note is that no Reformed Confession, and certainly not the Westminster Confession, defines “faith” by asserting that it consists of three components, notitia, assensus, and fiducia. When professed Reformed theologians lapse into that misleading Latin model, they sound like they are exegeting the Vulgate, not the Greek New Testament.

Clark too makes a distinction between understanding and assent.  Elsewhere Clark talks of lecturing convincingly on Spinoza for hours while claiming a solid grasp of his system, but, he notes, he didn’t believe a word of it; he didn’t assent to it. I don’t see why Sudduth couldn’t have aped Christianity as to have fooled both Steve Hays and John Robbins and he most assuredly did, but that is hardly a mark against Clark.  Sudduth obviously fooled a lot of people before coming out of the orange closet wearing finger bells growing a topknot (which I guess is quite fashionable now with all those silly “man buns”).

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Gordon Clark Primer

January 22, 2016

The following is a very good lecture on the epistemology of Gordon Clark by Dr. Cal Beisner.  He also has a few comments on the Clark/Van Til controversy.  A couple of people posted it on the Facebook Clark discussion page, but I thought I’d share it here too.  The actual lecture begins at 12:17 and that’s where I have it starting. But if you want to go back to the beginning you can learn all about Cal’s “Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.”

Whitefield Follies

January 16, 2016

ken

Something is rotten at Whitefield Seminary.  There are a number of current and former students all claiming that the views expressed in Gordon Clark’s monograph, Faith and Saving Faith (re-released along with The Johannine Logos as What Is Saving Faith?)  are not Clark’s views of faith and saving faith, but rather are the views of the late John Robbins.  Jason Peterson, who I believe is a current student at Whitefield (he booted me from his Facebook group so fast as to make my nose bleed so I didn’t get the chance to confirm if he’s currently enrolled) posted the following:

I had a question earlier concerning a comment that I made about the trinity foundation:
“Which of the Trinity Foundation’s resources should we avoid?”

Answer:

First, Gordon Clark’s book, Saving Faith, was edited to express Robbins’ view that faith is merely intellectual assent rather than Calvin’s view (which Clark agreed with).

Second, John Robbins’ misrepresented Bahnsen on theonomy and was rather rude during their dialogue.

Third, John Robbins’ book on Ayn Rand is a rather uncharitable representation of Objectivism.

Most of what I have read on the Trinity Foundation website is good stuff. Hopefully the Trinity Foundation will release the original manuscripts of Clark’s works one day. The Gordon Clark Foundation, however has quite a bit of his works. I’d say that if you see something that looks strange, to cross reference the article on the Trinity Foundation with a related article on the Gordon Clark Foundation. One other consideration that must be kept in mind however, concerning the Gordon Clark Foundation’s unpublished works of Clark is that Clark might have changed his mind on some topics at a later date. Interpreting Clark’s thought is going to be really tricky unless the unedited version of Clark’s published works are released.

Leaving aside Petersen’s other comments regarding the imagined “rude” behavior of John Robbins in his “dialog” with Greg Bahnsen and his supposed “uncharitable representation of Objectivism” (is there a charitable representation of Rand’s Objectivism?), Petersen’s charge regarding F&SF is without merit as demonstrated in my previous post. But the question is, where is Petersen getting these ideas?

Recently I have been contacted by a number of current and former Whitefield students all telling me that Ken Talbot, the president of Whitefield, told them that Clark held to the traditional threefold definition of faith (that mystical stew of notitia, assensus and fiducia) and that it was John Robbins’ view of faith, not Clark’s, that we find in the book published under Clark’s name.

Make no mistake, that is a serious charge. I have tried contacting Talbot asking him to either confirm or deny the claims made by his students, but I have yet to hear back from him.  Suffice it to say anyone making that claim, whether it is Talbot or another professors at Whitefield, is just being silly to the point of absurdity. Clark unambiguously rejected the traditional threefold definition of saving faith and instead properly defined faith as understanding with assent.  Consider the following reply Clark gave in a lecture cited in my last post:

This student correctly saw what I was saying: that faith was a matter of assent. And not understanding by itself, but understanding plus assent….

… And I prefer John Calvin who talks about assent itself being pious. It is not something else added to the assent that is pious, the assent itself is pious. And so believing, and I really prefer the word believing, because the word faith is Latin, and I don’t like Latin, I like the Greek pistueo. And belief is assent. It is assent to an understood proposition … Now, the trouble, I think in contemporary civilization is, at least for the last couple centuries, is that some people have begun to think that assent is merely something verbal that you say out loud but perhaps you don’t mean. Of course, that is not assent, that is hypocrisy. But assent in its theological meaning is simply the fact that to believe you accept this proposition. As the Scripture says, you believe that Christ is Lord, you believe that he rose from the dead, and if you believe those things you are saved. That’s it. Now, I’ll repeat it, now the reason I don’t like that threefold analysis of faith is that the third part of it is just the word that you asked the definition for. And hence the addition of the word fiducia doesn’t add anything to your understanding of it.

What is particularly bizarre is that the transcript of this lecture is available at Ken Talbot’s own website, The Clark Foundation. Further, the date and place listed on that the transcript is;  “Believer’s Chapel Tape Ministry, 1977.” Assuming the date is correct, Clark was defending his view of faith as the intellectual assent to an understood proposition for nearly a decade prior to the publication of F&SF. Even if the date is not correct, it should be obvious to everyone except the most intellectually handicapped that Clark unequivocally rejected the traditional threefold definition of saving faith. A man is justified by belief alone.

In addition, the first edition of F&SF, the one that I own, was published by John Robbins and the Trinity Foundation in 1983 two years prior to Clark’s passing, which is more than enough time for Clark to have publicly protested and demanded Robbins correct any editorial altering of his views.  It’s not like Clark had become some dotty old invalid drooling in the corner in 1983.  Clark was hard at work up until the time Lord took him home when he had virtually completed a far more controversial work, his theologically earth shattering; The Incarnation.

There is more, but since some others have already picked up the gauntlet, and frankly have done an even better job than I have exposing some of the errors emanating from Whitefield, I thought I would share them here.

The first is a piece by Carlos Montijo and Tim Shaughnessy titled: “The Marks of a ‘True’ Clarkian.” The piece deals with both the absurd claim that Clark didn’t actually write F&SF and that Clark didn’t differentiate knowledge from opinion or true belief.  To put it another way, some at Whitefiled argue that Clark did not require an account for knowledge. That’s almost as silly and misguided as saying that Clark didn’t write F&SF. Haven’t the students at Whitefield, or at least their professors, read Clark’s Introduction to Christian Philosophy?

The second piece is by Luke Miner at Scripturalism.com titled; “Clark on Saving Faith in 1961.”  This second piece is important in continuing to establish a timeline because it demonstrates that throughout his long career, Clark consistently defended the idea that faith is understanding with assent and that saving faith is assent to the understood propositions of the Gospel.

Faith Is Understanding With Assent

January 10, 2016

clark01As someone who has shed considerable spiritual blood defending and advocating for Gordon Clark’s simple and biblical definition of faith as an assent to an understood proposition (for example see here, here, here, here and here for starters), I was shocked this past week to learn that there are people coming out of Whitefield Seminary who are under the impression that John Robbins altered Clark’s understanding of faith in his monograph, Faith  And Saving Faith (later reissued as part of What Is Saving Faith).   For example, one Whitefield student, Jason Petersen, posted on a Whitefield Facebook page that calls itself, “Clarkian Apologetics: Institute for Philosophical Thought”:

Gordon Clark’s book, [Faith and] Saving Faith, was edited to express Robbins’ view that faith is merely intellectual assent rather than Calvin’s view (which Clark agreed with).”

Jason Petersen is one of the list moderators and as soon as I asked Petersen to support his charge, while at the same time showing him why he was wrong, I was booted from the group. While I’m no stranger to the left foot of fellowship, normally it’s from blog sites and discussion boards run by Van Tillians who are more interested in protecting Van Til’s anti-Confessional P&R hegemony. However, these were self-professed Clarkians.  I guess with friends like these….

To be fair, evidently the group has a rule against disagreeing with, much less challenging, any one of the moderators. For what it’s worth, I don’t think I ever actually joined the group and I suspect my friend, Hugh McCann (who has a habit putting me on FB lists I had no intention of joining), signed me up. Regardless, I would never be a part of any discussion group that doesn’t allow discussion.  Besides, I think FB is generally a horrible forum for theological discussions of any kind and is much better suited for cute puppy videos … and who doesn’t love cute puppy videos.

While I plan to get more into this odd bit of funny business coming out of this little Whitefield sponsored group, I thought I would share part of a transcript from a Clark audio lecture that can be found at John Robbin’s Trinity Foundation website: A Defense of Christian Presuppositions in the Light of Non­-Christian Presuppositions. Interestingly, the transcript of that lecture can be found at The Gordon Clark Foundation website run by Ken Talbot and Whitefield Seminary. Don’t get me wrong, I was initially thrilled to learn about The Gordon Clark Foundation.  I was also thrilled to learn of the Scripturalism site run by C.Jay Engel and Luke Miner out of California. The more the merrier. I was also thrilled to learn over the years that Whitefield uses some of Clark’s works as source material.  Every seminary should. After all, Gary Crampton (a long time contribution to the Trinity Foundation) is on their Administrative Board and from what I can tell from their promotional materials, teaches New Testament, Theology, and Apologetics at the seminary.

Moreover, I don’t care if Crampton or Talbot disagree with Clark and hold to the irrational and nonsensical traditional threefold definition, most do, but for anyone to suggest that Clark shared their view and that Robbins somehow altered the text of F&SF as to change Clark’s simple and unambiguous definition of saving faith reflects very badly on the character of those making that charge. I can’t really blame Jason Petersen however, but I’m happy to blame his teachers at Whitfield if they are in any way responsible for this nasty bit of misinformation.

So, to correct any misunderstanding of what Clark actually taught regarding the nature of faith and saving faith, the following is the Q & A portion from the above mentioned lecture.  It should be more than enough to demonstrate that the view of faith expressed in Faith And Saving Faith is very much that of Gordon Clark:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Questioner 4: Yes sir. What is the barrier between this intellectual understanding and assent. Is it a barrier to man’s mind? Is it an inherent defect in man’s mind, is it a suppression of righteousness or a combination of both?

The question is what is the difference between understanding and assent.

Questioner 4: What is the barrier that prevents a man from moving from understanding to assent?

Oh, What is the barrier that prevents a man from moving from understanding to assent? Well, of course, it is sin.

Questioner 4: But in what respect does sin affect the mind of man? Does man inherently defective or does he simply not like what he is told, or both?

Sin affects people in various ways. To different degrees. And there isn’t any general statements you can make. But I’ll give you some. For example, not everybody commits murder. Even worse criminals don’t do it except on Saturday night. There are, you know. they have different ways of doing this. But one of the effects of sin, is the inability to correctly add up your columns on your income tax blanks. You make a mistake in arithmetic. That’s due to original sin. It might not be the worst sin in the world, but it is a common one. And we have this effect of sin in our lives. And so we make mistakes in arithmetic. Now when it comes to the gospel, men have very good opinions of themselves. They don’t think they need salvation. They have, well some people think they’re all going to go to heaven anyhow. And so they’re not much interested in what you have to say. But this differs from person to person. Of course, the basic effect of sin is to make a person at enmity with the gospel, with God. But it manifests itself in various ways. It is not necessarily a defect, not a defect in human nature as such. And it certainly not a defect in arithmetic. We may make mistakes in arithmetic but that doesn’t mean arithmetic is mistaken. The effect of sin in various human lives differs from person to person. But there is a general reluctance to accept grace. And to admit that you need to be saved. Does that answer your question or doesn’t it? Not quite. Well, ask it over again.

Questioner 4: Well, I understand perfectly as far as sin does affect the mind. My question is simply is how does it affect the mind? Is unregenerate man able to reason up to brink of faith, to understand cognitively all the aspects of the gospel in its fullest sense and the problem is he doesn’t come to faith simply because he doesn’t like the implications of what he sees? Or does he not really have a full cognitive awareness of what the gospel is? Does he have a 98% understanding of it?

Did everybody hear all this long question? I don’t mind you asking a second time and making it long, I just want everybody to hear the question. I can hardly repeat it. But you’re again asking why a man doesn’t accept the gospel. Doesn’t he understand it, or so on. Again, it varies from person to person. I think the person in the first century of our era after the death and resurrection of Christ, the one person who understood the doctrines of Christianity better than anybody else was the persecutor Saul. He had a better Christian theology in his understanding than any of the Christians had. That’s why he was so mad, that is why he wanted to persecute them. There was no defect in his understanding. If you want defects in understanding why you better look to the apostles. Or some of that at any rate. Or the other Christians. But Paul understood the implications of the gospel. He hated it. Then Christ met him on the road to Damascus and changed his mind. That’s change of mind, metanoia, that’s repentance. But not everybody is as brilliant as the apostle Paul and they have various difficulties. Does someone else wish to. Yes sir.

Questioner 5: Yes sir, you ordered faith, and I think Sam’s question was in the same area, if you define faith as notitia, assentia, and fiducia. I think you’re saying the essence of faith is assentia, assent, agreement with fact.

Yes I am.

Questioner 5. Ok. How about fiducia? How does that enter into your definition of faith?

It doesn’t. And I’ll tell you why. The word fiducia is the same root as the word faith, fides. Repeat the question I thought everybody heard.

Moderator: Pronounce the Latin word correctly. It is assensus and not assentia.

Yes, its assensus. The gentleman’s question was if you define faith as notitia, assensus, fiducia quae, et fiducia or something like that, what do you do with fiducia? This student correctly saw what I was saying: that faith was a matter of assent. And not understanding by itself, but understanding plus assent. Then he wants to know about fiducia. Now fiducia is the same root as fides, and what has happened is this. A person has asked you to define faith, and you say faith is understanding, assent, and faith. Well, that doesn’t add anything at all. You’re simply repeating the word for which you previous asked for the definition. And I prefer John Calvin who talks about assent itself being pious. It is not something else added to the assent that is pious, the assent itself is pious. And so believing, and I really prefer the word believing, because the word faith is Latin, and I don’t like Latin, I like the Greek pistueo. And belief is assent. It is assent to an understood proposition. And it is a voluntary assent to something you understand and being voluntary and the nature of assent it is nothing hypocritical. It must be sincere, that is what assent is. Now, the trouble, I think in contemporary civilization is, at least for the last couple centuries, is that some people have begun to think that assent is merely something verbal that you say out loud but perhaps you don’t mean. Of course, that is not assent, that is hypocrisy. But assent in its theological meaning is simply the fact that to believe you accept this proposition. As the Scripture says, you believe that Christ is Lord, you believe that he rose from the dead, and if you believe those things you are saved. That’s it. Now, I’ll repeat it, now the reason I don’t like that threefold analysis of faith is that the third part of it is just the word that you asked the definition for. And hence the addition of the word fiducia doesn’t add anything to your understanding of it. You want to make some rejoinder to that? Oh, I don’t mind, you know, I love a brawl. 

(more…)


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