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Douma on Clark, Barth, and Van Til

July 14, 2018

Here is a link to Doug Douma’s Gordon “Clark and Other Reformed Critics of Karl Barth.”  The piece is a sweeping and excellent review and analysis of Gordon Clark’s, Karl Barth’s Theological Method.  I say sweeping because in the review Douma doesn’t limit himself to Clark’s book or even other Reformed critics of Barth. Douma explains:

barthIn comparing Clark’s critique of Barth with those made by other Reformed theologians, especially Cornelius Van Til, I intend to demonstrate (1) that Clark’s critique can be differentiated from the others in the importance he places on proper logic, (2) that despite Van Til’s opposition to Barth’s theology, Clark had good reasons to contend that Van Til, in fact, fell into some of the same errors, and (3) that the Westminster Confession of Faith, which Clark subscribed to as an ordained Presbyterian minister, has proven to be a considerable bulwark against Barthianism.

I think the most important paragraph in the whole piece is this:

The problems here, as much for Van Til’s view as for Barth’s, include (1) the inability to distinguish between apparent contradictions caused by exegetical mistakes and apparent contradictions supposedly inherent in the Scriptures, (2) the destruction of any claim of Christianity’s superiority to other systems based on its demonstrated consistency, and (3) the destruction of the central biblical hermeneutical principle of comparing Scripture passages with other Scripture passages based on the assumption of non-contradiction. Van Til’s doctrine of paradox, like Barth’s, is destructive to the entire enterprise of exegesis and Christian doctrine.

Point 2 above is a particularly damning implication of Van Til’s apologetic that most people miss, yet a point that Vantilian James Anderson explicitly concedes in his Paradox in Christian Theology. Christianity has nothing to say in response to the inconsistencies of competing non-Christian systems. This is a major blow to Van Til’s presuppositionalism.

Another point Douma examines is that while Reformed confessionalism is a bulwark against Barthianism, Vantilianism fails because it is at odds with the WCF particularly WCF 1. Not sure why Van Til’s followers have trouble even identifying this since it is so painfully black and white.

Finally, I also appreciate this review because of how well Douma deals with and explains Clark’s criticisms and even his approval in places of Barth. I confess I found Clark’s book when I read it probably the most difficult one for me to get my mind around. I’m sure that part of the reason for my difficulty was due to my unfamiliarity with Barth and the other reason because I read it while on vacation in the Outer Banks (I’ve since learned to stick to crime novels and other light fiction while on vacation).

I should point out that Douma is currently looking to have his article published and warns that it may not be available on his blog for too long.  I hope he succeeds because it deserves a wider audience.


Scripturalism and the Cessation of Continued Revelation

April 27, 2018

Lots of good citations and hard to find Clark quotes … but it does make the case.

A Place for Thoughts

Does Scripturalism allow for the possibility of continued revelation?

I. Definitions
A. The cessation of continued revelation
B. Scripturalism

II. Continued Revelation contradicted by:
A. The Westminster Confession of Faith
B. Clark’s own comments.
C. Clark’s disciples.
1. John Robbins
2. W. Gary Crampton
3. Robert L. Reymond

III. A Scripturalist Continuationist?

IV. The Incompatibility of Continuationism and Scripturalism
A. Response 1 and rebuttal – Something Other than Knowledge?
B. Response 2 and rebuttal – Knowledge in Heaven
C. Response 3 and rebuttal – Private Knowledge and Assurance


Does Scripturalism allow for the possibility of continued revelation?
I. Definitions
A. The cessation of continued revelation
The doctrine of cessation of continued revelation — that God has ceased revealing additional knowledge to man following the completion of the canon of Scripture — is an element of “cessationism.” Cessationism can also refer to (1) the cessation of all miracles and/or…

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Doug Douma Reviews Can The Presbyterian Church In America Be Saved?

March 21, 2018

canthepreschurchDoug Douma, author of The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, has reviewed my little book on some of the troubles in the PCA.  One small caveat is that Douma notes that one PCA church he is familiar with has left to join the Bible Presbyterian Church because “several of [the FV men] are still in good standing in the PCA poisoning congregations with their heresies.”  Then in the next paragraph, he observes the FV cancer may well be in remission as “one rarely hears of a Federal Visionist today.”

The problem is this radio silence may not be indicative of remission at all but rather resignation and acceptance. People are just tired of fighting a battle that has already been lost and to which the courts in the PCA have closed the door to any possible remedy.  It could also be that this fight has given the FV such a bad name that few will admit they are FV.  That explains why even Doug Wilson has been trying to distance himself from the name while retaining its central doctrines since it is hurting enrollment in his schools. As Wilson explains dollars speak:

Say that a student in their classical Christian school decides to come to New St. Andrews, and some concerned folks in the church start wondering aloud whether that is entirely wise, because they heard that they teach something out there called “federal vision,” and while they do not know what it is exactly, it sounds dubious. Our friend can now, without getting into the weeds, simply say no, that’s not true. This is not evasion because the concerns were pretty nebulous to begin with, and the answer addresses it at that same level. What do they teach there? We are Reformed evangelicals in the historic Westminster tradition.

Of course, despite his protests, neither Wilson, the CREC, nor his hotbed of heresy New St. Andrews is “evangelicals in the historic Westminster tradition.”  While it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who knows him, Wilson lies.

Instead of remission, all that was accomplished was to drive these men further underground and in some cases, like the above, to simply try to reinvent themselves while never repenting of anything (see Besides, we see many of the same aberrant doctrines resurfacing in men like John Piper even though I don’t think anyone would call him a Federal Visionist.

You can read Douma’s review here: Review of “Can The Presbyterian Church In America be saved?” by Sean Gerety

Anti-Protestant: Lew Rockwell’s Ongoing Attack on the Reformation

January 19, 2018

“As a Roman Catholic himself, it should come as no surprise that Lew Rockwell’s eponymously named website has long featured an undercurrent of Romanist thought running beneath its Libertarian superstructure.

What is interesting about this Romanist intellectual undercurrent is how it attempts to persuade the reader that Romanism, far from being the enemy of limited government and private property, what John Robbins called “constitutional-capitalism” in his 1999 book Ecclesiastical Megalomania, the principles of liberty were developed and nourished by the scholars of the Roman Church-State and it is the Protestants who are responsible for the growth of the contemporary statism.

But while touting the fantasy that the tyrants of the Roman Church-State actually were proponents of private property and political liberty has been a consistent theme on LRC, that theme was somewhat muted.

In recent months, though, what was once a fairly low-key attack on Protestantism appears to have become more aggressive.”

Lux Lucet

Lew was at it again this weekend, publishing another hit piece on the Reformation.

Now some readers may be asking themselves, just what on earth is and why should I care what they publish or whether they attack the Reformation.

Fair questions, those. So before talking about their latest attack on the Reformation, a little explanation is in order.

By number of unique monthly visitors, (LRC) is one of the largest, perhaps the largest, Libertarian website in the world. Now by percentage of the population, Libertarians are a fairly small group, so it may be tempting to dismiss LRC as a big fish in a small pond and move on.

The LRC website describes itself thus, “The daily news and opinion site was founded in 1999 by anarcho-capitalists Lew Rockwell and Burt Blumert to help carry on the anti-war, anti-state, pro-market work of Murray N. Rothbard.”

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Clark Quick Quote

January 3, 2018

Not exactly how I ended up there but someone seems to have added me recently to an annoying Facebook group called: Calvinism Theology VS The Rest Of Christianity.  It’s really just a page where Arminians of various sorts bash Calvinists. What’s nice is that it’s usually Calvinists that are charged with being generally obnoxious and nasty. I can assure you I’ve never met a Calvinist who has anything on some of these guys.  With that said, and since I don’t really spend a lot of time around Arminians of any stripe, although I do know some, I didn’t realize how obsessed they are with the question of evil.  They seem to think that the notion of man possessing a free will somehow removes God from any culpability regarding the destinies of His creatures, but, of course, they’re wrong.   Now, I do admit that there is a certain logic in their position since if there is an independent force which can and does act freely and apart from any influence from God, or anything else for that matter, then God cannot be in any way liable for the choices of His creatures since they’re not under His sovereign control.  Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Gordon Clark’s Religion, Reason and Revelation (now available as an e-book for just $5) which effectively demolishes the imagined Arminian solution to the problem of evil:

It might seem that here is the proper place to ask the question, Does man have a free will? Is it true that his choices are not determined by motives, by inducements, or by his settled character? Can a person resist God’s grace and power and make an uncaused decision? However, these questions will not be answered here. They will be discussed later. The next step in the argument is a slightly different one. Let us assume that man’s will is free; let us assume that these questions have been answered in the affirmative; it would still remain to be shown that free will solves the problem of evil. This then is the immediate inquiry. Is the theory of free will, even if true, a satisfactory explanation of evil in a world created by God? Reasons, compelling reasons, will now be given for a negative answer. Even if men were able to choose good as evil, even if a sinner could choose Christ as easily as he could reject him, it would be totally irrelevant to the fundamental problem. Free will was put forward to relieve God of responsibility for sin. But this it does not do.

Suppose there were a life guard stationed on a dangerous beach. In the breakers a boy is being sucked out to sea by the strong undertow. He cannot swim. He will drown without powerful aid. It will have to be powerful, for as drowning sinners do, he will struggle against his rescuer. But the life guard simply sits on his high chair and watches him drown. Perhaps he may shout a few words of advice and tell him to exercise his free will. After all, it was of his own free will that the boy went into the surf. The guard merely permitted him to go in and permitted him to drown. Would an Arminian now conclude that the life guard thus escapes culpability?

This illustration, with its finite limitations, is damaging enough as it is. It shows that permission of evil as contrasted with positive causality does not relieve a life guard from responsibility. Similary, if God merely permits men to be engulfed in sin of their own free wills, the original objections of Voltaire and Professor Patterson are not thereby met. This is what the Arminian fails to notice. And yet the illustration does not do full justice to the actual situation. For unlike the boy who exists in relative independence of the life guard, in actuality God made the boy and the ocean too. Now, if the guard, who is not a creator at all, is responsible for permitting the boy to drown, even if the boy is supposed to have entered the surf of his own free will, does not God, who made them, appear in a worse light? Surely an omnipotent God could have either made the boy a better swimmer, or made the ocean less rough, or at least have saved him from drowning.

Not only are free will and permission irrelevant to the problem of evil, but further the idea of permission has no intelligible meaning. It is quite within the range of possibility for a lifeguard to permit a man to drown. This permission, however, depends on the fact that the ocean’s undertow is beyond the guard’s control. If the guard had some giant suction device which he operated so as to engulf the boy, one would call it murder, not permission. The idea of permission is possible only where there is an independent force, either the boy’s force or the ocean’s force. But this is not the situation in the case of God and the universe. Nothing in the universe can be independent of the Omnipotent Creator, for in him we live and move and have our being. Therefore the idea of permission makes no sense when applied to God.” – Religion, Reason, and Revelation, p. 204 -205. (1961)

Bitcoin And Biblical Economics

December 10, 2017

matthewsSteve Matthews discusses the idea of intrinsic verse imputed value in economics and throws in some important theology along the way.

Lux Lucet

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Taking One To The Face

October 21, 2017


John Piper’s departure from the central doctrine of the Christian faith even justification by belief alone has a long history, but the recent flurry of articles and rebukes and counter-rebukes has been particularly interesting.  If you haven’t been following this debate and actually have a life off the Internet and social media, here is a good list of articles on the subject that provide a some of the debate trajectories.  Frankly, and regardless of what you might think of John Piper, this ongoing debate is a good thing.  As Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians; “… if we or even a well-respected evangelical rock star should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, let him be accursed!”

There are a few other articles that are not on the above list that I think are noteworthy, specifically Rachel Miller’s “Back To the Reformed Confessions and Catechism” and Philip Comer’s “Piper, ‘Final Salvation’ and Reformed Baptists.”  The latter is particularly good because the author draws an analogy of chocolate ice cream mixed with dog poop that leaves the appropriate bad taste in the mouth.

Of course, all the salvos haven’t been going in one direction. There has been a lot of incoming mortars too from the legions of Piper’s defenders.  Probably the most noteworthy and visible have come from PCA pastor Mark Jones writing at The Calvinist International.  Jones does an impressive job of quote mining various Reformed theologians throughout history to create the impression that Piper’s doctrine of initial justification by faith alone and final justification by faith and works has a long Reformed pedigree.  However, my favorite part about Jones’ piece is that he begins by asserting that if you don’t agree with him then you’re an intellectual dolt in desperate need of a theological spanking.  Must be the Dale Carnegie technique:

… if you write blog posts taking issue with Piper on this particular topic, but claim to be Reformed, you probably need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publishing via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously. And even then, it’s possible that you could have such a built-in bias against someone that you’d find a problem with them for saying “Jesus loves sinners.”


Jones’ most recent volley was to challenge one of Piper’s most well-known critics, Westminister Theological Seminary in California professor, R. Scott Clark to a debate.  Jones even promises to fly down to beautiful Escondido on his own dime and debate Clark “on his own turf.” If nothing else, Jones is a scrappy fellow. What I particularly liked about Jones’ gauntlet was that it begins by reminding everyone once again of just how smart he is:

I believe my own writings on the Puritans, Christ, and Reformed orthodoxy are fully consistent with the Westminster Standards. The Westminster Standards are documents I have given my Christian life to studying and trying to master as far as I am able. I do not take a single exception, which my Presbytery can confirm.

And, yes, the above link to his “writings” on his own Amazon page was included in his original piece and it is a very impressive collection by any standard. Needless to say, Jones isn’t shy about self-promotion.

Yet, almost missed in all the chest thumping and resume writing was a comment by John Lewis buried at the bottom of Jones’ initial defense of Piper’s doctrine of salvation by faith and works. Lewis, who identifies himself as “a very young Christian, 70 years old, saved at the age of 61,” notes that Piper (and Jones) have “took something not all that difficult … and made it quite confusing.”  Thankfully, someone who didn’t miss Lewis’ comment was Chris Gordon, a pastor at the Escondido United Reformed Church, writing on a blog called The Gordian Knot. Gordon delivers one of the most stunning rebukes of a fellow pastor that I have ever read.  Here is just a taste:

Mark Jones has made this all the more clear for us; good works are necessary for your salvation. As Dr. Jones says, Zanchius said it, Mastricht said it, Goodwin said it, Owen said it, Twisse said it, and Ursinus said it. This is not difficult, if you are going to take issue with John Piper, you “need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publish via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously.”

And, according to Jones, if you are not “thoroughly acquainted” with the plethora of past distinctions between things like dispositiva (that’s Latin), the right versus the possession in the necessity of good works for salvation, then “you have no business writing” (or speaking I assume) on this topic.

If that isn’t enough to shut it down, it gets even better. Now Dr. Jones has proposed a disputation with Dr. R. Scott Clark. He will fly down to Escondido on his own dime and debate these fine distinctions for the good of the church. Since things have reached a “hysterical pitch” the disputatio will be the solution. If not, then people should stop tweeting and be called out for questioning anyone who says that good works are necessary for salvation.

If I had the space and time, especially observing that this month we celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, this would be a good moment it interject the story of Martin Luther. The little known Augustinian monk who questioned Rome who said good works were necessary for salvation, and after a series of disputationes, he was put on trial, excommunicated, his works burned, and he was threatened to “go to the flames” since he had no business questioning the theological giants and the church. But I digress.

But, the crux of Gordon’s castigation is the confusion Jones has sown in the minds of Christ’s sheep, specifically in the mind of 70-year-old John Lewis.  I also encourage you to read the exchange between Chris Gordon and Mark Jones in the comment section to his blog.

My one criticism of this scathing and excellent piece is that instead of encouraging a debate with R. Scott Clark, Gordon pleads with Jones to “fly on your own dime to see John Lewis and pastorally help him since now he is confused about these matters.”  Adding, “We are always forced to more clarity as pastors when we are looking at real, dying people and explaining salvation to them. ”

While I can understand pastor Gordon’s sincere and heartfelt concern for one of Christ’s precious and now confused sheep, it seems to me that Jones has done enough damage to the body of Christ already.  My advice to Jones is to shut up stay home.

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