The Presbyterian Philosopher, Gordon H. Clark – An Introduction

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017Today I want to return to the new biography by Douglas J. Douma on Gordon H. Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2017. 292 pp.).

You may recall that a few weeks ago when I received notice of the release of this book from the author, I did a brief blog post highlighting it. I have now received my review copy and the extra copies I ordered for the Seminary bookstore (available for purchase). I have started to delve into the book and am pleased with what I read so far.

I knew a little about Clark, especially, as I pointed out before, because of his connection to Herman Hoeksema and the PRCA. But I am intrigued by his philosophy and theology and interested in learning more about him as a Presbyterian churchman and as a person as well.

For today, I pull a few quotes from the introduction, where Douma gives his reason for writing about this man and his importance in his day and for our time. Here is one question and his answer:

What, then, did Clark believe? Why should Christians, particularly Christian theologians, wrestle with his philosophy and apply his insights? Clark provides perhaps the best philosophical understanding of Protestant Christianity. For its breadth and depth, his work can be difficult at times. He challenges us to question basic assumptions of the world, and of our faith, and he forces us to think in a rigorous, logical fashion (p.xx).

After laying out the broad “contours of Clark’s philosophy,” Douma points to the heart of Clark’s philosophical theology. His view of knowledge and the understanding of the world about him was not based on empiricism (observation and analysis), nor on rationalism (pure logic and reason), but on God’s revelation in Scripture. Concerning this the author writes,

The philosophy of Gordon Clark has been called Scripturalism because of his reliance on the truth of Scripture as his fundamental axiom or presupposition. Stated simply, his axiom is ‘The Bible is the Word of God.” Scripturalism teaches that the Bible is a revelation of truth from God, whom Himself determines truth and is the source of all truth. In this theory, the propositions of Scripture are true because they are given by inspiration of God, who cannot lie. For Clark, the Bible, the sixty-six books accepted by most Protestant churches, is a set of true propositions. All knowledge currently available to man are these propositions along with any additional propositions that can be logically deduced from them (xxi).

In addition to this fundamental axiom, Clark was also a dedicated Presbyterian confessionalist, subscribing to and promoting the historic creed of Presbyterians. About this says Douma,

As much as the story of Gordon Clark connects with American Presbyterian history, the philosophy of Gordon Clark engages the most important Presbyterian confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith. Time and again in Clark’s life and works, his commitment to the system of belief described in this historic document is revealed. …The Confession set the boundaries for Clark’s philosophy beyond which he would not strive to venture (xxiii).

And though these commitments to Scripture and the Confession brought him into inevitable controversy wherever he went and taught, “Clark remained convinced of the truth of the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith, a truth centered in biblical revelation alone” (xxiii).

And so Douma points us to the significance of Clark for our own time:

Clark’s true import, however, is that, in an age of increasing secularization and rising atheism, he put up an intellectual defense of the Christian faith. This faith, he believed, was a system. All its parts linked together, a luxury of no other philosophy. The Scriptures exhort us to ‘be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have ‘(1 Peter 3:15). This requires that we love God fully with our minds and study His Word. Only from God’s revelation can we be assured of the truth of our reasons (xxiv).

That’s sufficient introduction to Clark for this post. I trust you see from this introduction that Clark has much to say to our age and generation. Until next time, perhaps it is time for you to be exposed to Clark’s Scripturalism.

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