The Presbyterian Philosopher: Gordon H. Clark (4)

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017It has been a few months since we considered 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.). Today let’s return to it, looking at chapter 3 – “Gordon Clark and the Formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”

In this chapter Douma traces the great theological battles that took place in the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) in the early part of the 20th century, the fundamentalist-modernist battles that were going on in all the major Protestant denominations.

This battle in the PCUSA would lead to the departure of sound Presbyterian defenders of the Westminster Confession such as J. Gresham Machen, H. McAllister Griffiths, Murray F. Thompson, as well as Clark himself in the 1930s. Led by Machen, these defenders of the Presbyterian faith would begin a new seminary – Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in Philadelphia, and a new denomination (first named the Presbyterian Church in America [PCA]), which would become known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

Early in that fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the PCUSA Clark would speak to the fundamental issue, the inerrancy of holy Scripture. Douma addresses that in his own words as well as those of Clark:

When the Auburn Affirmation first appeared in print [the modernist statement adopted in 1924 in response to the five fundamentals adopted by the conservatives in 1923], Clark was an undergraduate senior at the University of Pennsylvania and a ruling elder in the PCUSA. Though Clark opposed the Affirmation from the moment he read it, he only attacked it in print ten years later in an article that redubbed it the ‘Auburn Heresy’ and described it as a ‘vicious attack on the Word of God.’ Clark knew the Auburn Affirmation challenged a critical doctrine of Christianity: the inerrancy of Scripture. In his view, it was absurd to argue that the doctrine of inerrancy impaired or weakened the biblical message. [Something the modernists claimed.] In fact, it was contradiction, he thought, to say that something truly inspired by God also contained error. On this point Clark wrote, ‘If [the signers of the Affirmation] say that they believe the Bible is the Word of God, and at the same time claim that the Bible contains error, it follows, does it not, that they call God a liar, since He has spoken falsely?’ Ultimately for Clark, the Auburn Affirmation was a sign that the modernists had ‘excommunicated the orthodox.’ This, he felt, necessitated action on the part of the fundamentalists to recover the orthodoxy of the church. [pp26-27].

The rest of the history of the formation of the OPC and its early struggles, especially after the sudden death of Machen in early 1937, make for fascinating reading. Part of that early struggle involved the significant Clark – VanTil controversy, into which Herman Hoeksema would enter because it involved the doctrine of common grace vs. particular grace. Douma has more on this later in the book, but mentions the beginning of it in this chapter.

Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. ClarkI might also mention that Douma has also contributed to a second volume on Gordon Clark, this one focusing on his correspondence: Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark. For more information on that title and to purchase it (I ordered two copies today, one for the seminary library and one for the bookstore), visit this website.

The Value of the Reformed Confessions on Justification by Faith Alone

In his most recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, David J. Engelsma makes appeal at the outset to the distinctive Reformed confessions on the doctrine of justification – and with good reason, as he himself explains in chapter five.

In defense of the historic biblical doctrine over against the heresies of Rome, Arminianism, the New Perspective on Paul, and the Federal Vision, the Reformed creeds have great value. Here is one reason, as the author explains:

One reason is that for some two thousand years the Spirit of truth has guided the Christian church into a clear understanding of most of the cardinal doctrines of scripture. The ecumenical and Reformation confessions are the outstanding products of that divine guidance. The Reformed confessions, which address the truth of justification specifically and at length, have been a blessing on Reformed churches and Christians for nearly half a millennium. Especially in circumstances of controversy over justification, the Reformed churches must avail themselves of the Spirit’s work in the churches in the past [p.66].

And there is more. Engelsma gives another reason why he begins with the confessions:

Yet another reason for beginning an examination of the doctrine of justification with a study of the Reformed confessions, especially in controversy, is that the confessions enable the members of the congregations to judge the teachings of their officebearers. Every false teacher claims, loudly, even indignantly, to be teaching the truth. Invariably, he couches his false doctrine in careful, clever, deceptive, and biblical language. Like the serpent in the garden of Eden, he is subtle. As the Dutch proverb puts it, in the heretic Satan does not come noisily in wooden shoes, but stealthily in slippers. As scripture puts it, Satan’s ministers transform themselves as ‘ministers of righteousness,’ just as ‘Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ (2 Cor.11:14-15). Usually, the heretic manifests himself as a jovial, friendly, loving, sweet Christian besides.

Without the confessions, the members of the Reformed churches are virtually at the mercy of the false teachers and their spiritual master. With the confessions, the Reformed laity are able to discern and withstand heretical teachings [p.71].

To this the author adds yet one more reason for the value of creeds in this battle for the gospel truth of justification:

There is still another reason that a defense of justification by faith alone against its contemporary assailants within the Reformed churches does well to begin with a consideration of the Reformed confessions. This reason concerns a benefit of the confessions that is often overlooked. The confessions contain succinct but thorough and penetrating analysis of many of the false doctrines that trouble the Reformed church throughout the ages. As the fruit of the profound study of specially gifted and godly Reformed theologians, in the case of the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster standards the fruit of the deliberations of large bodies of extraordinary servants of Jesus Christ, and the fruit of the special guidance of the church by the Spirit of Christ, the confessions lay bare the essential errors of perennial heresies.

This exposure of false doctrines is of great help to Reformed churches and Christians. Heretics are always deceptive, as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:11….

The confessions cut through all the deception, ambiguity, and verbiage of the heresies, as well as through the heretics’ claims of fidelity and piety, to the fundamental errors. The confessions make the errors plain not only to learned theologians, but also to every member of the church – man, woman, and child [pp74-75].

Here, then, are further reasons for us to know and study our Reformed creedal heritage. Do you know what the Reformed confessions say on justification, the heart of the gospel of our salvation in Jesus Christ?

The State of Theology – Ligonier

tt-dec-2016This month’s Tabletalk includes  an interview with Ligonier Ministries’ Chris Larson and Stephen Nichols about the 2016 survey Ligonier did on the “state of theology” in America.

It is a revealing study, as you might imagine. It is designed to be useful for churches and ministries, and I believe it ought to be looked at by the PRC as well. If we are going to do outreach and missions in this country, we have to know where people are at theologically in this time.

If you have not heard of this report before, you will want to read this interview and then visit the special website on the survey that was conducted.

Below is a portion of the interview; find the rest at the Ligonier link beneath the quote.

Tabletalk: Why did Ligonier do the State of Theology survey?

Stephen Nichols: One of the cardinal rules of giving a speech is “Know your audience.” Back in 2014, we partnered with LifeWay Research to conduct a survey of the theological beliefs of three thousand Americans. We decided to undertake the survey again in 2016 and expand the visualization of the data into a new website, TheStateOfTheology.com. Our ultimate purpose for this survey is to help churches, Christian ministries, and Christians live as the body of Christ in our place and in our time.

Chris Larson: Dr. Sproul has said often, “Everyone’s a theologian.” And the point he is making is that everyone has an opinion on theological matters, but not all opinions are created equal. Some are right, some are not. This study demonstrates the stunning gap in theological precision and awareness throughout our nation. We are a ministry that seeks to serve the church by providing helpful resources that God’s people can use as they grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. This ongoing survey can be used to focus our aim as Christians as we proclaim the light of God’s truth to a darkened world. We believe it is essential to know the core beliefs of Americans and share those findings freely with pastors and church leaders.

One of the most significant questions in the survey concerned beliefs about Jesus Christ. This is what the men say on that:

A third question involves the identity of Christ. Actually, we can look at two questions and see some significant theological confusion. When asked if Jesus is truly God and has a divine nature and if Jesus is truly man and has a human nature, a strong majority of 62 percent agree. Six out of 10 Americans think Jesus is the God-man. Yet, consider this. When asked if Jesus is the first being created by God, 53 percent agree. This is a contradiction. To say Jesus is created by God is to deny His divine nature and to deny that He is truly God. To say that Jesus is the first created being is actually to repeat a heresy that echoes through the early centuries of the church, the heresy of Arianism. The answers to this question reveal that this old heresy is still prevalent. When put over and against the question that asks if Jesus is truly God, this question also reveals how confused Americans are on essential issue of the identity of Christ. “Who do you say that I am?” was a question Jesus Himself asked. We must point people to the right answer.

Source: The State of Theology by Various Teachers

Apostate: The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West (review article) – creation.com

This interesting review of a significant book by Kevin Swanson (image on the left) grabbed my attention today when I received my Creation.com email summary of available articles online.

Though essentially a critique of Charles Darwin and the influence of his magnum opus On the Origin of Species (1859) on modern society, Swanson shows how this work with its defense of an atheistic worldview had a profound effect on other literary giants in the 19th and 20th centuries. And what is striking is that all of these men who are mentioned came from a Christian background – including John Dewey, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, and John Steinbeck. Hence, the title of the book.

You will benefit from this review. It is thought-provoking and helpful in making connections to the state of our present society. And perhaps it may lead you to want to read the full book too. 🙂

Below are the opening paragraphs of Jerry Bergman’s review. Follow the link at the end of the post to read all of it. Information on the book may be found here.

The fact that Christianity has lost an enormous amount of cultural influence in Australia, Western Europe, and America is without dispute. In fact, Christians have lost ground in every cultural area of leadership and influence in Europe, America, and Australia since around 1700. What is also without dispute is that we can trace this decline through a number of key scientists, philosophers, writers, and other public figures. Apostate documents how and why the decline and fall of Western Christian civilization occurred. It is specifically the story of several influential men whom Swanson calls apostates. Swanson’s concern is for the young, noting as evidence that “the Southern Baptist denomination reports … a full 88% of children raised in Christian families leave the church as soon as they leave home” (p. 254).

The luminaries covered included Rousseau, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Dewey, Mark Twain and, of course, Charles Darwin, the topic of chapter ten. All of these men of renown had a significant impact on our Western culture. Most of them were born into a Christian family, but rejected this worldview and, instead, put their faith in a worldview called secularism (p. 1). Their influence was first felt in the universities and, eventually, in the public schools and the mass culture. Western society has moved far away from teaching “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all” in the 18th century New England Primer to Heather has Two Mommies (1989) and, finally, to the modern hostility against Christianity that Swanson documents.

Source: Apostate The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West review – creation.com

The Prayers of J. Calvin (23)

Praying with calvin- JeremiahOn this Lord’s Day we continue our posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014 and now in 2015 – last on August 9), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979). Today we post a brief section from his twenty-second lecture and the prayer that concludes it.

This lecture covers Jeremiah 5:25-31, which includes Calvin’s commentary on 25: “Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you.”

Here is part of his application of this passage to the church in his day and to us:

…We throw heaven and earth into confusion by our sins. For were we in right order as to our obedience to God, doubtless all the elements [of creation] would be conformable, and we should thus observe in the world an angelic harmony. But as our lusts tumultuate against God; nay, as we stir up war daily, and provoke him by our pride, perverseness, and obstinacy, it must needs be, that all things, above and below, should be in disorder, that the heavens should at one time appear cloudy, and that continuous rains should at another time destroy the produce of the earth, and that nothing should be unmixed and unstained in the world. This confusion then, in all the elements, is to be ascribed to our sins: and this is what is meant by the Prophet. Though indeed the reproof was then addressed to the Jews, we may yet gather hence a lesson of general instruction (p.301).

And here is the prayer of Calvin that follows this lecture:

Grant, Almighty God, that since we have been hitherto extremely deaf to thy many exhortations, and also to those threatenings by which thou hast sharply stimulated us to repentance, – O grant, that this perverseness may not always remain in us, but that we may at length submit to thee, not only for a short time, but continually, so that we may to the end devote ourselves wholly to thee, and thus glorify thy name, that we may at last become partakers of that glory, which has been procured for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son. – Amen (p.312).

The Prayers of J. Calvin (22)

JCalvin1On this Sunday night we continue our posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014 and now in 2015 – last on July 12), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979). Tonight we post a brief section from his twenty-first lecture and the prayer that concludes it.

This lecture covers Jeremiah 5:16-24, which includes Calvin’s commentary on 22: “Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?”

Here is part of his application of this passage to the church in his day and to us:

God shows here why he had said that the people were foolish and without understanding. It was indeed a monstrous stupidity, not to fear at the presence of God, since even inanimate elements obey his bidding: and he takes the sea especially as an example; for there is nothing more terrific than a tempestuous sea. It appears as if it would overwhelm thee whole world, when its waves swell with so much violence. No one can in this sense do otherwise than tremble. But the sea itself, which makes the stoutest to tremble, quietly obeys God; for however furious may be its tossings, they are yet under restraint.

…We now see the scope of the Prophet’s words: He shews that the Jews were monsters, and unworthy not only to be counted men, but even to be classed with brute animals; for there was more sense and understanding in the tempestuous and raging sea than in men, who seemed endued with reason and understanding. This is the design of the comparison (p.294-95).

At the end of his lecture is this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that since thou daily invitest us to thyself with so much kindness and benevolence, and since thy word continually sounds in our ears, – O grant, that we may not become deaf through the depravity of our flesh, but be attentive to hear the doctrine of salvation, and become so teachable and obedient, that we may be willing to be turned wherever thou pleasest, and to be guided in the way thou pointest out to us, until we shall at length reach that blessed rest, which has been prepared for us in heaven by Jesus Christ our Lord. -Amen (p.299).

Doctrine and the Necessity of Creeds – May “Tabletalk”

TT May 2015Yesterday before worship services I read two more articles in this month’s Tabletalk, which has the theme of “Doctrine for All of Life.”

The first is by Robert Rothwell, an associate editor of Tabletalk. His article is “Where Did I Go Wrong?”, and addresses the importance of Christians standing with the church of all ages when it comes to embracing sound doctrine.

This is how he opens his treatment of this subject:

It’s a thrilling episode—Martin Luther, standing before the Diet of Worms, the only faithful Christian in his day, proclaiming his God-given right to read the Bible however he saw fit: “Unless I am convinced by my self-determined understanding of Scripture, I will not recant. Here I stand, I can do no other.”

Obviously, I’ve embellished the account. No historically informed Protestant would say outright that Luther was the only faithful believer in His day. Neither would an informed Protestant confess that Luther’s protest came from his private reading of Scripture apart from the work of his theological forefathers and contemporaries.

Yet I fear that the way many people tell Luther’s story betrays an implicit belief that the German Reformer was a mad individualist for whom the supreme arbiter of truth was his own opinion and who sought to turn the church into a collection of like-minded individuals with no theological authority over its members. But while Luther’s work was driven in large measure by his quest for a personal assurance of salvation, he was not a radical individualist. Luther certainly didn’t endorse the belief that we should have “no creed but the Bible” or that the work of studying and formulating doctrine is left up to the individual.

And later he adds this:

God never meant for us to study doctrine as isolated individuals. The study and formulation of doctrine is first and foremost a communal doctrine. After all, the Lord revealed Himself to a corporate body. The Bible is not written just to me personally but to all the saints of God. Thus, God designed us to plumb the depths of His revelation together as individual congregations and larger church assemblies. There should be no such thing as autonomous doctrinal study, but we should examine doctrine in concert with our forebears and contemporaries. We should read their works, check our reading of Scripture against theirs, and doubt our conclusions if no one else has reached them. In this, the reformers are our model. Though they affirmed the Bible as the sole infallible source of doctrine, they understood the proper role of God’s corporate people in knowing His truth. They charged that the medieval church had abandoned the best of its earlier thinking, but did not say that we should cast off all who studied Scripture before us.

The second article I read is this one by Dr. David W. Hall, titled “Why Creeds and Confessions?” You would do well to read his contribution as well. Here are a few paragraphs to get you  started:

As Christians, we must embrace a mature biblical norm of confessing our faith. Let me offer briefly five reasons why a written confession is helpful:

First, written confessions represent maturity. A confessional communion is more than fly-by-night. It is relatively easy to produce a personal statement of faith or a position paper on a narrow subject. However, only those confessions that are tested by many generations endure. Just as yesterday’s pop music hardly inspires anymore, so a transient confession is slightly embarrassing. But classic creeds, produced by seasoned Christians, stand the test of time. a confession is a mature, proven set of beliefs. Wouldn’t you rather be guided by such a statement than by an ill-defined set of beliefs or an immature statement of faith?

Second, written confessions keep believers from having to reinvent the wheel. Creeds and confessions can put the student at the head of the class in a hurry. If one need not formulate every bit of doctrine himself, that is, if he is humble enough to listen quickly to other saints (James 1:19), he can spare himself considerable time and countless dead ends. He will avoid paths that are “useless to further reconnoiter,” as theologian Abraham Kuyper recognized.

The Elect Deceived? Yes! and How to Safeguard Against It – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonFortunately,’ we may say to ourselves, ‘the elect are in no danger. For Jesus’ words [Matt.24:24] imply that we are incapable of falling prey to Satanic deception.’ But to read the text in this way is to miss the point, for two reasons:

It fails to take account of the evidence of history. Christians have been, and are, capable of being deceived. Have none of the elect been deceived in recent years into supporting ‘ministries’ that have proved so tragically different in reality from what they professed to be? Sadly, we are more easily addicted to the spectacular (‘signs and wonders’) than to the substantial, to novelty (‘false prophets’) than to wholesome orthodoxy. If we think Christians cannot be deceived, the deception has already begun.

It misunderstands the nature of the impossibility. Jesus did not say the elect were incapable of being deceived. We are all only too capable of it. Nevertheless, we are given this assurance: God will protect and preserve His people. Like Simon Peter, they will be shielded by the prayers of Christ and the power of God (Luke 22:31-32). This is accomplished through the activity of faith (1 Peter 1:5).

And so Ferguson continues by showing us how to avoid such deception:

But how can we guard ourselves against spiritual deception?

By developing sensitivity, we become aware of Satan’s strategies in our lives (2 Cor.2:11).

Have you learned what they are?

By developing self-knowledge, we recognize how weak we are. Since nothing good dwells in our flesh (Rom.7:18), we need constantly to depend on the Lord.

Do you?

By developing an appetite for God’s Word, we are ‘trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil’ (Heb.5:14 ESV), and we grow in discernment.

Is that true of you today?

Taken from Chapter 42 of Sinclair Ferguson’s In Christ Alone (Kindle ed.).

PCUSA Makes Marriage a ‘Unique Commitment’ – ChristianityToday.com

PCUSA Makes Marriage a ‘Unique Commitment’ | Gleanings | ChristianityToday.com.

marriagepic-1Christianity Today’s latest “Gleanings” feature (March 18, 2015) carried this note of further apostasy from the teaching of God’s Word about marriage on the part of the mainline Presbyterian church in this country.

Below is the first part of that story; for the full news item, visit the “CT” link above. The report includes a map showing how the various states have voted to this point (Michigan has not yet decided.)

May the Lord call out of this apostate denomination those who are truly His and who desire to be faithful to His Word and the true Presbyterian heritage (Rev.18:4).

The Presbyterian Church (USA) will now define marriage as a “unique commitment between two people,” rather than a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman as an act of Christian discipleship.

Last June, the PC(USA) general assembly voted to change the language in its Book of Order, the denomination’s governing constitution. Following the vote, a majority of the PC(USA)’s 171 presbyteries also had to approve the measure for it to go into effect. On Tuesday, this number (86) was reached.

The conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) criticized the denomination’s shift.

“In terms of the PCUSA’s witness to the world, this vote demonstrates a complete accommodation to the prevailing winds of our culture,” said Carmen Fowler LaBerge, PLC president, in a statement. “Any prophetic voice that the denomination may have once had to speak truth and call people to repentance is now lost.”

Genesis 2-3, Adam and Eve, and John H. Walton: An Explosive New Book

So they are back in the news (yet again): Adam and Eve and all that — GetReligion.

One of the most heated and significant debates taking place in the church at present is that centering on the historicity and authority of Genesis 1-3 in the light of the ever-dogmatic claims of evolutionary science and the unceasing pressures of its professing Christian adherents. That debate includes, of course, the reality and accuracy of the account of the creation and of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

One professing Christian professor/teacher after another continues to fall for these evolutionary claims and to cave in to these pressures, which means that they tinker and tamper with the sacred Scriptures in its early chapters. And this is happening at even the most historically conservative Evangelical colleges, universities, and seminaries.

Lost World of Genesis 1 - JWaltonMore recently John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL (and formerly of Moody Bible Institute), has “progressed” from a traditional Christian understanding of Gen.1-3 to a view that makes room for an evolutionary understanding of the origins of the world and man.

Richard Ostling carried this report of a new book by Walton set to be released by InterVarsity Press this month which, in his words, has the nature of “an incendiary device about to explode.” This will be a book to watch, as well as to read and critique carefully, from the Bible and the historic creeds of the church. I plan to ask for a review copy, so if any of you are interested, let me know.

Here is the opening paragraph’s of Ostling’s story; to read the rest, visit the link above.

On the religion beat, the news often consists of new books about old texts with old stories, and the oldest old story of them all is the Genesis portrayal of Adam and Eve. Their status as the first humans and parents of the entire human race is a big biblical deal, especially for evangelical Protestants.

Since no evangelical school outranks Wheaton College (Illinois) in prestige and influence, journalists should get ready for an incendiary device about to explode in March.

A book by Wheaton Old Testament Professor John H. Walton will upend many traditional – or certainly “evangelical” – ideas about Adam and Eve. Moreover, “The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate” comes from the certifiably evangelical InterVarsity Press. Click here for the online press kit (.pdf).

The author’s views have been evolving (so to speak) since 1998, when he decided Genesis, like other ancient writings, offers a “functional” rather than biological depiction of God’s creation process. He explained this in “The Lost World of Genesis One” (2009, also from InterVarsity), and a more scholarly version, “Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology” (2011, Eisenbrauns). He then depicted an historical but “archetypal” Adam in “Four Views on the Historical Adam” (2013, Zondervan).