Scripture & Integrity Vs. Money & Security: Learning From Dr. Gordon Clark

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

In 1943, Gordon H. Clark resigned from teaching at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, after serving as a professor of philosophy for six years. The Presbyterian Guardian–the official newspaper of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)–covered the controversy. Dr. Clark wrote in his resignation letter in response to the report adopted by the Trustees of Wheaton,

In general, the conditions laid down in the report are contrary to the conditions under which I originally accepted employment. The report states, “We do not find that Dr. Clark’s opinions differ materially from those which he frankly stated, and which were freely discussed, when he was employed’ six years ago.” I made it clear then that if conditions such as those contained in this report were contemplated, I would not consent to teach here. The present reversal of policy constitutes in my non-legal opinion a breach of the terms of my employment (pg. 86, Source).

The Trustees at Wheaton had changed the terms with which Clark had accepted employment. He could no longer teach in line with his conscience or Holy Scripture if he accepted their terms. He continued,

The conditions as stated in the report are, “1. That to the largest extent possible he confine his teaching to the stated subjects, without advocating any theological beliefs which are controversial among orthodox Christians; 2. That if asked his personal opinion as to the group of doctrines in question; he be frank but state the belief rather than expounding his reasons,—being equally frank in admitting his susceptibility to error and that his views in this respect have not been those of most Christian leaders;” My reasons for refusing to accept these conditions are the same now as they were six years ago, and involve both academic and religious principles.

Academically, these two recommendations to the effect that philosophy be taught without stating my reasons for propositions of theodicy is the equivalent of requiring a medical faculty to teach medicine without discussing the cause of typhoid fever or tuberculosis. This is a type of teaching with which I am unfamiliar. On the ground of religious and ‘moral conviction the following points must be enumerated.

First: I reject the contentions of paragraph six that sound deduction from Scripture is illegitimate, and also that the spirituality of God and his foreordination can be neither supported nor refuted by argument from Scripture.

Second: To comply with recommendation two would be immoral. The effect of compliance would be to persuade students that the two doctrines in question are merely some personal aberration, and would obscure the significant fact that they were the views of the greatest reformers and have been for more than three hundred years the official position of a score of denominations, represented in this country by the following: The Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., The Presbyterian Church in the U. S., The United Presbyterian Church of North America, The Associate Presbyterian Church of North America, The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, The Bible Presbyterian Church, The Bohemian and Moravian Brethren Churches.

Third: The Scriptures in many places (e.g., Acts 20:27 and II Tim. 3:16) require the proclamation of the whole gospel. The diluted Christianity and the expurgated Bible contemplated in this report are abhorrent to me.

Fourth: By adopting this report the Trustees of Wheaton College have officially pronounced the two doctrines in question “unsound” and “dangerous.” This is an open condemnation of all reformed denominations. Naturally I cannot support an organization that pronounces all the above mentioned Churches unsound and dangerous.

Fifth: To comply with these conditions would be to repudiate my vows of ordination to the eldership. The fact that others, since the growth of modernism in some denominations, neglect to perform their vows does not relieve me of my responsibility to Almighty God.

For these and similar reasons I am unable to comply with the requirements recently enacted by the Trustees, and I hereby present my resignation from the faculty of Wheaton College (pg. 86, Source).

Dr. Clark agreed to finish out the 1942-1943 school year based on the terms of his original employment, not the new terms approved by the trustees. The President and Executive Committee accepted his resignation without accepting or rejecting his reasons for resigning, and allowed him to finish out the 1942-1943 school year (pg. 86, Source).

The Presbyterian Guardian shed more light on the controversy a few months later. Some faculty and some students had complained against Dr. Clark, arguing that,

He carries the truth that God is the original Being to the point where he frankly states that God is the originator even of evil; and he identifies the sins which are committed with God’s plan, to the point, as we understand him, of saying that God purposed that they should be committed. To his mind these views neither alleviate the guilt of the sinner nor the need and duty of preaching righteousness and salvation. This situation may be better understood if we quote a few particular beliefs which he holds: God decrees one man to be a murderer, or adulterer, or idiot. God decrees some to heaven and some to hell. God is emotionless, unmoved. God’s love is a manifestation of His will only, not of His affections (if any). God never loved the non-elect (pg. 115, Source).

Edwin H. Rian, President of the Board of Trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary responded to these accusations against Dr. Clark in The Presybertian Guardian in an article titled, “Wheaton College Today,”

It is important to remember that Dr. Clark denied categorically in a letter to the president of the college that God is the author of evil, meaning, no doubt, sin as quoted from the Confession of Faith. Since the accusations are inadequate particularizations of his beliefs, Dr. Clark referred the president to the Westminster Confession of Faith for adequate statements of his convictions on the doctrines involved. Chapter III of the Westminster Confession of Faith expresses these dogmas of foreordination, election and reprobation, so well that we quote certain sections:

“I. God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

“II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

“III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.

“IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished…

“VII. The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin; to the praise of his glorious justice”.

From the action of the Board of Trustees in laying down restrictions upon Dr. Clark, we must conclude that Wheaton College is opposed to these tenets of faith and in so doing sets itself against practically every Reformed and Presbyterian church body in the world, for all of the Calvinistic confessions contain similar teachings.

Certain students of Dr. Clark may have distorted these truths and his discussions of them, but every professor will testify to the prevalence of that practice. Surely no teacher can be held responsible for the misrepresentations of his views by students.

When such doctrines of the Word of God expressed so accurately in the historic Reformed confessions are called into question and even called harmful to the eternal interests of students, it is time for those of Calvinistic persuasion to reexamine Wheaton College. In other words, it is not so much Dr. Clark who is under scrutiny as it is Wheaton College and its stand for the truth.

When the new president, Dr. V. R. Edman, was elected two years ago, we were warned that Wheaton College would have a different emphasis. Dr. Clark’s forced resignation is evidence of the truthfulness of that warning (pg. 115, Source).

Dr. Clark was confessionally Reformed. His views had not changed in the six years he taught at Wheaton. They knew what they were getting with Dr. Clark. He had not changed, but Wheaton had changed. Albert O’Brien, another professor at Wheaton, resigned a few months later over Dr. Clark’s resignation (pg. 160, Source).

After Dr. Clark’s resignation, he and others in the OPC believed Wheaton still needed a historic Presbyterian representation on campus. Dr. Clark consented to accept the invitation of the Home Missions Committee to become the OPC Student Advisor at Wheaton. This position was independent of Wheaton, but he was able to offer courses near campus at his home unofficially:

In addition to the regular Sunday Bible classes which he has conducted in previous years, Dr. Clark plans to offer courses in various phases of Biblical truth throughout the year. The classes will be conducted in his home which has long been a rendezvous for students who have been interested in a serious study of the Bible as the Word of God (pg. 283, Source).

Dr. Clark chose Scripture, conscience, and integrity over money, power, and fame. Whether you agree with his Calvinism or not, one must respect his example of integrity in this matter.

If you were in Dr. Clark’s shoes at the time, would you have had enough integrity to do the same thing he did? Would we choose Scripture, conscience, and integrity, over money and security?

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.


  1. Greg Harvey says

    Great story. And still great even if the circumstances had been exactly reversed regarding Dr. Clark’s or Wheaton’s commitment to Reformed soteriology.

    We’re not always going to agree. And when one party makes representations that it later retracts, the other party has a choice to make.

  2. says

    This is something that I did not know about Dr. Clark. What we need in our SBC are men of true strong conviction, taking a stand on God’s whole counsel, and no wavering in that stand.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Ron Smith says

    Thanks for posting this. I never really knew why Clark left Wheaton. This makes me like him even more. He is one of my favorite writers and theologians. I have nearly all of his books. A brilliant man! He wasn’t bashful about his views and defended them well. I don’t understand why more people don’t read him.

    Something he said that has stuck with me more than anything else was: “By science, you can ‘know’ nothing” or something close to that.

    Also, I liked the fact that he never “backed up” on the subject of the sovereignty of God.