The Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til Controversy

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.

(If you want to keep a copy of this paper, copy and paste now. I’m planning on submitting this paper to various academic journals. It doesn’t mean anyone will like it, but when I submit it, this paper will be removed.)

Introduction

Within eight years of the founding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), two friends who would prove to be the most important orthodox Reformed apologists of the 20th Century—Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark—became embroiled in a controversy.[1] The debate centered on the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God—specifically, the relationship between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge. This paper will argue that the controversy was necessary because Clark’s doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God—when taken to its consistent end—led him to deny the Christology of the Reformed Faith.

This thesis will be proven by presenting the history of the controversy, the differences between Van Til’s and Clark’s doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God, and where their doctrines lead when taken to their consistent ends. Two newspapers—The Presbyterian Guardian and the Standard Bearer—and their reprints of important documents involved in the controversy will be used to present the history. Finally, the Christology expressed in the Chalcedonian Creed and the Westminster Confession will be compared and contrasted with the Christologies of Clark and Van Til using primary sources.[2]

History of the Controversy

Dr. Gordon Clark was ordained a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in the 1920s at the church of John Witherspoon, Charles Hodge, and B. B. Warfield.[3] He earned his PhD in ancient philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1929.[4] While teaching at the University, he helped J. Gresham Machen organize the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) that later became known as the OPC.[5] He even nominated Machen as the moderator of the PCA in 1936 at its General Assembly.[6]

The same year, Clark began teaching as a professor of philosophy at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.[7] After teaching for 6 years, he resigned in 1943.[8] Clark’s resignation letter was included in the The Presbyterian Guardian–the official newspaper of the OPC.[9] He wrote 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.[10]

He could no longer teach in line with his conscience or Holy Scripture if he accepted the terms of the trustees. The Reformed Faith was at stake. He would not compromise. 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.[11]

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.[12] The President and Executive Committee of Wheaton accepted his resignation without accepting or rejecting his reasons for resigning, and allowed him to finish out the 1942-1943 school year.[13]

The Presbyterian Guardian shed more light on the controversy a few months later.[14] Some faculty and 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.[15]

The complaints however were unfounded. Edwin Rian, President of the Board of Trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary, responded to these accusations. Rian defended Clark:

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.[16]

Clark was willing to take up his cross and follow Christ, willing to sacrifice for the Reformed Faith. After his resignation, he and others in the OPC believed Wheaton still needed a historic Presbyterian representation on campus. Clark accepted the invitation of the Home Missions Committee to become the OPC Student Advisor at Wheaton.[17] This position was independent of Wheaton, but he was able to offer courses near campus at his home unofficially.[18] Clark’s close relationship with Machen, his faithfulness as ruling elder for 20 years, and his sacrificial stand for the Reformed Faith gained him much respect and admiration in the OPC.

In 1943, Clark sought licensure and ordination to the gospel ministry in the OPC under the care of the Philadelphia Presbytery.[19] With such an impressive resume’ the assumption of some seemed to be, “If Dr. Gordon Clark is not fit for licensure and ordination for the gospel ministry in the OPC, then who is?” Clark, however, had never attended seminary.[20] Since Clark had not completed two years of seminary study and did not possess an adequate understanding of Hebrew—requirements for ordination in the OPC according to their Form of Government—the case was referred to the Committee on Candidates and Credentials who met with Clark to consider his qualifications.[21] The Committee made the following recommendation in this matter:

(1) that Gordon H. Clark be received as a candidate for the gospel ministry subject to examination in his experimental knowledge of religion, and the motives which influence him to desire the sacred office, Dr. Clark was accordingly examined, and upon motion the examination was sustained, and Dr. Clark was enrolled as a candidate for the gospel ministry. (2) The Committee reports that Dr. Clark has made application for licensure under the provisions of Chapter XIV, Section 7, of the Form of Government; that he has asked waiver of the requirements of two years study in a theological seminary, and of Hebrew; that he has passed a satisfactory examination in Greek, English Bible, and Church History, but that his examination in theology had raised certain questions in particular with relation to his doctrine of Miracles and of God; therefore the Committee recommends that Presbytery in its theological examination examine him with particular care on these points.[22]

The Presbytery of Philadelphia then examined Clark, and more than one fourth of the presbyters—13 out of 28—were dissatisfied with his theological examination.[23] Next, the Philadelphia Presbytery passed a motion to seek the advice of the Eleventh General Assembly of the OPC in compliance with their Form of Government.[24] They sought advice concerning waiving two requirements: 1) two years of study in theological seminary and 2) passing a satisfactory examination in Hebrew.[25] But the licensure and ordination of Clark was solely up to the Presbytery according to the Form of Government.[26] Clark’s knowledge in English Bible, Church History, and Greek were deemed satisfactory by the Presbytery.[27]

The OPC considered “the Clark case” of the Philadelphia Presbytery at its Eleventh General Assembly on May 17, 1944.[28] The issue was not quickly resolved. The Moderator—Edwin Rian—at one point yielded the chair to speak in favor of Clark’s qualifications, and he also ruled Dr. Ned Stonehouse’s requests to discuss Clark’s theology out of order when considering “a motion of no action from the Assembly” and “a motion to waive the seminary requirement.”[29] Stonehouse responded by filing protests at the end of the Assembly with the clerk.[30] After much discussion, proposed motions, proposed amendments and substitute amendments, the Assembly passed a motion to recommend to the Philadelphia Presbytery to waive the two years of seminary requirement for Clark due to his exceptional qualifications, but the motion said nothing of the Hebrew requirement.[31]

The Philadelphia Presbytery heeded the advice of the OPC at a special called meeting on July 7, 1944.[32] The controversy brought out people who did not usually attend these meetings, for even the need for this “special called” meeting was questioned since the regularly scheduled meeting was merely 10 days later.[33] The Presbytery voted 34 to 10 to approve Clark’s answers to his three-hour theological examination, and 32 to 10 to waive the two year seminary requirement.[34] But, the motion to waive Clark’s Hebrew requirement lacked one vote to pass.[35] Clark was immediately examined in Hebrew and surprised many of his peers with his knowledge.[36] He received almost a unanimous vote affirming his sufficient knowledge in Hebrew for licensure and ordination.[37] He was immediately licensed to preach the gospel.[38] However, when a motion for his ordination was made, his plans to teach at Reformed Episcopal Theological Seminary in Philadelphia were revealed, and objected to on the grounds of granting OPC ordination for the purpose of “teaching in a seminary controlled by a denomination affiliated with the Federal Council of Churches and practicing an unpresbyterian form of government.”[39] Clark explained that he was not required to take any vows or make any commitments with this teaching appointment.[40] Others also expressed that this arrangement was only temporary, and that Clark was, “heart and soul in The Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” and had no intention of leaving it.[41] The motion for Clark’s ordination was passed without a recorded number, but a few voted against him.[42] Plans were made for his ordination on August 9, 1944 at Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA.[43]

The controversy was stewing, and it threatened to rip the young denomination apart. Even The Presbyterian Guardian did not report on Dr. Clark’s ordination due to an “oversight,” “an inadvertent omission,” until October 10, 1944, two months after he was ordained.”[44] Floyd Hamilton preached the ordination sermon on “The Incomprehensibility of God,” the main doctrine of Clark’s in question.[45] John Clelland in The Presbyterian Guardian tried to squash the controversy by encouraging those involved to remain as objective as possible without imputing motives or “psychologizing” the opposing side.[46] Only then could the OPC “buy the truth and sell it not.”[47]

Nevertheless, two months later the editorial council of The Presbyterian Guardian publicly affirmed the contents of The Text of a Complaint (The Complaint)—a document signed by eleven men affiliated with Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia against Clark’s ordination and the Philadelphia Presbytery’s decision to ordain him.[48]  The editorial council viewed the ordination of Clark as a “whole church issue” since his ordination qualified him to serve as teaching elder in any OPC church.[49] They affirmed The Complaint and printed a summary for the whole church to consider.[50] They reasoned,

We are dedicated to historic Presbyterianism, and we are committed to be a guardian of that truth. In that respect our position is the same as that of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church and of Westminster Theological Seminary. We are a part of a movement which includes both of these. While not the official spokesman for either, yet we confess that the faith they hold is, the faith to which we adhere, and that our principal reason for existence is to speak for that faith.

Believing, therefore, that we have an independent obligation in this matter, we must express our conviction that the position represented by the complainants, as outlined above, is substantially true and valid. It is our judgment that the views complained against are not in accord with the Scriptures or with the subordinate standards to which we are committed. It is our judgment that the proclamation of such views cannot but affect distressingly the witness of our church.[51]

The Complaint pointed out several errors in Clark’s doctrines, but the main concern—and the focus of this paper—was Clark’s belief that man’s knowledge is only quantitatively different than God’s knowledge and not qualitatively different.[52] The Complaint argued that eliminating this distinction “undermined Reformed theology,” and seriously impinged upon the doctrine of the transcendence of the Creator over the creature.[53] Clark later called this editorial “prejudicial” in a letter to the editor.[54] Dr. Robert Strong also wrote a letter to the editor saying that this editorial used “prejudice-forming language.”[55]

The Complaint was read in its entirety at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Philadelphia Presbytery on November 20, 1944.[56] Clark responded, arguing that the complaint “was characterized by ‘poor logic,’ ‘false statement,’ ‘intemperate words,’ and ‘ambiguities.’”[57] The Presbytery responded by appointing a committee to craft an answer.[58] The Answer would be written by Gordon Clark, Floyd Hamilton, Edwin Rian, Robert Strong, and Alan Tichenor.[59] Little did these men know that crafting The Answer would all but destroy their future opportunities for service in OPC leadership.

Even though the editorial council of The Presbyterian Guardian had spoken publicly against Dr. Clark’s theology, they allowed him to share his views publicly in their paper. In an article titled “Blest River of Salvation,” included in the January 10, 1945 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian, Clark argued that the OPC had changed.[60] The OPC was founded due to their chief emphasis on “The Scriptures, the Atonement, and the Resurrection,” and their chief activity was their “opposition to soul-destroying Modernism.”[61] But, recently the OPC had debated “questions of some, but of relatively little value.”[62] Clark pleaded,

Once we were a strong current in that blest river of salvation. Are we now but an eddy? Are we now in danger of narrowing our stream to an impoverished trickle that will dry up in the sands of a burning desert? Or can we hear a choir invisible telling us, ‘Pursue thy onward way; Flow thou to every nation, Nor in thy richness stay’? Both our own health and the actual religious condition of our country demand us to return to the ideals and emphasis that characterized our church when it was formed in 1936. Let us return.[63]

The Presbyterian Guardian was not eager to post Dr. Clark’s article about another issue in the OPC since he was currently involved in a controversy.[64] But, the editorial council received his article from a third party that argued if the article was not published with reasonable promptness, he and those who agree with him would view the rejection as being given “the brush-off.”[65] Thus, in the same issue of The Presbyterian Guardian, John Clelland responded to Clark’s article.[66] He argued that the OPC had not changed in its fight against modernism and its zeal for the Reformed faith, but that the life of the church was dynamic, not static, always conforming more to Scripture.[67] Clelland saw the issue in the “Clark Case” as whether or not to compromise Scripture and the Reformed Faith, which was a question of great value, not little value.

On March 19, 1945, The Philadelphia Presbytery considered “The Clark Case” as the appointed committee presented The Answer to The Complaint.[68] During the meeting, the debate was heated. Dr. Ned Stonehouse addressed the errors of Clark’s view of God’s incomprehensibility, and Floyd Hamilton went on the defense claiming The Complaint had 57 varieties of error and that Dr. Clark should have been consulted before its distribution to make sure he agreed with the accusations in The Complaint.[69] After further discussion, Dr. Cornelius Van Til made a plea for serious consideration of The Complaint.[70] He expounded the meaning of analogy in relation to God’s incomprehensibility.[71] Then, Clark moved for the previous question, “which, if it had passed, would have forced an immediate vote on the motion to dismiss the complaint.”[72] His motion failed.[73] Clark followed his failed motion “with a declaration that Dr. Van Til had tried to equate his position on the matter under discussion with that of Plato. Dr. Clark repudiated vigorously the position Dr. Van Til had outlined, said that he had time and again denied it, and that not one shred of evidence had been adduced to prove that Dr. Van Til was right in his allegations.”[74] Clark’s and Van Til’s names were attached to the two documents in question—The Complaint and The Answer—as were the names of several other individuals, but this confrontation pitted the two against one another in the public’s eye.

Rienk Kuiper then discussed Clark’s failed attempts to solve several paradoxes in Scripture.[75] Because of man’s finiteness, a doctrine may be revealed in Scripture, but man cannot fully comprehend it, Kuiper argued.[76] Next, according to The Presbyterian Guardian, “Dr. Clark made brief and violent reply in which he designated the attack on his position as ‘a matter of persistent misrepresentation. The answer is printed,’ he said, ‘and I have nothing further to say.’”[77] A substitute motion that The Answer be the answer of the Philadelphia Presbytery to The Complaint was defeated.[78]

After recessing for lunch, Floyd Hamilton gave another paper concerning regeneration and human understanding that had received Clark’s approval.[79] However, Hamilton interjected some of his own thoughts not contained in the paper that caused even more debate.[80] He argued that knowledge and assent could be possessed by the unregenerate man, but trust could not.[81] These are the three elements of saving faith—knowledge, assent, and trust.[82] The complainants rejected Hamilton’s declaration that the unregenerate’s saving faith is only one-third incomplete.[83] Also, The Answer argued that assent is the central element in faith, yet Hamilton argued that the unregenerate already possessed this central element.[84] The complainants strongly disagreed. Hamilton then shared that Dr. Clark disagreed with his position; only believing that the unregenerate can possess the knowledge necessary for saving faith but not the assent.[85] Thus, Hamilton was even further to the left than Clark on the issues presented in The Complaint.

After more discussion and after Dr. Clark had left the meeting, the Presbytery considered a motion to dismiss The Complaint.[86] The moderator—Paul Woolley—reminded everyone that people should vote to dismiss The Complaint only if they believe Clark’s theology is a proper representation of Reformed Faith.[87] The vote was twenty to twenty, which meant that the motion to dismiss The Complaint was lost.[88] The Philadelphia Presbytery and the OPC as a whole were split on the Clark-Van Til Controversy. The question loomed if the young denomination could persevere amid such turmoil.

Unable to reach a resolution, the Philadelphia Presbytery dismissed and met again 10 days later on March 29, 1945.[89] At this meeting, those in favor of The Complaint went on the offense.[90] Several motions were offered against The Answer and the legality of Dr. Clark’s licensure and ordination on July 7, 1944.[91] All of the motions were defeated.[92] One victory for the complainants was Edward Kellogg’s speech where he retreated from his support of Clark, stating, “If knowledge of a proposition is the same for God and man, then you must have a perfect and exhaustive knowledge of each word of the proposition.”[93] This assumption of Clark was a central flaw that Kellogg could not overcome.[94]

Since the complainants had failed to overturn the licensure and ordination of Dr. Clark, they sought any hint of victory they could. At the next Philadelphia Presbytery meeting held April 30, 1945, during the miscellaneous business period, a motion passed, “That the presbytery dismiss the committee appointed to prepare an answer to the complaint…and state that the doctrinal portions of the answer have not been adopted by the presbytery.”[95] The Complaint had not been adopted either, and a motion to elect a committee to craft an answer to the doctrinal portions of The Complaint failed as well.[96] Yet, the Philadelphia Presbytery’s public stance against officially adopting The Answer was seen as a small victory for the complainants. In response to the Presbytery’s continued refusal to adopt The Complaint, Stonehouse gave notice that The Complaint would be carried to the General Assembly of the OPC.[97]

The Twelfth General Assembly of the OPC considered the accusations of The Complaint. After much debate, the following motion was passed:

That the portion of the complaint which requests the general assembly to ask the Presbytery of Philadelphia to declare null and void the actions of the meeting of the Presbytery of Philadelphia of July 7, 1944, Gordon H. Clark, Ph.D., be declared unconstitutional because it seeks in effect to depose or to unfrock a minister of the church in good and regular standing without filing charges or without due process of a trial.[98]

The passing of this motion was a small victory for those on Clark’s side.[99] Discussion followed, and an attempt to “poison the well” by Dr. Strong and Dr. Clark ensued. Strong was permitted by the moderator to read statements from The Complaint and then ask Clark if he ever said or even believed such things.[100] The goal seemed to be to poison the Assembly’s view of the entirety of The Complaint based on a few small portions.[101] But, Strong’s questioning was interrupted after his second question by a call for the reading of the stenographic transcript of Clark’s theological examination.[102] The Assembly voted to have it read, which caused Richard Gray—who made a motion earlier to dismiss The Complaint—to table his motion.[103]

Then, the Assembly voted to refer the doctrinal portion of The Complaint to a committee of five, who were not members of the Philadelphia Presbytery.[104] The committee would study the doctrinal parts of The Complaint of certain members of the Presbytery, and distribute their conclusions to ministers and sessions at least six weeks prior to the Thirteenth General Assembly.[105] Thomas Birch—editor of The Presbyterian Guardian—viewed this final motion as a victory for the Van Til camp since the doctrinal validity of The Complaint would be compared and contrasted with the standards of the Church based on a committee outside of Philadelphia and their findings would be distributed throughout the OPC.[106] Leslie Sloat pleaded for the passing of this motion, arguing that the doctrinal concerns in The Complaint dealt with the most basic of all questions, “What is the gospel?”[107] The five ministers elected to serve on the committee were John Murray, Edmund Clowney, Lawrence Gilmore, Burton Goddard, and Richard Gray.[108]

The Twelfth General Assembly also considered a recommendation to support The Presbyterian Guardian as a means of Christian education, and to recommend that churches and church organizations promote its wider circulation.[109] The recommendation caused much heated debate.[110] Those who opposed the recommendation did so because the paper’s recent public stance against Clark’s licensure and ordination “had injured the church, alienated friends, disturbed the laymen, and done injustice to Dr. Clark.”[111] One commissioner even interrogated the editors in hope they would change their minds and editorial practices.[112] But, the editors did not repent, for they longed to continue and follow the original policy used by Dr. Machen when he was editor.[113] The recommendation finally passed.[114]

A few months later, Clark left the Philadelphia Presbytery officially by letter of dismissal and joined the Presbytery of Ohio after being examined theologically October 9, 1945 at his home.[115] The committee of five, who were to report on the doctrinal concerns of The Complaint six weeks prior to the Thirteenth General Assembly, was tardy with their report by three weeks.[116] Therefore, The Presbyterian Guardian weighed in on their report prior to the Assembly, arguing that the committee did not have enough time to weigh all the evidence in the “Clark case” before submitting their majority and minority reports.[117] The editors of The Presbyterian Guardian believed the majority report missed that the serious question in the “Clark case” is if the Philadelphia Presbytery erred in its decision to proceed with Clark’s licensure and ordination, not questions concerning Clark himself.[118] Thus, the editors sought to undercut the conclusions of the majority report of the committee before the Thirteenth General Assembly.

The Thirteenth General Assembly was the largest in the OPC’s young history. The committee examining The Complaint finished their work and presented a majority report and minority report. The majority report contended that The Complaint had misunderstood Clark’s doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God.[119] They argued that Clark was not in error, and his doctrine even implied the qualitative distinction between divine and human knowledge.[120] The minority report agreed with the basic theological conclusions of the majority report, but also concluded that the Philadelphia Presbytery erred in not pressing Clark in order to secure adequate answers in his theological examination.[121] Van Til also gave a speech in favor of The Complaint, and Clark responded at length.[122] Clark defended the actions of the Philadelphia Presbytery, declaring that the committee had accurately interpreted his views.[123] Edmund Clowney reported on the Assembly’s response to the reports,

The largest General Assembly in the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was dissolved by Moderator Ned B. Stonehouse, Th.D., after midnight on Monday, May 27, following a full week of wrestling with the difficult questions that filled a heavy docket. Chief of these was the problem presented by the complaint against the action of the Presbytery of Philadelphia in licensing and ordaining Dr. Gordon H. Clark. The assembly defeated a motion to find grounds for complaint against the presbytery’s action in approving Dr. Clark’s examination in theology and licensing him to preach the gospel; it passed a motion finding grounds for complaint in the matter of the ordination of Dr. Clark, since in this action the presbytery had not observed the provisions of the Form of Government which calls for a period of time between licensure and ordination, and a second examination for ordination.[124]

The committee found that some of The Complaint was warranted since the Presbytery of Philadelphia had licensed and ordained Clark without a second examination prior to his ordination. The Assembly voted to call the Philadelphia Presbytery “to make acknowledgement of these errors and of its failure thereby to preserve the peace of the church, and to report accordingly to the Fourteenth General Assembly.”[125] The theology of Clark, however, was not deemed errant enough to warrant rescinding his licensure and ordination. Forty-three commissioners signed a protest against the decision, and the Assembly responded by “erecting a committee of five ministers to study the theological issues involved, in relation to the views expressed on both sides of the question.”[126] John Murray, Edmund Clowney, Richard Gray, W. Young, and Ned Stonehouse were elected to serve on this committee.[127] Nevertheless, a month later, Richard Gray sent a letter to the editor of The Presbyterian Guardian taking issue with their description of some at the Assembly as doctrinally indifferent. [128]  The editors responded without apology, and instead greatly lamented over the doctrinal indifference that was a significant factor in the Assembly’s vote in favor of The Philadelphia Presbytery’s decision to license and ordain Dr. Clark.[129]

The Clark-Van Til controversy, however, was not over. Those who sided with Clark would face years of fall out as a result of their loyalty. One example was when C. Alan Tichenor, a licentiate, sought ordination under the care of the Philadelphia Presbytery.[130] Since he was one of the five who presented The Answer, and since he publicly supported Clark, he was questioned at greater length in his theological examination.[131] His views on the incomprehensibility of God and the noetic effects of sin caused concern with some.[132] After much discussion, the majority of the Presbytery voted to ordain him.[133]

Another example was Dr. Robert Rudolph’s and Edwin Rian’s accusations at a business meeting of the Christian University Association on October 17, 1946.[134] Rudolph argued that the Association was facing financial difficulty because the Board was only recognizing a narrow view of Calvinism, and they would only nominate those who were against Clark.[135] Rudolph further argued that Rian—former General Secretary of the Association—had lost the confidence of the Board because he had supported Clark.[136] Thus, Rudolph called for the majority of the Board to resign.[137]

Next, Rian spoke, warning the majority of the Board that they were not as powerful as they thought.[138] The Association had the power to remove the Board if they saw fit to do so.[139] Rian lamented that Westminster Theological Seminary faculty were included in the preliminary conferences.[140] On one occasion, Clark was proposed as a Board member, but was immediately rejected due to the opposition of Westminster faculty.[141] When Rian supported Clark, he was “called on the carpet” before the Board of Trustees and accused of not being Calvinist enough.[142] The Board also rejected all the people Rian nominated for the Board.[143] Also, Rian blamed the financial issues on the Board since he could not find supporters due to the majority’s narrow Calvinism.[144] Thus, he too called for the majority of the Board to resign.[145] The Board, however, did not resign, and as a result Rian withdrew from the denomination and the committees he was currently serving.[146]

One other example of fallout on the Clark side was a foreign missions debate that took place concerning Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Hamilton’s appointment to Korea.[147] Hamilton had previously served in Korea for 20 years as a missionary.[148] However, this time, he was invited to teach at the seminary there. The Foreign Missions Committee refused to send Hamilton at the present time due to his testimony before them and some recent publications of his views.[149] The Korean theological seminary and Korean church needed someone who was sound in the Reformed Faith. Thus, the Hamiltons resigned from the service of the committee.[150] Another missionary, Henry Coray, resigned as well over the committee’s decision.[151] The members of the committee against Hamilton’s appointment were also against Clark’s ordination as well. Others on the committee spoke in favor of Hamilton and in protest to the committee. Clark spoke publicly in favor of Hamilton, defending some of his views from Scripture that the committee deemed un-Reformed. The debate went back and forth, exceeding the time allotted.[152]

Then, the Assembly sought to suspend debate and elect the Foreign Missions Committee for the following year.[153] There were two states of candidates—those on the previous committee against Hamilton and new committee members. The vote would reveal if the Assembly approved of the Committee’s decision against Hamilton. Members of the previous committee—John Murray, John Clelland, and L. Roberts were sustained by the vote to participate in the new committee.[154] The will of the Assembly was felt by those in favor of Hamilton. Previous members of the committee—Davison, McGroddan, and Smith—resigned from the committee.[155] Mr. Coie, who was just elected, resigned as well, but was later persuaded to serve on the committee.[156] As a result of the committee’s and Assembly’s actions, the Hamiltons withdrew their names from appointment under the committee.[157]

The fallout toward the Clark side throughout the OPC resulted in public statements and actions made against the authority of the General Assembly. One example was an overture that came in from the Presbytery of Wisconsin that the Fourteenth General Assembly refrain from referring to The Complaint or the doctrinal questions involved as the “Clark Case.”[158] Another example was a complaint filed against the Presbytery of New Jersey for ordaining two candidates at the same meeting they were licensed.[159] This error was the same error committed by the Philadelphia Presbytery that originally sparked the Clark-Van Til Controversy. The New Jersey Presbytery was testing the OPC Assembly’s authority on this point.[160] Also, the Philadelphia Presbytery acknowledged its error in the “Clark case,” but several of the members of the Presbytery sent in a statement to the Fourteenth General Assembly indicating their disagreement with this acknowledgement of error.[161]

Others protested by resigning from their positions in the OPC. Richard Gray resigned from the Home Missions Committee, but lamented that the OPC should reject the “party spirit.”[162] Dr. Strong as well spoke publicly against the extra-constitutional tests being placed on confessional members in good standing throughout the OPC.[163] He too resigned from the Home Missions Committee in protest.[164] The resignations of everyone who resigned at The Fourteenth General Assembly were accepted by a vote.[165]

In response to the Fourteenth Assembly, a document against sectarianism entitled “A Testimony” was circulated in the churches of the OPC and eventually published in The Presbyterian Guardian.[166] The document argued that the unity of the OPC was in danger due to narrower requirements beyond Scripture and the Westminster Standards being used as a test for ordination, foreign missionary appointees, communicant membership, and cooperation beyond the OPC.[167] In order to remedy the sectarian spirit in the OPC, the testimony suggested four “truly Presbyterian objectives”: 1) The church should be devoted to the proclamation of the gospel according to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. 2) The church must recover its missionary vision and encourage young people to devote their lives to full-time Christian service. 3) The church must emphasize holy living to counteract intemperance, worldliness, and abuse of liberty in Christ. 4) The church must cultivate an appreciation for and cooperation with other Christian groups that stand for the Word of God.[168]

The Fifteenth General Assembly took a step in a positive direction concerning the sectarian spirit and sin that often accompanied debate in the OPC, with the exception of the Ohio Presbytery. The Ohio Presbytery—where Clark now served—wanted the OPC to adopt a motion that called those who circulated The Complaint to present at the Sixteenth General Assembly a statement “acknowledging their errors of judgment and reprehensible defect of clarity in circulating” The Complaint.[169] The motion was ruled out of order.[170] Instead, the Assembly adopted an overture appealing to all ministers and elders of the church to seek restitution for any offenses made to others and to refrain from disrupting the peace and unity of the church in the future.[171] Both sides had been guilty of sin. During the discussion, Hamilton, DeWaard, Dr. Bordeaux, and Dr. Stonehouse publicly apologized for harsh or deceptive statements in the past.[172] Then, an overture from New Jersey was considered that invited Hamilton to apply for missionary work again to Korea for teaching and serving. After much debate, the Assembly voted in favor of inviting Hamilton to serve as a missionary to Korea, but not as a teacher at the seminary there.[173] Therefore, those on the Clark side felt they had only one option left.

The Sixteenth General Assembly was quiet concerning the “Clark Case.” Since no resolution had been reached, few minds had been changed, and the debate at the Assembly level had grown quiet, an exodus was looming. The public opposition against Clark, Hamilton, and others proved to be too much for those on Clark’s side.[174] Clark left the OPC.[175] One third of the membership left as well, including one of their largest congregations.[176] The two sides could not reconcile their differing views concerning the incomprehensibility of God.

Differences Explained

Clark believed that man’s knowledge and God’s knowledge are quantitatively different but not qualitatively different.[177] Instead of a two-fold theory of truth, he believed that truth is one.[178] If man knows an item of truth, and both God and man know the identical item, then on this item God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge coincide.[179] Yet, man can never know exhaustively and completely God’s knowledge of any truth in all its relationships and implications because man is not omniscient.[180] Every truth has an infinite number of relationships and implications and these implications in turn have other infinite implications.[181] Thus, man’s knowledge will forever remain quantitatively less than God’s knowledge, even in Heaven.[182]

Furthermore, Clark believed that God is logic.[183] His paraphrase of John 1:1 was, “In the beginning was Logic, and Logic was with God, and Logic was God. . . In Logic was life and the life was the light of men.”[184] To Clark, “God and logic are one and the same first principle, for John wrote that Logic was God.”[185] Thus, he held that Scripture is a part of God’s mind.[186] And if God has spoken in Scripture, He has spoken logically in logical organization.[187] Since man was made in God’s image, he can receive this logical knowledge of God because “human reason is not so much human as divine.”[188] Clark believed that truth is the same for God and man. He wrote, “Naturally, we may not know the truth about some matters. But if we know anything at all, what we must know must be identical with what God knows. God knows all truth, and unless we know something God knows, our ideas are untrue. It is absolutely essential therefore to insist that there is an area of coincidence between God’s mind and our mind.”[189] Thus, Clark believed that Van Til could never say he knows truth since he never knows anything as God knows it.

Van Til, on the other hand, believed that there is a Creator/creature distinction between God and man that makes God quantitatively and qualitatively incomprehensible to man. He argued that God’s knowledge of Himself is archetype knowledge.[190] God also has an analogical knowledge of His archetype knowledge, which is God’s ectype knowledge.[191] God has given man in His revelation, His Scripture, analogical knowledge of His ectype knowledge.[192] Scripture is the ectype of the ectype knowledge of the archetype knowledge of God. Thus, man knows nothing of God’s archetype knowledge since he is not God.[193] Man can never know anything as Creator; man can only know as creature.[194] Nevertheless, because man’s knowledge of God as revealed in Scripture is analogous to or an interpretation of God’s ectype knowledge—which is analogous to or an interpretation of God’s archetype knowledge—Scripture is God’s truth revealed to man.[195] Scripture is an accurate interpretation of God’s knowledge because God is the Interpreter. However, man’s knowledge of Scripture is always a creaturely knowledge. God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge are always qualitatively and quantitatively different. All revelation is anthropomorphic.[196] If man knows as God knows, then man is God.[197] Thus, Van Til saw a fatal flaw in Clark’s doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God.

Consistent End of Theology

Clark and Van Til went in two different directions due to their understanding of God’s incomprehensibility. Clark ended up rejecting the Christology of some of his confessional heritage as expressed in the Chalcedonian Creed and the Westminster Confession. Van Til, however, affirmed his Christological heritage up to his death.

The Chalcedonian Creed was written due to heresies forming in the early church. The church needed to precisely understand and officially confess what Scripture said in order to answer heresy and prevent error. They had their Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451, and the result was the Chalcedonian Creed:

Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all with one voice teach that it is to be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same God, perfect in divinity, and perfect in humanity, true God and true human, with a rational soul and a body, of one substance with the Father in his divinity, and of one substance with us in his humanity, in every way like us, with the only exception of sin, begotten of the Father before all time in his divinity, and also begotten in the latter days, in his humanity, of Mary the virgin bearer of God.

This is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, manifested in two natures without any confusion, change, division or separation. The union does not destroy the difference of the two natures, but on the contrary the properties of each are kept, and both are joined in one person and hypostasis. They are not divided into two persons, but belong to the one Only-begotten Son, the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. All this, as the prophets of old said of him, and as he himself has taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers has passed on to us.[198]

The Chalcedonian definition rejected the extremes of the Alexandrines, Antiochenes, and the doctrine of Eutyches, while reaffirming what had been done in the three previous great councils (Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381, and Ephesus in 431).[199] Chalcedon drew the boundaries for discussion of the God-Man Jesus Christ for over one thousand years.

The Westminster Confession dates back to 1646, and is the foundational confession for historic Presbyterianism. The OPC’s Confession has been the Westminster Confession since its founding in 1936. Concerning Christ’s identity and work, the Westminster Confession says,

The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.[200]

Since both Clark and Van Til were of the Reformed Faith and the controversy occurred in the OPC, their Christologies will be briefly compared and contrasted with the Chalcedonian Creed and the Westminster Confession.

Clark affirmed the Christology expressed in the Chalcedonian Creed and the Westminster Confession for most of his ministry. But, in his final book, on the incarnation of Christ, he rejected this Christology. He grew ill and was unable to finish the editing for the book, but asked John Robins to finish it. The Trinity Foundation published it in 1988. Robins added only a couple paragraphs at the end. Later in life, because of Clark’s understanding that all Scripture is logical and meant to be understood within the bounds of human logic, he argued that Christ was two persons. He rejected paradoxes, believing that all Scripture could be understood by man and reconciled with itself logically.[201]

Due to his rejection of paradoxes and his belief that man can know part of God’s mind—Scripture—his doctrine of God’s incomprehensibility led him to see several problems with the Chalcedonian Creed’s and the Westminster Confession’s statements concerning God the Son being One Person with two natures. He asked several questions, 1) “If Jesus was not a human person, who or what suffered on the cross? The Second Person could not have suffered for Deity is impassible.”[202] 2) “How can a man be a man without being a human person?”[203] 3) “Now, if Christ be one divine person, no person was crucified and died. What then died on the cross? A “nature?”[204] Clark answered his own questions, not with the Chalcedon Creed or the Westminster Confession, but with these conclusions,

The usual theological treatment of the problem is so self-contradictory that nearly any escape looks promising. After stating that Jesus was a man, a “true” man, the theologians continue by arguing that he was not a man at all—he was only a “nature.” For them the boy in the temple and the assistant carpenter in Nazareth was some set of qualities attaching to the Second Person. But this is impossible for two reasons. First, it attaches contradictory characteristics to a single Person. He is both omnipotent and frail; he is both omnipresent and localized; he is omniscient, but he is ignorant of some things. In the second place, closely related to the first, the characteristics of an ordinary man cannot possibly attach to a Deity. The Logos never gets tired or thirsty; the Logos never increases in either stature or wisdom. The Logos is eternal and immutable. How then can these human characteristics possible be characteristics of God? But by irresponsibly assigning such qualities to God, the theologians contradict their other statement that Jesus was a true man. Even the word true betrays the weakness of their position. Let your yea be your yea and your nay be nay. The Scripture simply and plainly says, “The Man Christ Jesus.”[205]

 Thus, Clark’s answer to the difficulty of the incarnation was that Christ is two persons. He is a fully human person and a fully divine person.

Van Til on the other hand affirmed the Christology expressed in the Chalcedonian Creed and the Westminster Confession up to his death. Concerning the Second Person of the ontological Trinity assuming a human nature, Van Til wrote,

This does not mean that he laid aside his divine nature or that he became a human person. Nor does it mean that he became a divine-human person. Nor does it mean that the divine and human natures were intermingled. Christ was and remained even when he was in the manger in Bethlehem a divine person but this divine person took to itself in close union with its divine nature a human nature. The Creed of Chalcedon has expressed all this by saying that in Christ the divine and the human natures are so related as to be “two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” The former two adjectives safeguard against the idea that the divine and the human are in any sense intermingled; the latter two adjectives assert the full reality of the union.[206]

Van Til is merely affirming and using the language of the Chalcedonian Creed and the Westminster Confession here.

Van Til’s Doctrine was More Faithful to the Christology of the Reformed Faith

Therefore, since I stand in the Reformed Faith affirming its Christology, I believe the Clark-Van Til debate was necessary since Clark’s doctrine of God’s incomprehensibility led him to deny an essential element of his Christological heritage. By arguing that Christ is two persons, Clark rejected the Christology of both the Chalcedonian Creed and The Westminster Confession. Concerning the incarnation, one does not need two persons present in order to be faithful to Scripture. Instead, one only needs the Divine Person acting through humanity in an accommodating manner. Christ is truly man and truly God. The moment God the Son acts through His humanity—which is continually from the incarnation onward even to this day—He accommodates His Personhood through human action. God the Son is forever united to His humanity and His deity. The Person of God acts through the nature, and when the Person—God the Son—acts through His humanity, the result is true humanity including personhood in action. Christ’s personhood therefore is not two persons but One Divine Person stooping low. The Divine Person is acting through His human nature, and the result is fully human action. There is no mixture of deity and humanity. God the Son is acting through His deity and His humanity without separation or mixture of the two natures.

In response to Clark’s declaration that no person was crucified on the cross according to Chalcedon, I disagree, believing instead that God the Son Incarnate was crucified. God the Son through His human nature was crucified on the cross. God the Son died through His humanity while simultaneously living through His deity. There is mystery here. The natures do not act; persons act through their natures. A mere nature did not die, a human person died, for God the Son acted as a human person through His humanity on the cross. Clark’s entire argument against Chalcedon assumes that the Chalcedonian Creed argued that a Divine Person can be separated from His humanity, as if only a nature is acting. God the Son, however, cannot be separated from His humanity. Chalcedon and the Westminster Confession are clear here. He is God the Son Incarnate—“The Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the OPC is still feeling the effects of the Clark-Van Til Controversy today. The controversy, however, needed to take place, for the implications of Clark’s theology undermined the Reformed Faith when taken to their consistent end. When the Creator/creature distinction is compromised, and man believes he can eliminate Scriptural paradoxes and comprehend all Scripture logically, the consistent end is a denial of the Christology expressed in the Chalcedonian Creed and the Westminster Confession. Although sinful tactics were used on both sides in the Clark-Van Til Controversy, the theological concerns of Van Til and others were warranted. Clark’s eventual rejection of God the Son’s single personhood justified Van Til’s original concerns, for if Clark’s conclusions were taken to their consistent end in the OPC, the result would be a denial of orthodox Christology.


[1]John Frame claims that Clark and Van Til were friends before the controversy. He also says they were the most important orthodox Reformed apologists of the twentieth century. See John M. Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1995), 97.

[2]The writer assumes that the Chalcedonian Creed and the Westminster Confession’s discussion “Of Christ the Mediator” accurately reflect Scripture, and are therefore true.

[3]Herman Hoeksema, The Clark-Van Til Controversy (Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1995), vii. Hoeksema’s discussion of the controversy contained in this book originally appeared in his editorials printed in the Standard Bearer, the denominational magazine of the Protestant Reformed Church.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Ibid.

[7]“Dr. Clark Resigns From Wheaton College Faculty,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 March 1943, vol. 12, no. 6, p. 86. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_12/1943-03-25.pdf.

[8]Ibid.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid.

[12]Ibid.

[13]Ibid.

[14]Ibid., 115.

[15]Ibid.

[16]Ibid. Of note is that another professor, Albert O’Brien, resigned from Wheaton a few months later over Dr. Clark’s resignation. See “Another Wheaton Teacher Resigns Over Clark Issue,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 May 1943, vol. 12, no. 10, p. 160. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_12/1943-05-25.pdf.

[17]“With the Standing Committees of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 October 1943, vol. 12, no. 18, p. 283. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_12/1943-10-10.pdf.

[18]Ibid.

[19]Thomas R. Birch, “The Eleventh General Assembly: A Report of This Year’s Assembly of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 June 1944, vol. 13, no. 11, p. 171. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-06-10.pdf

[20]Hoeksema, The Clark-Van Til Controversy, vii.

[21]Birch, “The Eleventh General Assembly: A Report of This Year’s Assembly of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” p. 171. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-06-10.pdf

[22]Ibid.

[23]Ibid.

[24]Ibid.

[25]Ibid.

[26]Ibid., 171-173.

[27]Ibid., 171.

[28]Ibid., 171-174.

[29]Ibid., 172-173.

[30]Ibid.

[31]Ibid., 173.

[32]“Dr. Clark is Licensed by Philadelphia Presbytery,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 July 1944, vol. 13, no. 14, p. 225. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-07-25.pdf

[33]Ibid.

[34]Ibid., 225-226.

[35]Ibid., 225.

[36]Ibid.

[37]Ibid.

[38]Ibid., 226.

[39]Ibid., 226.

[40]Ibid.

[41]Ibid.

[42]Ibid.

[43]Ibid., 225-226.

[44]“Clark Ordination,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 October 1944, vol. 13, no. 18, p. 288. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-10-10.pdf. With the controversy surrounding Clark’s ordination, one must wonder how such an “oversight” occurred. The Philadelphia Presbytery had violated the OPC’s Form of Government by ordaining Clark without a second theological examination prior to his ordination. One can only speculate concerning this “oversight” by The Presbyterian Guardian. The writer’s assumption is that they wanted to tread carefully.

[45]Ibid.

[46]See John P. Clelland, “Let’s Look at the Record,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 November 1944, vol. 13, no. 20, p. 317. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-11-10.pdf

[47]Ibid.

[48]Thomas R. Birch, “Issues and Convictions,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 December 1944, vol. 13, no. 22, p. 349-351. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-12-10.pdf. The Text of a Complaint was signed by J.W. Betzold, E. Bradford, D. Freeman, R.B. Kuiper, A W. Kuschke Jr., L.B. Oliver, L.W. Sloat, N.B. Stonehouse, M.F. Thompson, Cornelius Van Til, W.E. Welmers, P. Woolley, and E. J. Young. See “Phila. Presbytery Hears Complaint in Clark Case,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 December 1944, vol. 13, no. 22, p. 354-355. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-12-10.pdf

[49]Birch, “Issues and Convictions,” 349-351.

[50]Ibid.

[51]Ibid., 350.

[52]Ibid., 349-350. Ned Stonehouse also argued that the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God was the central issue in the debate. Ned B. Stonehouse, “Doctrine and the Clark Case,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 April 1945, vol. 14, no. 8, 121-123. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-04-25.pdf Furthermore, there were three other concerns about Clark’s theology in The Complaint as well: 1) His understanding of the relationship between knowledge, intellect, and other faculties of the soul. 2) His understanding of the reconcilability of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. 3) His understanding of God’s desire for all to be saved. See Hoeksema, The Clark-Van Til Controversy, 1-2. In Clark’s response in The Answer, the majority of the document was spent explaining his understanding of God’s incomprehensibility. Therefore, this paper will focus on Clark’s understanding of God’s incomprehensibility. See Hoeksema, The Clark-Van Til Controversy, 11.

[53]Birch, “Issues and Convictions,” 349-351. Of note is that after reading The Complaint, Clark argued that some statements misrepresented his views, but concerning the incomprehensibility of God, he affirmed that he “does not maintain a qualitative distinction between the knowledge which God has of any proposition and the knowledge of the same proposition which is possible for man” (351). For the full protest of Clark’s against The Complaint when it was read, see “The Clark Protest,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 January 1945, vol. 14, no. 2. p. 25-26. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-01-25.pdf

[54]“Two Communications on the Clark Case,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 December 1944, vol. 13, no. 23, p. 360. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-12-25.pdf

[55]Ibid.

[56]See “Phila. Presbytery Hears Complaint in Clark Case,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 December 1944, vol. 13, no. 22, p. 354. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-12-10.pdf

[57]Ibid., 355.

[58]Ibid., 354-355.

[59]Ibid.

[60]See, Gordon H. Clark, “Blest River of Salvation,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 January 1945, vol. 14, no. 1, p. 10, 16. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-01-10.pdf

[61]Ibid., 10.

[62]Ibid.

[63]Ibid., 16.

[64]John P. Clelland, “Have We Changed?” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 January 1945, vol. 14, no. 1, 7-9. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-01-10.pdf

[65]Ibid.

[66]Ibid.

[67]Ibid. Of note is that even though the editorial is a response to Clark’s article, the editorial is placed earlier in the newspaper than Clark’s article. The editorial starts on page 7, and Clark’s article starts on page 10. The editors of The Presbyterian Guardian did not always place their responses prior to the articles they were responding to. One must at least assume that Clelland wanted readers to consider his response to Clark prior to reading Clark’s article. If readers read Clelland’s article first, they would more likely read Clark’s article in light of Clelland’s comments instead of based on the merit of Clark’s article alone. Furthermore, with such public critique by The Presbyterian Guardian of Clark’s other ideas beyond those concerned in the controversy, it is easy to see why those on Clark’s side in the controversy felt The Presbyterian Guardian was prejudicial. If there had not been a controversy already with Clark, one wonders if the editor of The Presbyterian Guardian would have felt compelled to respond to Clark’s “Blest River of Salvation?” Moreover, one also wonders if there had not been a controversy, would the third party who submitted the article have been so brass to demand its prompt publication?  At the very least, readers must understand that the controversy has far reaching implications for everyone associated with Clark and those associated with Van Til and The Complaint. At this time, lines are being drawn, sides are being chosen, and motives are being assigned based on perception and assumptions, not necessarily based on the facts.

[68]Thomas R. Birch, “Philadelphia Presbytery Considers Clark Case,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 April 1945, vol. 14, no. 7, p. 108-112. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-04-10.pdf

[69]Ibid., 110-111.

[70]Ibid., 111.

[71]Ibid.

[72]Ibid.

[73]Ibid.

[74]Ibid.

[75]Ibid.

[76]Ibid.

[77]Ibid.

[78]Ibid.

[79]Ibid.

[80]Ibid.

[81]Ibid.

[82]Ibid.

[83]Ibid.

[84]Ibid.

[85]Ibid.

[86]Ibid., 112.

[87]Ibid.

[88]Ibid.

[89]Thomas R. Birch, “More Deliberation on the Clark Case,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 April 1945, vol. 14, no. 8, p. 115-116, 128. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-04-25.pdf

[90]Ibid.

[91]Ibid.

[92]Ibid.

[93]Ibid.

[94]Ibid.

[95]“Philadelphia Presbytery Meets at Wilmington,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 May 1945, vol. 14, no. 10, p. 159. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-05-25.pdf

[96]Ibid.

[97]Ibid.

[98]Thomas R. Birch, “The First Three Days of The General Assembly,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 June 1945, vol. 14, no. 11, p. 175. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-06-10.pdf

[99]Ibid.

[100]Ibid., 175-176.

[101]Ibid., 176.

[102]Ibid.

[103]Ibid.

[104]Ibid.

[105]Ibid.

[106]Ibid.

[107]Thomas R. Birch, “The Concluding Days of The General Assembly,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 June 1945, vol. 14, no. 12, p. 182. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-06-25.pdf

[108]Ibid.

[109]Ibid.

[110]Ibid.

[111]Ibid.

[112]Ibid.

[113]Ibid.

[114]Ibid.

[115]“Presbytery of Ohio,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 November 1945, vol. 14, no. 21, p. 332. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-11-25.pdf

[116]“Thirteenth General Assembly,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 May 1946, vol. 15, no. 9, p. 136. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_15/1946-05-10.pdf

[117]Ibid.

[118]Ibid. This writer does not think the main point of The Complaint was the Philadelphia Presbytery’s error. The main point of The Complaint was Dr. Clark’s errors in theology.

[119]Edmund Clowney, “The Thirteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 June 1946, vol. 15, no. 11, p. 170. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_15/1946-06-10.pdf

[120]Ibid. This writer thinks the majority report was overly gracious to Clark’s doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God. Clark’s doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God did not “imply the qualitative distinction between divine and human knowledge.”

[121]Ibid., 171.

[122]Ibid. Sloat, Hills, Murray, Kuiper, Stonehouse, Heerema, Kuschke, and E. J. Young spoke in favor of The Complaint as well. Clark, however, only responded to Van Til at length and more briefly to Sloat.

[123]Ibid.

[124]Ibid., 169.

[125]Ibid., 172.

[126]Ibid.

[127]Ibid.

[128]“From the Editors’ Mailbag,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 July 1946, vol. 15, no. 14, p. 215-216. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_15/1946-07-25.pdf

[129]Ibid., 216.

[130]“Orthodox Presbyterian Church News,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 October 1946, vol. 15, no. 18, p. 281. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_15/1946-10-10.pdf

[131]Ibid.

[132]Ibid.

[133]Ibid.

[134]Leslie W. Sloat, “University Association Meets, Adjourns to December 12: Lack of Quorum Prevents Business, Permits Discussion of Issues,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 November 1946, vol. 15, no. 20, p. 316. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_15/1946-11-10.pdf

[135]Ibid.

[136]Ibid.

[137]Ibid.

[138]Ibid., 316-317.

[139]Ibid.

[140]Ibid.

[141]Ibid., 317.

[142]Ibid.

[143]Ibid.

[144]Ibid.

[145]Ibid.

[146]Leslie W. Sloat, “General Assembly Report Part 2: Concluding Sessions,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 June 1947, vol. 16, no. 12, p. 180. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_16/1947-06-25.pdf

[147]Leslie W. Sloat, “General Assembly Report Part 1: The First Three Days,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 June 1947, vol. 16, no. 11, p. 164-165. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_16/1947-06-10.pdf

[148]Ibid.

[149]Ibid. Hamilton was one of the most vocal on the Clark side: 1) He preached Clark’s ordination sermon on “The Incomprehensibility of God.” 2) He served on the committee that crafted The Answer. 3) He wrote an interpretation of the answer that was published in The Presbyterian Guardian, which would make his doctrine on God’s incomprehensibility more known throughout the OPC. See Floyd E. Hamilton, “An Interpretation of the Answer,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 25 April 1945, vol. 14, no. 8, p.119-120, 127. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-04-25.pdf 3) He exaggerated the number of errors in The Complaint publicly. 4) He held views of God’s incomprehensibility that were further to the left of The Complaint than Dr. Clark.

[150]Sloat, “General Assembly Report Part 1: The First Three Days,” p. 164-165.

[151]Ibid.

[152]Ibid., 167-168.

[153]Ibid.

[154]Ibid., 167.

[155]Ibid., 168.

[156]Ibid.

[157]Ibid.

[158]“Overtures to the Assembly,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 May 1947, vol. 16, no. 9, p. 144. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_16/1947-05-10.pdf

[159]Sloat, “General Assembly Report: Part 1: The First Three Days,” p. 164. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_16/1947-06-10.pdf

[160]Sloat, “General Assembly Report: Part 2: Concluding Sessions,” p. 181. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_16/1947-06-25.pdf

[161]Sloat, “General Assembly Report: Part 1: The First Three Days,” p. 164. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_16/1947-06-10.pdf

[162]Sloat, “General Assembly Report: Part 2: Concluding Sessions,” p. 179. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_16/1947-06-25.pdf

[163]Ibid.

[164]Ibid., 180.

[165]Ibid., 179.

[166]“A Testimony,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 10 January 1948, vol. 17, no. 1, p. 14. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_17/1948-01-10.pdf

[167]Ibid.

[168]Ibid.

[169]Leslie W. Sloat, “Fifteenth General Assembly of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” The Presbyterian Guardian, June 1948, vol. 17, no. 10, p. 159. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_17/1948-06.pdf. The Presbytery of Ohio also proposed an overture that all the standing committees be disbanded. They believed there was a widespread lack of confidence in the standing committees in the OPC. There was no action taken on this overture. See page 160.

[170]Ibid.

[171]Ibid.

[172]Ibid., 159-160.

[173]Ibid., 160-162.

[174]Hoeksema, The Clark-Van Til Controversy, viii-ix.

[175]John P. Clelland, “Reflections on the Seventeenth Assembly,” The Presbyterian Guardian, June 1950, vol. 19, no. 6, p. 104. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_19/1950-06.pdf

[176]Hoeksema, The Clark-Van Til Controversy, viii-ix. This statement is made by John Robins with no footnote.

[177]Gordon H. Clark, Floyd Hamilton, Edwin Rian, Robert Strong, and Alan Tichenor, The Answer, 9-10, http://godshammer.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/the-answer.pdf (Accessed January 20, 2014).

[178]Ibid., 10.

[179]Ibid.

[180]Ibid.

[181]Ibid.

[182]Ibid., 9.

[183]Gordon H. Clark, “The Axiom of Revelation: (Wheaton Lecture II),” in The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Festschrift, Ronald H. Nash, ed. (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1968), 67-68.

[184]Ibid.

[185]Ibid., 68.

[186]Ibid., 70.

[187]Ibid.

[188]Ibid., 76.

[189]Ibid., 76-77.

[190]Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1953), 35-37. Also see Cornelius Van Til, Apologetics, Unpublished Classroom Syllabus (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1953), 6.

[191]Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 35-39. Also, see Van Til, Apologetics, 6-7.

[192]Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 35-41. Also, see Van Til, Apologetics, 66-67.

[193]Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 35-41. Also, see Van Til, Apologetics, 6-7.

[194]Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, Unpublished Classroom Syllabus (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1966), 164-165.

[195]Ibid., 181.

[196]Ibid., 164-165.

[197]Ibid.

[198]Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, vol. 1 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985), 256-257.  Also, R. L. Reymond argues that the Council of Chalcedon’s creedal labors produced the Christological definition that fixed the boundaries for all future discussion; R. L. Reymond, “Incarnation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 601.

[199]Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, vol. 1, 256.

[200]Orthodox Presbyterian Church, “Chapter 8: Of Christ the Mediator,” in Confession of Faith, http://www.opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_08 (Accessed January 20, 2014).

[201]Clark, “The Axiom of Revelation: (Wheaton Lecture II),” in The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Festschrift, 76-78.

[202]Gordon H. Clark, The Incarnation (Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1988), 67.

[203]Ibid., 68-69.

[204]Ibid.

[205]Ibid., 76-77.

[206]Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 16.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Clark, Gordon H. The Incarnation. Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1988.

Frame, John M. Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1995.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, vol. 1. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985.

Hoeksema, Herman. The Clark-Van Til Controversy. Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1995.

Van Til, Cornelius. An Introduction to Systematic Theology, Unpublished Classroom Syllabus. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1966.

                        . The Defense of the Faith. Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1953.

                        . Apologetics, Unpublished Classroom Syllabus. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1953.

Articles with Identified Authors

Birch, Thomas R. “Issues and Convictions.” The Presbyterian Guardian, December 10, 1944, vol. 13, no. 22, p. 349-351. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-12-10.pdf

                        . “More Deliberation on the Clark Case.” The Presbyterian Guardian, April 25, 1945, vol. 14, no. 8, p. 115-116, 128. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-04-25.pdf

                        . “Philadelphia Presbytery Considers Clark Case.” The Presbyterian Guardian, April 10, 1945, vol. 14, no. 7, p. 108-112.      http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-04-10.pdf

                        . “The Concluding Days of the General Assembly.” The Presbyterian Guardian, June 25, 1945, vol. 14, no. 12, p. 182-184, 186-191. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-06-25.pdf

                        . “The Eleventh General Assembly: A Report of This Year’s Assembly of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” The Presbyterian Guardian, June 10, 1944, vol. 13, no. 11, p. 165-180. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-06-10.pdf

                        . “The First Three Days of The General Assembly.” The Presbyterian Guardian, June 10, 1945, vol. 14, no. 11, p. 162, 169-176.         http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-06-10.pdf

Clark, Gordon H. “Blest River of Salvation.” The Presbyterian Guardian, January 10, 1945, vol. 14, no. 1, p. 10, 16.          http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-01-10.pdf

                        . “The Axiom of Revelation: (Wheaton Lecture II),” In The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Festschrift, edited by Ronald H. Nash, 57-92. Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1968.

                        ., Floyd Hamilton, Edwin Rian, Robert Strong, and Alan Tichenor. The Answerhttp://godshammer.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/the-answer.pdf (Accessed January 20, 2014).

Clelland, John P. “Have We Changed?” The Presbyterian Guardian, January 10, 1945, vol. 14, no. 1, 7-9. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-01-10.pdf

                        . “Let’s Look at the Record.” The Presbyterian Guardian, November 10, 1944, vol. 13, no. 20, p. 317. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-11-10.pdf

                        . “Reflections on the Seventeenth Assembly.” The Presbyterian Guardian, June 1950, vol. 19, no. 6, p. 104. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_19/1950-06.pdf

Clowney, Edmund. “The Thirteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” The Presbyterian Guardian, June 10, 1946, vol. 15, no. 11, p. 169-172. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_15/1946-06-10.pdf

Hamilton, Floyd E. “An Interpretation of the Answer.” The Presbyterian Guardian, April 25, 1945, vol. 14, no. 8, p.119-120, 127. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-04-25.pdf

Reymond, R. L. “Incarnation,” In the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., edited by Walter A. Elwell, 601-602. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

Sloat, Leslie W. “Fifteenth General Assembly of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” The Presbyterian Guardian, June 1948, vol. 17, no. 10, p. 153-155, 159-165. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_17/1948-06.pdf

                        . “General Assembly Report Part 1: The First Three Days.” The Presbyterian Guardian, June 10, 1947, vol. 16, no. 11, p. 163-168.       http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_16/1947-06-10.pdf

                        . “General Assembly Report Part 2: Concluding Sessions.” The Presbyterian Guardian, June 25, 1947, vol. 16, no. 12, p. 179-182, 184. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_16/1947-06-25.pdf

                        . “University Association Meets, Adjourns to December 12: Lack of Quorum Prevents Business, Permits Discussion of Issues.” The Presbyterian Guardian, November 10, 1946, vol. 15, no. 20, p. 315-317. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_15/1946-11-10.pdf

Stonehouse, Ned B. “Doctrine and the Clark Case.” The Presbyterian Guardian, April 25, 1945, vol. 14, no. 8, 121-123. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-04-25.pdf

Articles with Unidentified Authors

“A Testimony.” The Presbyterian Guardian, January 10, 1948, vol. 17, no. 1, p. 14. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_17/1948-01-10.pdf

“Another Wheaton Teacher Resigns Over Clark Issue.” The Presbyterian Guardian, May 25, 1943, vol. 12, no. 10, p. 160. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_12/1943-05-25.pdf

“Clark Ordination.” The Presbyterian Guardian, October 10, 1944, vol. 13, no. 18, p. 288. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-10-10.pdf

“Dr. Clark is licensed by Philadelphia Presbytery.” The Presbyterian Guardian, July 25, 1944, vol. 13, no. 14, p. 225-226. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-07-25.pdf

“Dr. Clark Resigns From Wheaton College Faculty.” The Presbyterian Guardian, March 25,1943, vol. 12, no. 6, p. 86. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_12/1943-03-25.pdf.

“From the Editors’ Mailbag.” The Presbyterian Guardian, July 25, 1946, vol. 15, no. 14, p. 215-   216. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_15/1946-07-25.pdf.

“Orthodox Presbyterian Church News.” The Presbyterian Guardian, October 10, 1946, vol. 15,   no. 18, p. 281-282. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_15/1946-10-10.pdf.

“Overtures to the Assembly.” The Presbyterian Guardian, May 10, 1947, vol. 16, no. 9, p. 144.          http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_16/1947-05-10.pdf.

“Phila. Presbytery Hears Complaint in Clark Case.” The Presbyterian Guardian, December 10,     1944, vol. 13, no. 22, p. 354-355. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-12-10.pdf

“Philadelphia Presbytery Meets at Wilmington.” The Presbyterian Guardian, May 25, 1945, vol. 14, no. 10, p. 159. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-05-25.pdf

“Presbytery of Ohio.” The Presbyterian Guardian, November 25, 1945, vol. 14, no. 21, p. 332.          http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-11-25.pdf

“The Clark Protest.” The Presbyterian Guardian, January 25, 1945, vol. 14, no. 2. p. 25-26.          http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_14/1945-01-25.pdf

“Thirteenth General Assembly.” The Presbyterian Guardian, May 10, 1946, vol. 15, no. 9, p. 136. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_15/1946-05-10.pdf

“Two Communications on the Clark Case.” The Presbyterian Guardian, December 25, 1944, vol. 13, no. 23, p. 360-361. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_13/1944-12-25.pdf

“With the Standing Committees of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” The Presbyterian Guardian, October 10, 1943, vol. 12, no. 18, p. 283-284. http://www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_12/1943-10-10.pdf

Websites

Orthodox Presbyterian Church. “Chapter 8: Of Christ the Mediator,” In Confession of Faithhttp://www.opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_08 (Accessed January 20, 2014).

Comments

  1. Jim G. says

    Fantastic work, Jared! You should consider submitting this for peer review. I know next to nothing about 20th-century Presbyterianism, and I think this paper (I assume it was a seminar paper) is valuable for a number of reasons to the scholarly world at large.

    Provided your facts are straight, and I see no reason to believe they are not, Gordon Clark can rightly be labelled a Nestorian, and therefore a heretic. What the OPC knew in its gut, so to speak, that Clark’s view of incomprehensibility was wrong, works itself out later in his life in the denial of the singular personality of Christ. Via his foolish assumption of equating God with logic, he misunderstands who God is. That becomes evident in him going completely off the rails with the person of Christ. Someone who gets God and Christ so wrong cannot be trusted on anything else they say. They might be right occasionally, but then it is only by accident. My days of quoting Gordon Clark on anything good are definitely over.

    Second, we talk a lot about the “good and necessary consequences” of carrying theology out to its logical end. We rarely get to see that happen over the lifetime of a theologian. Clark provides a textbook case of how this all works out over his lifetime. His faulty assumption in his younger days leads him to outright heresy by the time of his death as an old man. He provides the “good and necessary consequences” himself. A valuable case study indeed.

    Third, we see the danger of stopping at Chalcedon in understanding Christology. The fifth and sixth councils further clarified christological understanding, especially in an- and enhypostasia, which Clark never seems to incorporate, based on what you have provided.

    I would submit that there is a tendency in the Reformed movement to methodologically begin with “God” as he eternally is and apart from how he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Clark is an extreme case, because he lets his doctrine of “God” redefine Jesus, and that is never good.

    Again, really, really good work!

    Jim G.

    • says

      Jim, thanks brother. This paper was written for Dr. Wills’ seminar “American Religious History Since 1860.” It was a great seminar! He’s an excellent historian.

      Concerning not stopping at Chalcedon, in Clark’s book on the Incarnation, he appeals to the two councils you do saying basically “See, Chalcedon needed clarification,” but then argues that he’s just further clarifying Chalcedon. He argues that those who formed the Chalcedonian Creed had no idea what a person was. They used the term “person,” but didn’t know what they were saying. Yet, I think those who forged the Creed understood more what they were doing than Clark gives them credit for. They did not believe the human nature of Christ was deficient. Whatever the human nature of Christ lacked in personhood, the Divine Person of Christ provided. But they were adamant concerning His single Personhood.

      • Jim G. says

        The fathers knew exactly what they were doing. The older I get, the more I admire patristic theology. For the most part, they were really good at what they did. They were not perfect, of course, but they were really good.

        Chalcedon did need clarified, because succeeding generations brought up new questions. That is why theology is an ever-evolving process, continually attempting to answer today’s questions without forgetting yesterday’s.

        What you mentioned in the paragraph above is the anhypostasia and enhypostasia clarification that came along a few years after Chalcedon. “Anhypostasia” refers to the fact that the Divine Son assumed impersonal human nature, but personalized it (enhypostasia) in its “hypostatic” union with the Divine Son. The hypostatic union is indivisible, but both natures remain present. Therefore, when Jesus says “I,” it is consistent with both his humanity and divinity.

        Jim G.

  2. says

    My maternal grandparents were students at Wheaton around this time. They are with the Lord now so I can’t ask them about this. Though they were/became Baptist General Conference when they moved to Minnesota, it would have been interesting to hear their perspective as students during this time.

    • says

      SVMuschany, that would be very interesting. I’m sure there were letters written during this time. Much more can be said about the controversy. I would love to know the conversations that took place behind the scenes, in the hallways, churches, and homes during these tumultuous years in the OPC.

  3. Christiane says

    It does sound like Clark had a real problem with Chalcedon’s description of the Incarnation, as quoted below by Cornelius Van Til,
    this:

    “The Creed of Chalcedon has expressed all this by saying that in Christ the divine and the human natures are so related as to be “two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” The former two adjectives safeguard against the idea that the divine and the human are in any sense intermingled; the latter two adjectives assert the full reality of the union. ” (Cornelius Van Til)

    It is noted that ‘paradox’ was something Clark had rejected, so it is easy to see how the Chalcedon statement on Christology would not be logical for him.

  4. says

    Jared,
    Thanks for this article, I enjoyed reading it. Although I tended to like much of the little of G. Clark’s work I have been exposed to, there was always something off.

  5. says

    Very good. This is one reason I’m a Van Tilian in this regard as well as presuppositional apologetics. Van Til effectively applied his understanding of this aspect of Christian epistemology in the development of PA. What’s interesting is that conflating qualitative understanding between creator and creature led to a misunderstanding of Christology. We can’t understand Christ without understanding that one fundamental difference between the one who reveals himself and those of us to whom he is revealed is that our ability to understand is up to the one who gives us understanding.

  6. says

    Jared,

    I appreciated reading this informative piece when a colleague sent it to me. Can I offer a little push back?

    1. What about Clark’s concerns with Van Til?
    In your conclusion, you summarized Van Til’s concerns nicely, but where do you summarize Clark’s concerns with Van Til? Both sides saw the other as being in danger of heresy. Clark argued that without his position (i.e. with Van Til’s position) that there was no safeguard from irrationality and contradiction. If we could never know anything exactly like God, then we can never really know anything at all. If I can’t know the proposition that “Jesus died on the Cross for my sins” at least in some way like God knows it then I do not know the truth of that statement. Without that statement–and many more like it–we are all lost. Clark was epistemologically sophisticated enough to know that our basis for knowing can undermine the Christian faith.

    2. Your critique of Clark is remarkably short.
    Sure, the paper was 12,000 words. But 2,000 of those words were bibliography and notes. 8,000 of those words were dedicated to history. About 2,100 words were devoted to arguing the case against Clark. Within that brief scope you quoted the Creed and the Confession. When you actually got around to comparing Clark and Van Til you gave 297 words to both men’s views and a refutation of Clark’s view. Then there is a final page or so of text reviewing and confirming this position before the paper is over.

    3. Is there a contradiction at the end?
    In the paragraph just before the conclusion, you assert that, “A mere nature did not die, a human person died, for God the Son acted as a human person…” But is that not just what you critiqued Clark for one page earlier: ” Thus, Clark’s answer to the difficulty of the incarnation was that Christ is two persons. He is a fully human person and a fully divine person.” This is the conclusion for which you will indict Clark, but you reached the same conclusion yourself. And I suspect that is because of my fourth concern.

    4. Isn’t language remarkably difficult in a subject like this?
    John Frame helpfully unpacks some of the complexities of language in his Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by explaining that we need to get down to what is being said in any proposition. The framers of both Creed and Confession found these difficulties when trying to articulate something so unlike human experience as the hypostatic union. We speak analogically as Van Til (and Aquinas) have reminded us, but we have nothing in our repertoire of language–no tool–that precisely fits the need here. So, we juxtapose nature and person or being and essence, but in other contexts all four of these words might be synonyms. A fair reading of Chalcedon, Westminster, and Clark might reveal that they are all saying the same thing: Their intent is the same though they are fumbling, in a sense, to seize upon a word that they can label this idea with. Jesus died as a real human person, but He is only one divine person. Clark goes one step farther in trying to untangle that final contradiction. Are all the sides (except maybe Clark) hiding behind subtle (merely semantic?) distinctions that have been used for centuries? From my reading of Clark, the essence of what those Creeds were saying is certainly something he would have stood for.

    Frame’s compromise seems to be 70% Van Til and 30% Clark and that may be the way out. Ultimately, Van Til might have a better argument, but to say that Clark planted the seeds of heresy is too far.

    Seth

    • says

      Seth, I appreciate the push-back. I’ll respond in turn.

      1. I think Clark’s concerns with Van Til are unwarranted since Van Til argued that God is the Interpreter. His point was that we never know as God knows, nevertheless, we know accurately because God is the Interpreter. But, we always know as creatures.

      2. This paper was for a American Religious History Course Since 1860. That’s why the paper is heavy on the history. But, I’m also a Systematic Theology major in my PhD, thus, I sought to come to a theological conclusion as well.

      3. There is no contradiction in the end. I’m not arguing that Jesus was a human person, but I am arguing that when the Divine Person-God the Son-does anything through His human nature, the result is fully human action including personhood in action. Jesus is not a human person, but when the Divine Person acts through His humanity, the result is fully human action. God the Son died through His humanity just like any other human person would. The difference is that He simultaneously lived through His deity.

      4. I don’t think it’s too far to argue that Clark embraced a form of Nestorianism. The tradition was not saying that a mere nature died on the cross. Jesus didn’t lack anything in His humanity. Whatever He so-called lacks, the Divine Person provides. That’s what I tried to argue. Jesus is not a human person; He’s a Divine Person acting through a human nature. He’s fully God and fully Human.

      • says

        Maybe you are right, Jared.

        Coming from a militant fundamentalist background, I am not wholly opposed to marking and avoiding false teachers. But coming from a militant fundamentalist background, I’ve also experienced hasty marking and avoiding.

        Frame has an interesting piece that you may have seen called “Machen’s Warrior Children” where he documents about 20 doctrinal schisms in the Presbyterian church–not all of which were Biblically necessary.

        Clark might have planted the seeds of heresy, but if so, then Robert Reymond, Ronald Nash, and John Robbins–to name only a few– are countenancing a false teacher. Again, maybe that’s what happened; after all, no less than J. I. Packer signed ECT.

        But maybe Clark was trying to be submissive to the Lordship of Christ as expressed in both the Chalcedonian Creed and WCF’s clause “good and necessary consequence.”

  7. says

    Thank you for the labor to put this together. It is so interesting to me that Clark never attended seminary. Clearly he was brilliant, but you have to wonder if his time in seminary may have helped define his Christology and avoided the non-sense that he drove to towards the end of his life.

  8. Douglas J. Douma says

    Jared,

    I appreciate your article. I’ve learned a number of things.

    I do have one question though. In critiquing Clark’s view as unable to allow paradox and thus not accepting Chalcedon, are you suggesting that the orthodox view of Christology is paradoxical? What is paradoxical about the definition of 2 natures and 1 person?

    • says

      Douglas, 100% plus 100% = 100% according to Chalcedon. That’s paradoxical. We’re saying He’s fully man (100%) and fully God (100%) while still being 1 Person (100%). There’s unity without mixture and distinction without separation. God the Son is simultaneously united to two natures, simultaneously acting through both natures. There’s much paradox here.

      • Douglas J. Douma says

        Each of the items in your equation has a different term – it is saying 1 man + 1 God = 1 Person. That’s a pretty bizarre idea of what a Person is.

        James Anderson has told me “A paradox is conventionally defined as an apparent contradiction.” A contradiction is when something is both A and not-A at the same time. I don’t see any contradiction in the Chalcedonian definition.

        • says

          Douglas, I haven’t defined what a Person is.

          Concerning paradox, God the Son died on the cross through His humanity while simultaneously living through His deity. He learned, was thirsty, tempted, etc. through His humanity while simultaneously experiencing none of these things through His deity. God the Son Incarnate is the God Man. That’s paradox.

        • Jim G. says

          Hi Jared,

          The better word for the incarnation is mystery. A paradox is a statement that implies its own negation. The simplest logical paradox is the statement “This sentence is false.” If it is true, then it is false; if it is false, then it is not false and thence true. It implies its own negation. The particulars of the hypostatic union do not imply its own negation, so it is properly not a paradox. That God has become man is mystery and an infinitely deep one.

          Chalcedon says more about what the union is not rather than what it is. My opinion of this is that it is not possible to say exactly what the hypostatic union is. We can know what it is not (the “big 6″ heresies, for example, that Chalcedon excludes), but what it precisely is cannot be known. Chalcedon forms the boundaries of orthodoxy, rather than pinpoints it.

          One more nitpick, if I may, Jesus does not possess a divine nature, nor is he united to divine nature: he IS divine nature. There is no divine nature existing apart from Yahweh. As he is Yahweh-made-flesh, he is the fullness of divine nature. All of us humans possess human nature, and so we see it as being, in a way, separable from ourselves. But there is no such thing as divine nature apart from God. As one of the Fathers said (I think it might even have been Augustine, but my memory is fuzzy right now), nature is not the equivalent of a genus or species. You did not say that; I did for clarification.

          Jim G.

  9. says

    Reymond has an excellent section on paradox. 103-110 in his systematic theology. But as he is Clarkian, you probably will or won’t like it, depending on your presuppositions in this debate.