The next Gordon Clark?

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by jwright82, Jun 14, 2012.

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  1. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    I have been thinking lately about the state of Clarkian views now a days. For us Vantillians we had a breakthrough of sorts when Bahnsen, and Frame and Oliphint to a lesser degree, “translated” Van Til’s ideas from his Idealist vocabulary (it must be kept in mind that although he used these words he redefined them in a Christian context) to more contemporary categories of philosophical thought. This allowed us to interact apologetically with contemporary thinkers.

    Now in studying Clark on the other hand he seems “stuck” in previous categories that make his relevance not so strong. As late as Crampton’s book The Scripturalism of Gordon Clark he still uses the categories of epistemology that are no longer relevant to philosophy. I’ll explain. Clark sees any appeal to forming a belief (he didn’t use the belief centered vocabulary of contemporary philosophy, he used the generic term knowledge) through my sense presupposes Empiricism (the belief that the foundation for all my beliefs is my sense experience, which can be easily disproven). But in contemporary categories saying that I formed a belief through my senses does not imply Empiricism. So his critique is irrelevant because he uses outdated categories of thought.

    I respect, and disagree, with Clark very much. My question rather than be a criticism of him is this: is there any contemporary Clarkian who is rethinking his thought in contemporary philosophical categories? Is there anyone seeking to “translate” him into newer ways of thinking through these things? Who is the leading Clarkian today?
  2. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    My experience has been that the few Clarkians out there today aren't terribly concerned with translating him into contemporary terms, which is actually consistent with the view of language espoused by Clark. Clark's thoughts on language leave no middle ground between univocality and equivocation, meaning that any attempt to render him in other terms would be equivocation.
  3. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    I know that Ronald Nash and Carl Henry did advance his ideas and deal with “contemporary” thinking but not in any significantly way. In Clark’s book on language he has two chapters on Wittgenstein, the early and later. Of the early he says that he had some interesting things to say but he was fundamentally dismissive of the later W. You know as well as I do that it was the later W who was far more influential on philosophy than the early, I wonder if this simple fact is a problem for Clarkians? Bahnsen incorporated the later W’s views into CV’s thought, so there is at least no initial barrier to contemporary thinking.

    But you are right and that is my point. Could his thought be irrelevant to modern apologetics because it is slaved to an outdated and disproven mode of thought? Or, as I believe, there is still value in it and it must be “translated” and “adapted” into contemporary philosophical categories? I am no Clarkian so I cannot say. But is there someone out there who can?
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2012
  4. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Here is Clark's response to the "claim" that unless you can read the bible you can't know it. This is a simplistic view of Clark’s view but Clark is wrong in dealing almost exclusively with pre-contemporary philosophers on this issue. He also raises problems that have been somewhat settle by philosophers today. He seems to be “stuck” in such outdated modes of thought.

    The Trinity Foundation - Revelation and Epistemology
    The Trinity Foundation - Reply to George I. Mavrodes
  5. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    His thought is irrelevant to modern apologetics because on many points, it's just silly. When you doubt the existence of your wife, there's something wrong. He makes a fundamental equivocation of empirical sense (rational) with empiricism (logically inconsistent) and his epistemology, as a result, is, at once, both minimalistic and absurdly speculative. He wants to be an extremist on all counts: a dogmatic revelationalist, an anti-empirical (as opposed to anti-empiricist) rationalist, and a univocalist Scotist in language. Propositions which end up (oddly enough) leading him into Fideism.

    Not surprised there, really. Is he just dismissive or does he understand and engage Wittgenstein on his own terms?
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Robert Reymond is one contemporary theologian more sympathetic to Clark than to VanTil.

    But really we're just talking about one or two men's philosophy, and setting them in their time and place. They each influenced many others, VT apparently more successfully in P&R circles (just counting noses), because in the end I think he was not that interested in creatively working out the kinds of answers that Clark (the professional philosopher) sought.

    VT was self-consciously non-creative, though his methodology ended up being somewhat creative (as he sought some consistency between fact and method). In fact, where he was most "creative," VT ended up dishing up his most problematic statements (e.g. on the Trinity and Person; on Common Grace). I know there are ways of reading him charitably (and not), but the fact remains that those were the places where his opponents did (and still do) took him to task, and tried to undercut his whole body of work. That, It seems to me, is an incredible overreach; but it is the reality.

    The same can be said for those who would just discredit everything Clark ever said or wrote, based on particulars that seem wrong or disagreeable to them.

    The biggest problems come from those for whom this or that "leading light" could do or say no wrong. Hopefully, the more water goes under the bridge, the more both men will rest in peace, and their heirs will calm the waters, at least on the contentious matters.

    There are new fights to fight, and therein is where the latest "forward thinkers" are once again engaging the world of rebellious minds with the Truth.
  7. Jesus is my friend

    Jesus is my friend Puritan Board Junior

    Not to go too far off topic here,but I am deeply thankful that Dr Clark,took many truths that were impossible for me to "wrap my hands around" and brought them out for me to understand and apply,there are some folks out there on the horizon who forget that it's important that Truth as God has created it needs to be understood and rightly applied,to me he seemed a humble man who cared a great deal more about God's Glory than his own standing with academic circles,Theology and Philosophy for the everyday man,and as a simple man I am grateful he chose to help men like me rather than exalt himself.
  8. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Thats my point. Although he was a very brilliant man in his own right. He was just unlucky enough to be “stuck” in irrelevant philosophical position. But I wish and hope that someone out there will work to correct him in light of newer philosophical categories. His Augustinian view of knowledge is interesting. Ronald Nash, a disciple of his, wrote a very fascinating book on Augustine’s theory of knowledge.

    It has been many, many moons since I read it. So I will try to remember his book but I will do my best, if anyone has it out there please correct any mistakes I make. If I remember correctly I was not very impressed with that book because I believe he basically reduced everyone’s theory of language to some kind of epistemology. But I could be wrong. I don’t remember his exact criticism of the later W but he thought his viewpoint was silly. I do recommend studying him even if you disagree with him. But the later W is far more dominant today in philosophy so any Clarkian scholar would have to deal with that fact to engage contemporary thinking.
  9. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Wise words.
  10. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    I am glad he was helpful to you. I enjoyed my time studying him despite my disagreements with him.
  11. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

  12. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Here's the rub, though: he's a revelational positivist. It isn't that his position is irrelevant---it's inconsistent. He starts from the premise that all knowledge is found through Biblical revelation, yet this proposition is itself a) not found nor logically deducible from Scripture b) flatly contradicted by Scripture (John 20:24-29---Jesus offers empirical proof as evidence, despite faith apart from this being the higher form). The reason that he's irrelevant is because the logical positivism that shaped his thinking has been (rightly) dismissed as silly, and thus a revelational version is just as irrelevant. His thought isn't translatable into modern philosophical idiom any more than Carnap, Ayer, and Russell are.
  13. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    I agree. But he may have some value still.
  14. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    On a related note, years ago, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Ronald Nash's apologetics courses' which were available for free download at I enjoyed them so much that I bought several of Nash's books. I must admit though, I enjoyed listening to Nash, before I had fully embraced the Van Tillian apologetic, and after I had listened to Dr. Bahnsen for awhile, going back and listening to Nash was not quite as enjoyable. lol
  15. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    He is good.
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