Monday, March 22, 2010

Content of a Personal Letter from Gordon H. Clark

While perusing a book that once belonged to a seminary student of Dr. Gordon H. Clark (1902-1985), I found lodged within its pages two folded letters--one from the student to Clark, and Clark's handwritten three page reply on unlined typing paper. Given Clark's prominent influence in twentieth century Reformed theology, I have reproduced the content of the letter here.


Dear [Redacted],

Your questions remain on the same subject, but they or some of them appear confused. Did you read my exegesis of Eph. 3:9-10 in What Do Presbyterians Believe? Because I am not clear as to the precise point that troubles you—and there are many points in the complicated subject—I shall begin with a very prevalent confusion, but one that seems to me very easy to answer. You ask, Does God condemn man before he decrees the fall? The word before here causes trouble, for it introduces an element of time in a non-temporal situation. Several theologians it is true insist that the problem is logical and not temporal, but then they either follow a temporal order, or as often fail to say what they mean by logical order. Once a person grasps the order, i.e. what the word order means, the problem is easily solved. This I have done in WDPB above.

The importance of logic as distinct from time is found also in the doctrine of the Trinity. Even Gregory of Nyssa, who wrote more on the Trinity than any else ever did, either confused them (sometimes) or thought that everybody else confused them and so [returned ?] again and again instead of completing the doctrine as a whole.

You are right when you say “In the supra’s view, to discriminate comes before the decree to permit the fall.” That is, you are correct except for the word permit. Calvin made it quite clear that there is no such this as permission with God. One who tries to use this idea is sure to be confused, for when it is logically followed, the result is Arminianism or worse.

Rejecting temporal distinctions in God one cannot agree with your wording—which may really express your own position—that “God only looks at one thing at a time and then moves on . . .”

I do not quite see the relevance of your next paragraph on creation. The best I can say is that Genesis seems to say there were three acts of creation, with developments in between.

With respect to the last paragraph on p. 1, I would say that Eph. Is not the only passage that helps this discussion along, though it is, I believe, the clearest expression of God’s motive in creating. But there all sorts [sic] of hints and inferences that must be woven into one complete doctrine.

The lump of clay is of course only an illustration. A potter can make something good or something bad out of it. So also God can make a good man or a bad man, though the literal clay illustration fits a man’s body only. The point of the comparison is that the question of justice cannot be raised against a potter by a lump of clay.

The outline of Romans may help you on your p. 2. Rom 1-3 states the main doctrine of justification and continues with Abraham as an illustration in Rom 4, with comparison between Adam/Christ in Rom. 5. Then comes a major break. No longer expounding the doctrine, Paul takes up two objections (1) antinomianism in chapters 6, 7, 8. (2) his doctrine is inconsistent with the OT, answered in chapters 9, 10, 11. Esau was condemned, not because he had voluntarily committed some sin, but because he was guilty of Adam’s original sin. Jacob was saved, not of course because of any good he did, but because God imputed Christ’s righteousness to him.

Finally you refer to II Peter 5:9. Keep in mind (1) that Peter sent his letters to Christians. He is talking to them and about them (2) In this very sentence he says, “God is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any (of us) should perish.” The verse has nothing whatever to do with universalism.

Now I hope this is of some help, and of you have further questions, send me your next chess moves soon.


G.H. Clark

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Bills,

    I'm researching and writing a biography of Gordon Clark. As part of this work I am creating an inventory of all known extant correspondence. Would you be able to send me a pdf or jpeg copy of the letter you have described here? I would be much appreciated.


    -Doug Douma (