- Paperback: 318 pages
- Publisher: Wipf and Stock (January 24, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1532607245
- ISBN-13: 978-1532607240
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,273,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark Paperback – January 24, 2017
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About the Author
Douglas J. Douma received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, an MBA from Wake Forest University, and a master of divinity from Sangre de Cristo Seminary. He and his wife currently reside in western North Carolina.
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When the phrase “presuppositional apologetics” is used by most Christians, what is referred to is the method of apologetics taught by Cornelius Van Til, later popularized by his protege Greg Bahnsen. However, presuppositionalism is not limited to Van Til’s particular articulation of it. Indeed, at the time when Van Til’s apologetic was becoming widely known there was another presuppositionalist who was presenting a different version of the method. That man was Gordon H. Clark, the Presbyterian philosopher.
Despite historical events leading to Van Til’s methodology becoming virtually synonymous with “presuppositionalism,” Clark’s apologetical contributions are widely recognized by many Reformed thinkers, as are his contributions to theology more broadly considered and his contributions to Christian philosophy. These contributions are: “(1)an axiomatized epistemological system, (2)teleological supralapsarianism, (3)a solution to the problem of evil, and (4)arguments for a traditional return to logic.” Chapter 10 of this work accurately, clearly, and succinctly summarizes these ideas, presenting Scripturalism in an accessible reading style to readers who may or may not be familiar with the intricacies of epistemology, metaphysics, and logic.
Douma’s biography reveals that Clark’s contributions to the body of Christ were not limited to the intellectual and abstruse, but also consisted of preaching, evangelizing, pastoring, parenting, and mentoring young men. Clark’s philosophic and personal ministries were balanced, neither one outweighing the other, and Douma’s book relays this in an equally balanced manner. Given the controversial nature of some of Clark’s engagements with well known Reformed thinkers, among whom one finds Van Til featuring prominently, a balanced biography written by one who is favorable toward the presuppositionalism of Gordon H. Clark seems unlikely. Yet Douma manages to give a just and fair assessment of Clark and his opponents over the years.
An important lesson one learns from The Presbyterian Philosopher, albeit indirectly, is that the church would do well to listen to warnings given by her godly leaders. More than once in his lifetime, Clark foresaw ecclesiastical and institutional problems. Had his peers listened to his warnings, denominational splits and even the current hodge-podge mixture of orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and heresy within “evangelicalism” could have been at least postponed, if not entirely avoided. Clark was not a prophet, nor was he sinless, but he was a wise man whose advice, sadly, was fought against to the detriment of those in his Presbyterian camp, as well as the “Fundamentalists,” and Evangelicalism.
The Presbyterian Philosopher is a wonderful read that has value for our contemporary age, where godly men are sometimes pushed to the sidelines, or outright ridiculed and slandered for daring to be discerning. It is an encouragement to the church, an historical record of how God prepares, sends forth, and works through his ministers of the Gospel, though they are flawed sinners facing opposition from other flawed sinners. Finally, Clark’s biography is an encouragement to Christian apologists and philosophers to press on in the defense of the faith, and to do so with logical precision, theological fidelity, and love for God and one’s neighbor.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Douma’s book is both highly readable and well researched with copious footnotes and annotations. Having written with the blessing of Clark’s family the work is also described as an “authorized biography” which no doubt gave the author access to more information of both a personal and professional nature.
The book gives a good overview of Clark’s life in the church and the academy, but also delves into his family life. While the primary topic involves the various denominational controversies Clark was involved in, we also learn something about the personalities of not only Clark, but his wife and children as well. A highly educated and devout family, Clark’s wife and two daughters were involved in both church life and Christian ministry as well.
One of the stronger points of the book is Douma’s explanation of some of the more tedious nuances of the theological minutiae that Clark fought for. The average lay person would look at Clark and Van Til as two men who agreed on almost everything. Yet what divided them was mammoth in their own eyes. To both Clark and the Van Til faction, the debate centered on the nature of God and was thus of great importance. But Clark’s controversies were not always theological in nature.
Clark at times disagreed with his denomination over whether or not they should work with other Christian denominations, or even whether or not they should merge with other Presbyterian denominations. Over the course of his life he was a member of several different Presbyterian denominations and was thus active and opinionated in denominational matters. While this aspect of his character is interesting to consider, some of his scruples will be lost on those who are not interested in Presbyterian denominationalism. Nevertheless, Douma excels at providing relevant information without becoming verbose or mundane.
Ultimately, Clark is known not as a preacher, professor, denominational or educational leader per se; but rather as a Christian, who happened to be philosopher and spent his life defending theologically Reformed Christianity in a secular world. While Clark might have preferred training Christians to defend the faith by serving as an apologetics professor at a seminary; he instead taught philosophy at Butler, a secular university with a religious background. In God’s providence, Clark’s contribution to Christianity involved the critique of non-Christian philosophies which he was able to combat with his sharp mind and philosophical training. With that said, most of his writings are of an unmistakably Christian nature. In his later years, he devoted much of his time to writing commentaries on the New Testament that were non-technical and accessible to the average believer.
Clark’s life is an interesting one to consider. As stated above, he is unknown in many Christian circles, yet much could be learned from a discovery of his life and writings. The late John Robbins, founder of the Trinity Foundation, did much to see Clark’s works published in the 1980s and 1990s. With the advent of the internet, Christians now have access to books and articles that were heretofore unattainable. Clark’s life is worthy of study and Douma has done the church a great service in producing this biography. While the reader may find themselves disagreeing with Clark’s positions on various issues, they are largely left to decide for themselves as Douma, in most cases, sticks to the facts rather than meandering into personal opinions. There is no doubt that the author admires Clark greatly, yet he still manages to produce a biography that cannot be accused of being a mere “puff piece.” I recommend the reading of this book for those who wish to understand the life and thought of an influential Christian philosopher, churchman, and family man. Well-written, well researched, and interesting; Douma achieves his goal of introducing those unaware of Clark to his life; and giving those familiar with Clark more information on who he was and what made him tick. (full review at shanekastler.typepad.com)