Sunday, January 26, 2014

Clark's Thought

After some criticism from a friend, on my previous post of Clark and Van Til, I repost this article on Dr. Gordon Clark to be more balanced (i.e. less VanTillian). This is a repost from my Clark blog (here).

I would like to just highlight a few of the important features of Dr. Gordon Haddon Clark's system of thought. For a more complete introduction to Dr. Clark's thought see Gary W. Crampton's, Trinity Review, entitled, Scripturalism: A Christian Worldview (here)


Dr. Gordon Clark first would start with epistemology. Since before there can be talk of objects there must be established a system that can bring together subjects and objects. There must be an epistemic axiom, a starting point, that makes knowledge possible. Dr. Clark would argue that knowledge is possible, not by sensation or reason but, by divine propositional revelation. 

 Significantly, contrary to what Empiricism maintains, sensations can never convey or organize information that has truth-value. Nor can knowledge come from the senses in virtue of the ontology, ambiguity, unreliability, and relativity of sensations. Yet God created all mankind with innate propositional knowledge. However, this knowledge can only come to man's mind by Jesus Christ, the Divine Logos, revealing the propositional Word of God. 

As the Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Logos, reveals the propositional Word of God to our minds we come to know the only axiom that can furnish us knowledge is the Bible alone, God's very thoughts and words for man. By the same token, we know the biblical axiom's deduced propositions entail consistency, coherence and richness to provide a system of thought that can account for Religion, Knowledge, Science, History, Politics, and Ethics.     


It is disputed among Clarkian scholars if Clark was an Absolute Idealist. Dr. Robert Reymond and Dr. Ronald Nash both thought this. Dr. Reymond writes,

"Quoting Acts 17:28, “In him we live, and move, and have our being,” Clark affirms that “the New Testament is clear: we live and move and have our being in God’s mind,” and he then draws the conclusion that “our existence in the mind of God puts us in contact with the ideas in the mind of God.” Quoting 1 Corinthians 2:16 and Philippians 2:5, Clark asserts that these verses mean that “our mind and Christ’s mind overlap or have a common area or coincide in certain propositions” (ibid., p. 406–407). This obviously means for Clark that our thoughts, indeed, our very existence, are real only in the sense that God is thinking us and our thoughts. But this is a form of absolute idealism."(1)
I tend to be more charitable of Clark and view his thought in the tradition of St. Augustine who gleaned from the insights of Plato. So in my interpretation of Clark's metaphysics he is a realist.  There is an objective world independent of human minds. However, God is the creator, sustainer, and goal of all things. And thus God's mind is the standard and power that sustains and relates human minds and the world together. Therefore, there is a distinction between the Creator and creation. 

In Clark's view, God determines all things. By God's decree man was created in the very image of God. Whereby God communicated to man the same quality of rationality. Such that God and man think the same thoughts. Moreover, God's knowledge is exhaustive while man's knowledge is limited and dependent upon divine revelation. 

Some have suggested Clark brings God down to man's level since there is no significant creator/creature distinction. But quite the opposite, the distinction between the Creator and creature lies in the very designation of the 'Creator' and 'creature.' The former is the originator, the latter is not. More can be cited but I find it unnecessary here.  


Dr. Clark held to a divine command theory of ethics. So he emphasized God's sovereignty over any moral intuitions man may have; and he grounded objective moral values in God's will and decree. Since divine simplicity tells us that God wills His own existence, and character. We conclude then, God also wills what commandments man ought to obey. But not being himself bound by the commandments He establishes for man. 

For Dr. Clark there is no such thing as free-will, man is accountable simply by the fact that God is the highest authority, who has established obligations to man, that will hold man responsible for disobedience. As Dr. Clark writes 

“God is neither responsible nor sinful, even though He is the only ultimate cause of everything. He is not sinful because in the first place whatever God does is just and right. It is just and right simply in virtue of the fact that He does it. Justice or righteousness is not a standard external to God to which God is obligated to submit. Righteousness is what God does…God’s causing a man to sin is not sin. There is no law, superior to God, which forbids Him to decree sinful acts. Sin presupposes a law, for sin is lawlessness. Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God. But God is “Ex-lex.” (2)

(1) Robert Reymond. The Justification of Knowledge. p.72.
(2) Gordon H. Clark. Christian Philosophy, vol 4. Unicoi: Trinity Foundation, 2004. p. 269.
See also Sean Gerety's recent post, God is Not Responsible For Sin. 

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