f The Wittenberg Door: The Clark/Van Til Controversy (Updated 6/5)

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Clark/Van Til Controversy (Updated 6/5)


What's with all of that acrimony between followers of Van Til and followers of Clark? Rev. Lee Johnson over at the Two-Edge Sword offers some insightful thoughts on this topic. Here's an excerpt:

In my opinion the reason is twofold. I believe the first and primary reason such anger exists is because of the historical record or the distortion of the historical record. Note several times the debate boils down to what actually happened with the Van Tillians arguing Van Til was not the main antagonist and Clarkians becoming irate at the idea Van Til is to be cleared (see especially comments 94, 126, and 128). I have no doubt in the authenticity of the account given in this post by Rev. [Gary] Johnson about Clark saying Van Til treated him with respect. Clark apparently preferred to place the black hat on Ned Stonehouse. Meuther has a new biography of Van Til that places the blame on John Murray. However, it needs to be noted that whether or not Van Til is the impetus or not is not the point. Van Til participated. The OPC Presbytery of Philadelphia’s own minutes show that Van Til was indeed one of the signers of the Complaint against Clark’s ordination in 1944. Murray and Stonehouse signed it as well. Van Til then participated in the debate (again according the minutes) at the Presbytery Meeting giving at least one lengthy speech against Clark. Again Stonehouse and Murray participated. In fact, the entire Westminster Faculty participated. The minutes recorded in the Presbyterian Guardian actually directly state Van Til declared "that it was no mere matter of a difference in terminology". Van Til clearly voted against Clark. Does it really matter who led the charge? Van Til was clearly against Clark and worked against him in the church courts. This is a historical fact that simply needs to be admitted. Van Til worked to keep Clark out of the OPC as in fact did the entire Westminster Seminary Faculty. This is a sore spot for followers of Clark and the attempted removal of blame for this from Van Til aggravates the situation.

You can read the entire post here.

John Muether Responds

What follows is Dr. Muether’s response to Rev. Lee Johnson’s critique:

Permit me to address several misleading statements in the blog that you quote at length. First, in my biography I did not place any "blame" on Murray; rather I sought to explain why he had a higher ecclesial profile in the debate than Van Til. Secondly, it is inaccurate to say that Van Til "worked against [Clark ] in the church courts," and that he sought to "keep Clark out of the OPC." Clark (a ruling elder in the OPC for its first eight years until his ordination to the ministry) was never on trial in the courts of the OPC. Van Til joined others in his Philadelphia Presbytery in a complaint to the GA against that Presbytery for alleged procedural improprieties in the ordination of Clark. To be sure, these were related to contested features of Clark's theology. But when the GA appointed study committees to investigate doctrinal aspects of the debate, Van Til was disqualified from serving on those committees by virtue of his membership in the Presbytery where the dispute arose. Murray, on the other hand, as a member of the Presbytery of New York and New England was free to serve. Van Til welcomed Murray's leadership because he was confident of Murray's views. Moreover, Van Til's energy throughout this period was directed less toward Clark than to the big book on Barth that he was writing (The New Modernism).

Murray's role in the controversy does not earn him any blame. But it does qualify the sense in which Van Til should be considered the leader of the group that came to have reservations about Clark's theology. That was my only point.

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7 Comments:

OpenID greenbaggins said...

It is not entirely clear in this post that Rev. Lee Johnson (author of Two-Edged Sword) and Rev. Gary Johnson (author of the post on my blog) are two distinct people. You might wish to clarify that.

6:57 AM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Good point. I've made the clarification. Thanks for pointing it out.

7:34 AM  
Blogger jrm said...

Permit me to address several misleading statements in the blog that you quote at length. First, in my biography I did not place any "blame" on Murray; rather I sought to explain why he had a higher ecclesial profile in the debate than Van Til. Secondly, it is inaccurate to say that Van Til "worked against [Clark ] in the church courts," and that he sought to "keep Clark out of the OPC." Clark (a ruling elder in the OPC for its first eight years until his ordination to the ministry) was never on trial in the courts of the OPC. Van Til joined others in his Philadelphia Presbytery in a complaint to the GA against that Presbytery for alleged procedural improprieties in the ordination of Clark. To be sure, these were related to contested features of Clark's theology. But when the GA appointed study committees to investigate doctrinal aspects of the debate, Van Til was disqualified from serving on those committees by virtue of his membership in the Presbytery where the dispute arose. Murray, on the other hand, as a member of the Presbytery of New York and New England was free to serve. Van Til welcomed Murray's leadership because he was confident of Murray's views. Moreover, Van Til's energy throughout this period was directed less toward Clark than to the big book on Barth that he was writing (The New Modernism).

Murray's role in the controversy does not earn him any blame. But it does qualify the sense in which Van Til should be considered the leader of the group that came to have reservations about Clark's theology. That was my only point.

John Muether

7:25 PM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Thank you for the rebuttal, professor. I'll post it for all to read.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Charlie J. Ray said...

It seems to me that where there is smoke there is fire. Had Van Til been allowed I'm confident that he would have joined the lynch mob with glee.

The legacy of Van Til today is theonomy, the bain of "reformed" theology. The legacy of Van Til today is Norman Shepherd and the whole Federal Vision error. Is it any wonder that with the combination of the neo-Calvinism of Kuyper/Bavinck and the theology of paradox of Van Til that Reformed denominations are going off the deep end into the Federal Vision/New Perspectives error, not to mention broad evangelicalism and Arminianism???

Charlie

6:32 AM  
Blogger Charlie J. Ray said...

You can read the text of the complaint against Clark and his answer here: The Text of a Complain

The two links there are in pdf image format. No one has produced a text version so I've taken it upon myself to do so by hand typing it. Takes awhile.

But anyone who reads those two documents can clearly see the disagreement between the two parties. While I don't agree with everything Clark said, I do see way more problems with Van Til's theology than with Clark. I have to say that Van Til's view winds up closer to neo-orthodoxy than to the propositional truths of Holy Scripture. Carl F.H. Henry's God, Revelation, and Authority offers a thorough critique of both neo-orthodoxy and Van Til.

Charlie

6:37 AM  
Blogger Charlie J. Ray said...

Text of a Complaint, that is.

6:37 AM  

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