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Journey 3:1 (Jan.-Feb., 1988) Covenant Media Foundation.


Letter: (Response to John Robbins) in Journey 3:1 (Jan.-Feb., 1988)
By Dr. Greg Bahnsen




Dear Editor:

The decision to print John Robbins' caustic letter in reply to an unfavorable review of his booklet on Van Til was, I believe, regrettable for a couple of reasons.

First, Mr. Robbins, being an avowed disciple of Gordon H. Clark, represents a viewpoint which hampers the purpose of Journey magazine: to encourage consistent, Confessional presbyterianism.

Many good things could be said about Dr. Clark, but his philosophical work was not always a strength. And occasionally his philosophical shortcomings were detrimental for his theological constructions. Take one illustration. Clark insisted that we cannot know anything on the basis of sensation and that our knowledge is restricted to the content of the Bible.[1] Philosophically, this is outrageous. On this view, Clark could not even "know" what the Bible taught since he relied upon sensation - reading, hearing - to learn it.

In defense of the above view Clark was ushered into conflict with the Westminster Confession of Faith. (1) He suggested that everything we read on the inked lines of the Bible was already in our knowledge internally[2] - which contradicts WCF 1:1. What men know innately by general revelation is "not sufficient" because it does not include all the message of Scripture. (2) Ten years ago, when I proposed that Clark's restriction of knowledge to the content of the Bible entailed that nobody could "know" that he was saved (since our names are not mentioned in the Bible), he reaffirmed that conclusion - which openly conflicts with WCF 18:1 (1 John 5:13, etc.). (3) Other problems with Clark's rationalistic view could be mentioned. Who can forget his exegetically atrocious rendition of John 1:1 ("In the beginning was Logic")?[3]

Given philosophical and theological problems of this magnitude, Clark's position - through the mouthpiece of Mr. Robbins (cf. Matt. 10:24) - does not call for attention in a magazine like Journey.[4] Moreover, the letter from Mr. Robbins only perpetuated the weak reasoning and misrepresentations of Van Til against which the reviewer had justly protested. But my grievance goes beyond the philosophical competence of Robbins or Clark.

The second thing regrettable about publishing the Robbins' letter is the strident spirit of style of his writing. This too imitates Clark who, in retaliation for Van Til's apprehensions about what was askew in Clark's philosophy and theology, lowered himself to accusing Van Til of being an irrationalist under the influence of neo-orthodoxy![5] In his published letter Mr. Robbins applies the same epithets of irrationalism and neo-orthodoxy to his reviewer, Mr. Jones. Indeed, in materials from his Trinity Foundation, Mr. Robbins has previously used the very same tags for George Marston and John Frame. Now then, Messers Marston, Frame, and Jones are all members of my presbytery, and I can state unequivocably that they are not the slightest bit neo-orthodox in theology or tendency; they stand squarely, vocally against it. It becomes obvious that the pejorative slur of "neo-orthodox" is repeatedly used by Mr. Robbins, not in its correct and descriptive sense, but for anyone who happens to disagree with him or Clark. He is simply engaging, that is, in emotive name-calling.

That is why I object to Journey giving space in its pages to someone like Mr. Robbins to express himself. "Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them who hear" (Eph. 4:29). It should not be thought that Mr. Robbins' letter in Journey was a passing and uncharacteristic lapse in courtesy or writing style. Mr. Robbins has a reputation in our circles for this kind of cutting talk about those with whom he disagrees. Consider the snide way in which he spoke of Jim Hurley, Susan Foh, and George Knight in Scripture Twisting in the Seminaries. I am not at all against hardhitting theological analysis and debate. I am very much repulsed by the thoughtless party spirit and empty name-calling that so often divides the Reformed world. "If any man thinks himself to be religious and does not bridle his tongue, he deceives himself and this man's religion is vain" (James 1:26).

 

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Dr. Greg Bahnsen

 

 

 

[1] The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark (1968), pp. 90-92; Three Types of Religious Philosophy (1973), p. 62. Anything outside the Bible was, at best, a mere matter of "opinion" for Clark, never "knowledge", by which he artificially meant knowing with "certainty".

[2] The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark, pp. 415-416.

[3] Ibid, p. 67.

[4] Similarly, it is dismaying that less than two months after Dr. Van Til went to be with his Savior and Lord, Westminster Theological Seminary in California publicly acclaimed and dignified a "Gordon Haddon Clark Prize in Apologetics" by awarding it, for the prize's sponsoring agency the "Trinity Foundation" (which is headed by John Robbins), to one of Westminster's students at the Sixth Commencement Exercise. This even was publicized as though it were an honor in Westminster's official paper, Update.

[5] "The Bible as Truth," Bibliotheca Sacra (April, 1957); "Apologetics," Contemporary Evangelical Thought, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (1957).