There have already been a few reviews of the new book by Douglas J. Douma entitled, The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2016). I have a pretty good grasp of Clark’s philosophy, but learned a great deal about the man himself from this work. I had no idea that Billy Graham was a student of his!
My son is enrolled in a university pursuing Philosophy as his major. He has often asked me over the years why Clark is not as celebrated (or quoted) as other contemporaries. This book answers that question. Clark was not out for fame or to make a name for himself. He was, first and foremost, a dedicated academic of the highest caliber. Back in the day, of course, and mostly during his tenure at Butler University as Chair of the Philosophy Department, many knew Clark and his work. Perhaps one of the best and most known students of his was Carl F.H. Henry.
Reading the book, though, one sees that Clark was a “behind the scenes” kind of guy. J. Gresham Machen? Clark was there along his side. Westminster Theological Seminary? Clark was there in the beginning. Evangelical Theological Society? Clark. Carl F.H. Henry and the magazine Christianity Today? Yep. Orthodox Presbyterian Church? Yep. Fuller Theological Seminary? Wheaton? Harold Lindsell? The list goes on and on (throw in a little chess, too).
I started the book and simply could not put it down. I do not wish to write a review (that’s been done), but merely to encourage anyone, everyone to get this book. Evangelicalism is what it is today because, somewhere back there, Clark put in his two cents.
A large part of the book, of course, is centered around the so called “Clark-Van Til” controversy. It’s amazing to me (and this book makes me even more amazed) that such a “controversy” came about at all. Both men were stalwart defenders of the Faith at the highest level. Another contribution of this well researched, excellently written work is a chapter on Clark’s contributions. The section on Logic is so well stated that one wonders how in the world Bertrand Russell could ever defend the negation of subalterns. Clark, back in the day, and because of his non-seminary position at Butler, was able to interact with secular academia on their own level. Hardly anyone was reviewing the works of William James, John Dewey, Russell, Wittgenstein and A.J. Ayer, but he was. These greats would (and have) shaped American culture. Defeat Ayer’s brand of Atheism and, well, do I even need to read Dawkins or Sam Harris? Pound the pragmatism of James, and do I even need to read what postmodernists are saying today about Education? Clark (and his student Carl Henry) already did the work – read Henry’s 6 volume God, Revelation, and Authority – buy it, sell your dog if you have to).
I read a ton of books, and this one was refreshing. Now, I am going back to read, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and The Experimental Life (Shapin and Schaffer, Princeton University Press, 1985). Clark taught me how to read critically. He taught me how to ask questions about hidden assumptions. Knowing more about his personal life as provided by Douma shows me that all that Clark did and stood for is not lost. If only one will shut off the idiot box and read a book (rather, reading doesn’t teach anyone anything, the Word does, illuminating the mind and granting comprehension….wink, wink).