Review: Gordon Clark, Christian Philosophy of Education

This is one of the early forays into the modern approach to Christian education/Christian schools. Clark doesn’t give anything like a program or curriculum.  He does give good guidelines. And as always, his writing style is top-notch.Image result for gordon h clark

The first half of the book is a summary of A Christian View of Men and Things.  But perhaps his attack on “neutrality” is a new emphasis.  As the beginning of the book is on worldview, and since he covered the same ground in A Christian View, we will just summarize the high points.

(1) Education presupposes a view of man (Clark 9). Is man a monkey? A machine? A bunch of atoms? Or the image of God?

(2) The failure of agnosticism/skepticism regarding ultimate matters: a skeptic finds that nothing is to be found, presumably including knowledge.  This makes it worthless for education. The agnostic says he does not know which propositions are true, but presumably he knows that it is better to eat than to starve (34).

(3) The atheism of Russell (unyielding foundation of despair) leads to the pessimism of the existentialists, prompting Clark’s remark: “The only reasonable reaction to humanism is suicide….If the humanists want to be consistent they should kill themselves” (54).

(4) Clark anticipates Alvin Plantinga’s argument against naturalism by noting that the evolutionists can’t give an account of teaching math: “Sooner or later….the pupil will ask, “‘Why should I learn arithmetic? Then if the teacher is authentic and honest she will say, ‘Arithmetic helps you when you lose your faith in God.’ Or, she will say, with more truth, ‘Arithmetic will help you gain power and dominate other men.’ Or, with true zoological scholarship she may say, ‘Arithmetic is a phase of the evolutionary process that leads to the extinction of the human species’” (58-59).

The Problem with Dewey

This is the meat.  I want nothing short of a scorched-earth, nuclear wasteland when dealing with John Dewey.  But let’s keep it brief, at least as regards his theory of progress. “There is no criterion by which to judge of change, nor is there a goal which fixes the direction of progress” (Clark 89).

Goals of education

“Education should be as thorough as technical training; but not so narrow and restricted; for the aim is a complete man and a well-balanced life” (203).

Neutrality isn’t just impossible.  It is silly

“O God, we neither deny nor assert thy existence; and O God, we neither obey nor disobey thy commands. We are neutral” (207).

Criticisms

The book can’t help the fact that it is dated in some respects.  On the other side, that can also be seen as evidence of how prophetic Clark was. And while there are a bunch of good jokes/horror stories/news reports about how silly some of the education curricula is, and no matter how disliked Common Core is, improvements have been made.  No one is incompetent 100% of the time.

Clark has a section on whether emotions are proper to the Christian.  To his credit, he notes that the dictionary definition of emotion can’t apply to the Christian or the Christian’s God.  Such a view would have the perfect changing to the imperfect, or given over to rationality. Well and good. It’s not so clear how Clark deals with proper emotions as found in the psalms.

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Review: Gordon Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things

This book isn’t perfect but it does exhibit all of Dr Clark’s strengths as a communicator  My main problem with the book is the chapter lengths: they are excessively long. This isn’t too much of a problem, except Clark will spend 90% of the chapter debunking erroneous views, but he only gives a few pages to the biblical position, and even then it is only a summary.

Notwithstanding, there are a few areas where Clark shines, notably epistemology.  Even then, though, it is limited. We get evaluations of empiricism, skepticism, and relativism, and Clark lists all the inadequacies of these views–but there is more to epistemology than a survey of three or four options.  The book doesn’t have much on belief-formation, justification of knowledge, etc. Nonetheless, Clark hints towards a theistic summary (which would be later fine-tuned by Carl F Henry).

The Philosophy of Politics

What is the function of government?  Clark examines numerous ethical theories (Bentham, Aristotle, Plato) and notes that the definition of good [for government] depends on one’s nature of man (113).

A problem with Rousseau: “He seems to be torn between an infallible general will that cannot express itself and an expressed majority vote that is not infallible…” (121).

Theistic view:  state has limited power (136).  God is the source of all rights.

Funny quote: “But if men are essentially good, how is it that when they pass from psychology or theology to politics only the poor remain good and the wealthy become evil?   [The demand] for more government seems to imply that not only are poor people good, but politicians are even better” (139).

“The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thought of God. And insofar as man knows anything he is in contact with God’s mind.  Since, further, God’s mind is God, we may legitimately borrow the figurative language, if not the precise meaning, of the mystics and say, we have a vision of God” (321).

This is good.  And I think Clark was correct over Van Til on this point.  This also nicely sidesteps the Eastern Orthodox critique that the West relies on created grace and avoids any direct contact with God.  If Clark’s analysis holds, however, this isn’t true.

The South Might have Wanted Out of Slavery

Not the whole South, certainly, but the most important state, Virginia.

https://ia801208.us.archive.org/2/items/historyofslaver00blak/historyofslaver00blak.pdf

“In the year 1772, a disposition favorable to the oppressed Africans became very generally manifest in some of the American Provinces. The house of burgesses of Virginia even presented a petition to the king, beseeching his majesty to remove all those restraints on his governors of that colony, which inhibited their assent to such laws as might check that inhuman and impolitic commerce, the slave-trade: and it is remarkable that the refusal of the British government to permit the colonists to exclude slaves from among them bylaw, was enumerated afterwards among the public reasons for separating from the mother country” (Blake 177).

England said no.

Dabney on Sensualistic Philosophy

(Please don’t get started on Dabney or racism.  He was a white supremacist, just like everyone else in America, North or South, at the time.  I condemn his racism as much as I condemn the racism of Lincoln or Sherman.) I am only posting this because of his discussions on faculty psychology as they relate to Edwards studies).

Dabney anticipates modern debates. He sees in the “Sensualists” modern Neo-Atheism. His response is an early, if inchoate, form of Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. As Dabney sees it, the danger is if man is nothing but atoms, how can there be the existence of a soul, mind, will, or even God? Of course, many physicalists today deny precisely that, so sometimes Dabney’s reductios fall flat. His arguments are worth exploring, nonetheless.

Positive statement of the thesis: human intelligence is a pure rational spirit, not a bundle of senses (Dabney 12). He sees the beginning of Sensualism in Thomas Hobbes, where desire is “sensation transmuted.” And against later empiricists such as Locke, they confuse the occasion of the genesis of ideas with its cause (22).

Not every chapter is of immediate relevance. Dabney–as well as his opponents–were working with very limited understandings of science. Dabney’s true genius, rather, lies in his discussions of mind and soul. “The mind is a distinct spiritual substance” which is part of the common sense of mankind (107). And in defending the validity of a priori notions, he writes, “Our minds are validly entitled to intuitive cognitions gained apart from sense-experience (159). Concerning the origins of a priori notions, Our notions are determined from within our mind and not by a posteriori causes (182). Dabney even anticipates the idea of “properly basic beliefs” (he calls them ‘primitive judgments’). It is a judgment that does not depend on prior premises, whether deductive or inductive.

Dabney even anticipates modern rebuttals to empiricism and scientism. Sensual Empiricism is self-refuting. The claim “the mind derives all its ideas from sensation” is itself a non-sensory derived statement (185)! How can the empiricist make a universal judgment about cause-effect without seeing all examples? The mind, by contrast, makes immediately active judgments. When we see a succession of events, our mind automatically sequences them regardless of whether we have empirically verified the prior concept of “succession.” It just happens (shades of Thomas Reid!). Indeed, we have Properly basic beliefs (1st principles, etc) which cannot be conclusions of observations because “they must be in the mind in order to the making of any conclusions” (189).

Dabney and Free Agency

Dabney notes that the reformed system is not fatalistic or deterministic. He argues, “the grand condition of moral responsibility is rational spontaneity (211). The sensualist, by contrast, volitions are the effects of desires, and desire is sense-impression reappearing in reflex form.” The object of our choosing is the inducement to volition and the motive is the subjective cause. Motives arise from subjective reflections (214).

Volitions are free, yet they often have a uniformity of quality that we can predict them. This uniformity is what the Scholastics called habitus, the permanent subjective law of man’s free agency. Freedom is more than the liberty to execute volitions. The soul is self-determining. This is not Pelagianism, though. We are not saying the faculty of will is self-determining. The soul has its own regulative law of action. This regulative law is its dispositions. This fact coexists with the fact of consciousness.

Wherein consisteth man’s free agency? We maintain that the soul is the self-determining power. We reject the idea that the will is in perpetual equilibrium (and here Edwards’ critique is accurate).

Evaluation:

This book is hard-sledding. Some of it will not be relevant to the Christian theist today. A lot of Dabney’s reductios assumed that even his opponents will agree to the idea of “mind” or “soul.” This is not the case today. Further, some atheists can even hold to property-dualism, which does not reduce all to matter (e.g., holds to mental states). On the other hand, though, the book is an outstanding presentation of the traditional doctrines of the mind, soul, and free agency.

 

Review: Buchanan, Justification

While dated in some respects, this volume has outstanding discussions of several knotty problems.  The first section is an historical overview.  The real value of that is in the post-Reformation discussions (especially relating to the church of England).  A few snippets will suffice:

Antinomian: tended to speak of the imputation of sin made Christ personally a sinner. They confused justification with eternal election.

Socinian: “flows as a corollary from their peculiar views–of God’s justice as a modification of his benevolence,–of man’s relation to God as universal Father,–of sin as a moral disease,—of the nature and end of punishment as corrective, rather than penal” (163).

Key question: what is the believer’s title to the new life, if not the righteousness of Christ (175)?

Neo-Platonist view (very similar to today’s Radical Orthodoxy): the mediatorial work of Christ is collapsed into the Incarnation (205ff). What is needed is not reconciliation but more “being.”

Section 2 is Buchanan’s positive case.

Prop. 1: Justification is a legal or forensic term (226).  It is contrasted with condemnation, which rules out any infusion of righteousness.

Prop. 2: Sometimes it is seen as the manifestation of our acceptance before God (233). Here Buchanan makes the distinction between actual justification (Paul) and declarative (James) justification.  The latter deals with evidences. This is also Prop. 3.

Prop. 4: Justification denotes either an act of God, or a privilege of his people (250).

Buchanan then gives a discussion of pardon.  It is an important part of the sinner’s justification but it is not a complete description (259ff).  The pardon of sin by itself gives me no positive righteousness.

Relation of Justification to the Mediatorial Work of Christ

Prop. 9: It was God’s eternal purpose to overrule the fall of man for his own glory (293).

The terms of the eternal covenant determined the whole plan of man’s salvation.  They contemplated the end which was to be accomplished (294). Therefore, it was not the mediatorial work of Christ that prompted God’s love; it was the free and sovereign purpose.  

And against Neo-Socinian writers who deny a full and perfect justification, Buchanan answers, “If it [the work of Christ] was rewarded, in his person, with an everlasting and universal dominion, in the exercise of which He has ‘all power in heaven and in earth’ to bestow the forgiveness of sin, and the gift of eternal life, why should it be inadequate for the immediate justification of any sinner who believes in his name” (309)?

On Imputation

Even the semi-Pelagian and Romanist believes in a form of imputation.  Those who believe in the merit of saints and Mary at least believe that that is imputable to them.  Merit, if it is by another, is by definition imputed (321).

Perhaps we should say what infusion actually is.  Infusion is an infusion of moral qualities (324). By contrast, if Christ bore our sins in his body, and if we get his righteousness (whatever that term may denote), then it can’t be by an infusion of moral qualities.  If it were, then God wouldn’t be said to “justify the ungodly.”

Grace and Works

Works of the law can’t be ceremonial markers, since Paul, in his condemnation of the Gentile world (Romans 1-3), wouldn’t be condemning them for failing to keep Jewish ceremonial markers.  There must be an underlying moral law, for “where there is no law, there is no transgression.”

But What About James 2?

If works are the effects of faith, then they cannot be the grounds of our justification (357).  Further, they cannot come “as an intervening cause or condition between faith and justification, for they follow after faith, whereas every believer is justified as soon as he is united to Christ” (358).

Battle Hymn of the Christian republic

I meant to post this on Memorial Day.  The tune to the Battle Hymn of the Republic is stirring, but it was written by a Unitarian who believed in genocide as atonement.  So we have to change the words.  This is written by Francis Nigel Lee.

My eyes have seen the glory of Jehovah our great King
For our God is trampling Satan. Hallelu-Jah! Let us sing!
With His Word, we’ll hammer humanists; to Jesus, converts bring
For Christ goes reigning on!

Glory, glory, hallelu-Jah
Sing the psalms to our Lord Jesus!
Sing the psalms to our Lord Jesus!
For Christ goes reigning on!

I have seen Him in the pulpits of His Christocratic Church.
He is making us His soldiers, while His Word we gladly search!
As we fight His righteous battles, He’ll not leave us in the lurch.
For Christ goes reigning on!

When He rose, He blew the trumpet that shall never sound defeat!
He is sifting out the hearts of men, before His judgment seat.
Let me, too, help crush His enemies! Subdue them, O my feet!
For Christ goes reigning on!

We will serve Jehovah-Jesus, in the storms and in the calms.
We will gladly sing out loud, all the imprecatory psalms.
We’ll impose God’s Law against all thugs, with never any qualms.
For Christ goes reigning on!

In the beauty of the New Earth, there’ll be neither sin nor sea.
For the Lord’s bride will be happy, in her blissful “slavery” —
While the wicked burn eternally in hell, from virtue “free”
For Christ goes reigning on!

A Clark comment on Van Til’s “solution” to the “Problem of the One and the Many.”

A Place for Thoughts

[This is from Clark’s notes in his personal copy of one of Van Til’s syllabi. Clark signed his name in the book and notes “Gift of Van Til, 4/-/40.”]

Van Til, Christian Apologetics, p. 14: “Using the language of the One and Many question, we contend that in God the one and the many are equally ultimate. Unity in God is not more fundamental than diversity and diversity in God is no more fundamental than unity. The persons of the Trinity are mutually exhaustive of one another. The Son and the Spirit are ontologically on par with the Father.”

Note that the ontological equality of the Son with the Father is used as an argument to show that the One and the Many are equally ultimate in God. This would be a good argument only if the Son represented the diversity in the Godhead and the Father was the unity…

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