Review: The Biblical Doctrine of Man (Gordon Clark)

Thesis: Gordon Clark identifies the “man” with the “soul, spirit, or mind” (Clark 88). Man is the image (9). Clark doesn’t want to include the body in the definition of the image, but not because he is a rationalist.  He notes that Paul had an out-of-body experience but he was still the image of God (10). Quoting Col. 3:10 and Eph. 4:24, Clark argues that the image is knowledge and righteousness (14).Gordon H Clark

The Image of God

Clark has a fine section rejecting the Roman doctrine of donum superadditum (8). God pronounced man “very good,” which means he wasn’t created in a state of neutrality.  If Adam’s fall was merely the loss of original righteousness, then he only fell to a neutral level (13).

On the heart

Clark gives an interesting survey of how the term “heart” is used in the Bible, noting that it is normally used in an intellectual of voluntaristic sense and rarely in a touchy-feely sense (81-88). The heart has a noetic function.  Without realizing it, Clark has come very close to a key epistemological insight that many of the church fathers knew.

Clark defends a dichotomous view of the human subject (33-44).


His discussion isn’t as long or analytic as William GT Shedd’s, but it contains a number of penetrating insights.  For example:

(1) It is a fallacy to say that all angels’ souls are immediately created by God, and humans have souls, therefore each soul is immediately created (this seems to be John Gill’s argument).

(2) Souls don’t have to be fissile (Clark doesn’t use that term) since our soul isn’t produced or created by our parents’.  Nor do souls have spatial characteristics. Rather, we should see souls in terms of “functions” (47). If souls are active, and no one doubts they are, then there is no prima facie reason why a soul can’t transmit another soul.

Does traducianism depends on realism?  Maybe, but no one is saying that it depends on Plato’s realism?  But even if it does have similarities, there is no reason why this threatens imputation.  There is no logical “incongruity between the proposition, ‘the souls of descendants are propogated through their parents’ and, the proposition, ‘Adam acted as the legal representative for all men’” (49).

Does Realism necessitate that we hold there is an Idea of x in which one participates?  It can mean that but it doesn’t have to. All that Realism in Clark’s case requires is that there is an Idea in God’s mind and it is a real object of knowledge. Nor is one saying that all men participated in the Idea of Man, which also happened to be the individual Adam.  

Mind-Body Problem

Whatever problems the Christian dualist may have in explaining the relationship between the mind and body, the materialist has more.  How does a causal relationship arise from sensory experience (91)?

Gold Nuggets

Clark was ahead of his time.  He anticipated and exposed many of the dead-ends that philosophers, educators, and scientists face today.  For example:

(1) How do empiricists explain the production of abstract ideas from memory images (19)?

(2) If naturalism is true, then how can one say that the naturalistic process of the brain is “more true” than the process of flexing my muscle?  If naturalism produces both behaviorism in one case and Christianity in the other, and both are merely naturalistic reflexes, why is Behaviorism more true than Christianity (29)?

(3) “The Romish theory therefore locates the source of sin in Adam’s unfallen nature” (58).

(4) Depravity is part of the penalty of sin; therefore, the guilt logically precedes it (67).  As Westminster says, “the guilt is imputed, the corruption conveyed” (68; VI:3).


The book kind of “ends” suddenly.  Granted, the last page is part of an appendix, but Clark never actually says his conclusion.  He has a long quote by Malebranche, but we don’t know if Clark is affirming or rejecting Occasionalism.

I’m also none too keen on defining the image as the soul.  Does image = soul mean the same thing as soul = person? The latter leads to Nestorianism if applied to Christology.  To be fair, though, Clark never affirms Descartes’s substance dualism. The book is short and very clearly-written.  There are some underdeveloped areas but on a whole it is outstanding.

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).


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.

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.