Monday, October 15, 2012

Clark, Van Til, and their common Savior

Portrait of Gordon H. Clark at Sangre De Cristo Seminary

This won't likely intrigue my usual readers, but for those acquainted with the Gordon Clark-Cornelius Van Til controversy, a recent discovery I made might be a blessing to them.

I was required to read several works by Gordon Clark for my doctoral program. I had not been previously exposed to Clark, but knew he caused quite a bit of controversy in the American Reformed world in the 1940’s and 50’s. I also learned somewhere that he and the much celebrated Westminster Seminary icon, Cornelius Van Til, were at odds during their respective lives and ministries. One has only to do a web search on “The Clark-Van Til Controversy” to witness the sharp lines drawn between the modern followers of these two reformed theologians of the last century.  Some of the dialogue between modern “Clarkians” and “Van Tillians”, especially in this blog era,  proves embarrassing for the reformed church.  I urge teachers of the Word to ignore characterizations of Clark (from modern followers or detractors alike) and read Dr. Clark for themselves.  I sincerely hope Clark's writings can be recirculated and considered as his view of Scripture and revelation are immediately relevant and important for the modern evangelical church, to say nothing of the reformed community also.

The reason for this post isn't to re-hash the controversy, but rather to share something I found very interesting and even exciting.

I serve on the board of Horn Creek Conference Center in Westcliffe, Colorado. While not officially related, the Sangre De Cristo Seminary is located right next to Horn Creek. Dr. Andrew Zeller is the current president of the seminary and the grandson of Gordon Clark.  I was at a Horn Creek board meeting this past Saturday and ventured down with Dr. Zeller to see the Gordon Clark Library. The library has Clark’s actual books on the shelf. I looked for some Van Til books, and sure enough, there were several. Given the high tension between those who label themselves Clarkian and Van Tillian today, I wondered what these two men thought of each other. To hear some of their respective modern followers, you’d think they had a strong dislike (or worse) toward each other.

Dr. Zeller mentioned he was sure Clark and Van Til met at Wheaton College in the early 1980’s and had a discussion that revealed clear reconciliation between them. With Dr. Zeller's statement in mind I took a few of the Van Til books off the shelf and looked at the insider covers. Low and behold, I found two hand written notes from Van Til to Clark. See them below-

Inside covers of Clark's copies of Van Til's books.

It sure seemed that Van Til viewed Clark in a positive, Christian brotherhood light, despite their deep theological differences.

Before I left the board meeting, Dr. Zeller and I drove down to a small cemetery where the earthly remains of Dr. Clark are interred. I am thankful for men like Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til. Their value can be found not primarily in the particular ideas they championed, but the way in which they both sought to point people to Christ. As Dr. Van Til simply, but profoundly, wrote to Clark- they were brothers because of their common savior.


Nathan Clark George said...

Thanks, Tony. I hope as the years go by more and more pastors will see the value these two men were to the church.


Lloyd said...

I read just about all of Clark's books (and Schaeffer's works) when I moved from Pentecostal to Reformed. He had a keen wit and extraordinary mind and bore no resemblance to John Robbins (who was publishing his books). I always lamented how he was portrayed by others in our circles. Thanks for the reminder.

Wayne Sparkman said...

Thanks for posting this, Tony. The Clark-Van Til controversy in the OPC took place 1945-46. The books pictured were published in 1972 and 1978. Judging from the inscriptions, I'd say you found clear evidence of reconciliation.
Ps. 133 :1!

SLIMJIM said...

Wow, yesterday I was just talking to a brother in Seminary about this topic of whether or not Clark and Van Til saw each other as brothers. God's providence is timely, and I'm glad that He directed me to this article.

Whitefield College and Theological Seminary said...

I have read a few letters between Clark and Van Til, they were letters that were filled with grace, love, and respect. Thanks Toney for the pic and post. I guess I need to make the trip West also.

Thank God for those men He has raised up to advance the cause of the Kingdom of Christ.

Dr. Kenneth Talbot

Seth George said...

Hi Tony. As I was reading this I thought, "Wayne Sparkman may find this interesting" . . . and it appears he already has! Blessings, and I hope to see you soon.

Woody Woodward said...

I have had to stand up for several doctrinal disagreements with other brothers in the Faith and it’s not a pleasant task. Most of them I considered serious possible divisions within the body. I know the only way to be victorious over the enemy is to earnestly seek His wisdom in prayer and search the Word for absolute truth. Then face your brother at odds in love and with the Word of Truth to guide you. That was pretty cool to read some of the posts.

Felipe said...

Dear Dr. Dwight F. Zeller

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Forgive me of my poor English. I can read texts and understand them, but I don't use your language on a daily basis.

My name is Felipe Sabino, I'm Brazilian and I own a Theological Reformed Christian website in Portuguese language ( and and a small Publishing House (

Until now, I have published two of Clark's books: God and Evil and In Defense of Theology.

Now I want to use a picture of Clark in the forthcoming book. Can you get a picture in good quality to me? The people from Trinity Foundation don't have any good photo and those available in the web are not so good. I would love to receive a few different pictures of Clark. He is my favorite theologian and I "regret" to be only a child when he dead.

God bless you!

Thank you!

Felipe Sabino

Woody Woodward said...

Wow, just now reading our Brother Felipe's comment. Pretty good stuff and I know you were excited to hear from the pastor.