Why the Clark / Van-Til dichotomy?

by Felipe Diez
I do not say this lightly, but in a thought-for-thought manner, and not simply for charitable purposes, I consider Dr. Cornelius Van-Til and Dr. Gordon Clark to be among the most significant Christian thinkers of the 20th century. Not only have they both enriched my life (I read their books and form my opinions on their primary sources first and not on the words of their fans, followers, bloggers, etc) but I have been able to teach others about what they desired to be taught to the world. My parents know about them, my friends know about them, acquaintances know about them, and fellow students know about them because I like to talk about them. They are like heroes to me. I admit I have read many more of Dr. Clark’s works than I have the other’s, but I can notice many similarities and differences in their works. It is the same when I read the works of other Christian philosophers / apologists, they have some similarities and some differences. I even have in my possession Herman Hoeksema’s book concerning the “controversy.” But so what? I like them both. Can you say the same thing?
This blog post is about a young man named “Johnny.” Johnny is into presuppositional apologetics and has stumbled on a few blog posts or videos by the fictional Mindy Collins. Mindy is a strong van-tillian and only has negative things to say about Dr. Clark. Enter Sam Roberts. Sam is a Clarkian and has very negative things to say about van-Til. Sam also has a very condescending attitude. Well, Johnny begins to dislike Dr. Clark (while not having read a single book of his) because he likes Mindy’s blogs, yet when Johnny’s friends ask him why he doesn’t like Dr. Clark, Johnny replies with “well, Mindy (who has never read Van-til and only works about others) said so and so, and also, I don’t like Sam.” Does this scenario sound familiar?
It’s a scenario I’ve had to witness again and again. My question to you is, why the dichotomy? Why do some folks find it necessary to base their decisons on emotional data? When I speak to folks about this, they always reference the two scholars spoken about in this blog as if they were perpetually at each others’ throats (when in fact they were both gentlemen who did not have personal ills regarding the other). The scholars are long gone, and in a sense, it is their students who have perpetuated much of this misunderstanding. Some people find it perplexing that I do not speak badly of either scholar, and often out of spite, I will speak well of one scholar in the presence of people who dislike that scholar over the other, and vice versa. And there are many ways in which van-tillians misrepresent Dr. Clark and vice versa – I can catch the misrepresentations quite easily. When I speak with someone, and ask them: “Do you like Cornelius Van-Til? I am reading his “Introduction to Christian Epistemology part II.” They say: “I like Gordon Clark.” But notice that this is not what I asked. I was not talking about Clark or referencing Clark at all. For now, imagine that he never existed. My question to them was: “Do you like Cornelius Van-Til?” That was the question. I was not attempting to invoke the whole controversy nor was the other scholar present in my mind. But some folks simply cannot think rationally enough and, in my opinion, must get past their emotional presuppositions. When I ask: “Do you like Gordon Clark’s works?” Some people say: “I’m a van-tillian.” But notice that this was not referenced in the question. It was not part of the question, and I was not asking for the information provided to me. And often times, the person who disdains Clark has only read – what – 3 or 4 books? (I’ve read 12 so far and have many more on my shelf). People are taking the ramifications of this controversy too seriously and are going about this in the wrong manner, and many bloggers and other writers are advancing the same erroneous dichotomy. They sometimes think of me as “that odd ball who actually likes and reads both of them.”
So Johnny, if you would, ignore Sam’s attitude and Mindy’s misrepresentations (fictional characters), pick up a few books by these men, not about them, and feed your mind – learn to defend the Christian faith and practice cogent and comprehensive thinking.

About lalvin1517

I'm married with two children and pastor McCall Baptist Church in McCall, Idaho.
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