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Buswell’s Surrejoinder

In J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today on 25/07/2011 at 18:51

Dr. Clark’s Comments

Editorial Note 


DR. CLARK has been invited to comment on my review of his book
A Christian Philosophy of Education,[1] and, if he wishes, to carry on a discussion with the editor on the questions involved through several of our monthly issues. I feel that this invitation is in order for several reasons:

(1) Dr. Clark is an earnest Christian and a competent scholar, and even though he may be mistaken (as I think) in some points, his opinions are well worth noting and his spirit will be edifying to all our readers.

(2) This discussion, or call it an argument if you will, is not in the slightest degree tinged with personal antagonism. I have the highest regard for him as a friend and former colleague, and he has expressed himself similarly toward me.

(3) The subject under discussion, the basis and use of Christian evidences in dealing with those who have not yet accepted the Gospel, is of the utmost importance for all Bible-believing Christians. The view which I uphold seems so obvious to some that I find it difficult to impress my students that there is any need of dwelling upon it. “Of course there is common ground for us within the thought complexes of unbelievers. Don’t they speak English! Don’t they study history, geography, science! Doesn’t the Bible say that the common objects of our sciences ‘declare the glory of God’ (Psalm 19) in such a way that ‘their sound went into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world’ (Romans 10:18). Why take time to prove the obvious?”

On the other hand the viewpoint of Dr. Clark is so deeply instilled into the minds of some of our younger scholars and professors that, as I observe the problems of evangelism in our day, the idea that Christian evidences are not transitive to the thought complexes of unbelievers is a serious handicap to the propagation of the Gospel.

I believe great good can be accomplished if the Lord’s people can be aroused to the fact that there is such an issue in the minds of many of our splendid young pastors and teachers.

I am delighted with Dr. Clark’s reply, printed in full in the above pages (pp. 67ff.) for one reason, because he has made important concessions to the point of my argument. The distinction which Dr. Clark’s reply now makes between “a non-Christian system” and non-Christian people, (a distinction not clearly made, I feel, in his book) seems to me to involve and lead up to a complete surrender of his position.

The entire paragraph on this subject in his book (p. 163f) to which I objected is as follows:

But then we must choose from among the claimants; and if we would persuade others, there must be a common ground; and if there is a common ground, our judgment is autonomous. This objection, charging the Christian position with self-contradiction, is plausible, but it results from a misunderstanding of supernaturalism. To convict supernaturalism of inconsistency, it is necessary to represent it accurately. But the plausibility of the objection results from combining the supernaturalistic view of revelation with a purely naturalistic view of persuasion. The result is easily shown to be inconsistent. If, however, persuasion and revelation both are understood supernaturally, no inconsistency will be found.

For, be it observed, there is no such thing as a common ground between Christianity and a non-Christian system. From a world naturalistically conceived, one cannot argue to the God of the Christians. From a world-view that denies all revelation, one cannot produce a Biblical revelation. Persuasion therefore is not an appeal to a common ground or non-Christian experience. Persuasion must be regarded as a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. The faithful Christian presents the Christian faith to an unbeliever, he explains it and shows it in all its fullness. Then the Christian prays that the Holy Spirit regenerate his auditor, renew his  mind, open his eyes, and enable him to see the truth of what was said. This is not an appeal to a common ground; it is an appeal to God.

If believers and unbelievers are all, as Dr. Clark now says,[2] “inhabitants of one and the same universe,” how can Dr. Clark argue that “From a world naturalistically conceived, one cannot argue to the God of Christianity?” The naturalistic conception must of course be rejected in toto, but the world is admitted to be “one and the same.”

Dr. Clark and I once attended a social gathering at which the lights were artistically shaded with red cellophane. After a time we all saw each other’s faces as a pale sickly green. Some of the company believed that the green color was “true,” or the “correct interpretation,” in the actual sense that it indicated physiological symptons of food poisoning. Others, however, whose eyes were similarly affected in “one and the same universe” explained to those by whom the universe was wrongly conceived that it was the red cellophane which had caused the eye fatigue which caused us to see things pale green. “One and the same universe,” though wrongly interpreted by some, gave us a common ground useful in correcting error.

What Is A “System”

Now that Dr. Clark has brought out his distinction between “non-Christian systems” and non-Christian people, a further clarification is necessary. What does he mean by a “system?” If he means the non-Christian conception as such, of course there is no common ground. This would follow from the law of contradictories. Philosophical naturalism may be defined as the denial of the Supernatural as such. Prof. Childs of Columbia recently defined it as “the denial of any cosmic teleology;” no purpose behind the universe! It would not be wrong to say that “Naturalism is atheism.” Of course there is no common ground between atheism as such and Christianity as such. If “system” meant the definitive element, as such in a thought complex, then Dr. Clark’s present position could be defended. However, I doubt if the word “system” is ever so used among writers in this field, and Dr. Clark does not so use it.

Dr. Clark does not say merely that the non-Christian attitude as such contains no common ground for us; his expression is not “the naturalistic attitude as such,” but “a world naturalistically conceived;” and he admits that the world or universe is “one and the same” as ours. Moreover, he proceeds, in the very paragraph from his book to which he refers, to apply the alleged lack of common ground to the manner in which the Gospel is presented “to an unbeliever.”

The word “system” in common usage I think, and as Dr. Clark uses the word in his book, means a more or less consistent or inconsistent complex of thought to which people adhere. The “system” of Naturalism as expounded by people who call themselves Naturalists, avowedly includes the universe in which we all live. Their interpretation of it is wrong, but to deny that “one and the same universe” lies within both “systems” is to do violence to well established usage of words.

Neutral” Facts

Dr. Clark’s view of “isolated” or “neutral” facts or events is, I think, very confused. He says, “I am not so sure that all the atheistic naturalists deny the existence of isolated events. At least some opponents of Christianity argue that if we examine the facts . . . without prejudice or presupposition, the facts themselves will disprove Christianity.”

Certainly this is not evidenced that the persons referred to regard facts as “isolated” but quite the contrary. They erroneously regard the facts as leading toward a non-Christian position. We take the facts not as neutral, but as they are seen; we then show that the facts truly lead toward the Christian position. The resurrection of Christ is a fact in a chain of redemptive predictions and accomplishments, all of which are on common ground open to public investigation.

I deny that the traditional proofs for the existence of God “were supposed to start from ‘neutral’ facts. . . .” My position, and the position which I feel is the central position of evangelistic Christianity down through the centuries, is that all facts are evidences of the God of the Bible. Dr. Clark does not focus his attention upon the processes of logical abstraction. If I see a man with green glasses looking at a piece of white paper, I may well say to him, “The paper, which you see as green and which I see as white, is common ground; but there are data in the common ground inconsistent with your interpretation and supporting mine.”

This does not mean that anybody believes in “bare” facts or “neutral” facts. I think nobody does. I can discuss “greenness,1 however, as an abstraction, while knowing full well that greenness never occurs except in a context. The greenness is common ground; I say it is due to the glasses, the man with the glasses erroneously says it is in the paper. From common ground data I can show him (if he is willing to heed) that he is wrong and that white paper is white paper.

Dr. Clark has some grounds for objecting to my reference to page 107 of his book.[3] I should have said pages 106 and 107. I feel that the quotation given from page 106 fully justified my remarks on page 107, but I regret my error in failing to include both pages in the reference. The quotation was

A true Christian, if asked how he has learned of God, will answer immediately, “through the Bible, God’s Word.” When a person replies, “by experience and reflection,” it is instantly clear that that person is not a Christian.

I feel that page 107 in the light of this material on page 106 does imply my interpretation.

However, I am glad for the interpretation Dr. Clark now gives. If I am wrong in thinking that he now repudiates the material quoted from his page 106, and so shifts his ground, well, praise the Lord anyway! I am not concerned to prove my brother wrong, but bring out certain truths. His present interpretation of his page 107 (barring a few words such as “innate” which may be discussed later) is quite harmonious with what I believe to be the Scriptural position.

Dr. Clark persists in challenging the traditional evidences for the Christian view of God on the ground that they do not give geometrical demonstration. But he does not answer the fact that geometry never can demonstrate the existence of anything. No competent theologian claims that any inductive argument, or any argument for any existing thing affords a “demonstration” in this impossible sense. It would be like rejecting a building brick because it is not a violin. The arguments from facts of nature to the glory of God are not intended to be such “demonstrations.” Nevertheless Paul considers them such good and valid arguments that wicked men are “without excuse” if they do not heed them. I hope Dr. Clark will give us a full analytical facing up with this question of “geometrical demonstration.” It will clear up other matters if this point can be adequately discussed.

In concluding these editorial remarks I would express the hope that Dr. Clark may give us further contributions which will still further clarify the important subject before us. He is a great Christian scholar: he can “give it” and he can “take it.”


[1] Review appeared in The Bible Today for October 1947.

[2] p. 67—Above.

[3] See The Bible Today, October, 1947, p. 10, line 16, and Dr. Clark’s remarks on page 69 of this issue.

Articles in the Buswell-Clark Series :
1. “A Christian Philosophy of History: A Book Review,” by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today 41.1 (October 1947): 3-15.
2. “Dr. Clark Comments,” by Gordon H. Clark, The Bible Today 41.3 (December 1947): 67-70.
3.  ”Dr. Clark’s Comments—Editorial Note,” by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today 41.3 (December 1947): 70-74.
4. “Does the Bible Sanction Apologetic?,” by Vernon Grounds, The Bible Today 41.3 (December 1947): 84-89.
4. “Concerning System and Demonstration,” by Gordon H. Clark, The Bible Today 41.4 (January 1948): 109-114.
5.  ”Editorial Comment,” by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today 41.4 (January 1948): 114-118.
6. “System and Induction,” by Gordon H. Clark, The Bible Today 41.6 (March 1948): 173-177.

On a related note, see also these articles by the Rev. David S. Clark, father of Gordon H. Clark :
1. The Philosophical Basis of Christianity, by Rev. David S. Clark, The Presbyterian 94.50 (11 December 1924): 6-7.
2. Modernism and the Higher Criticism, by Rev. David S. Clark, D.D., The Presbyterian 95.1 (1 January 1925): 8-9.

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