Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

Archive for the ‘J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.’ Category

Parting Regrets : Reflection on a Letter

In J. Gresham Machen, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 31/05/2012 at 16:41

In our previous post, we provided some background for an article currently posted at the OPC web site. The article was written by the Rev. Charles Dennision, who was at that time serving as the OPC historian.  The article is titled “Cornelius Van Til and the Identity of the OPC“. Our last post provided the text of the letter by J. Oliver Buswell, writing late in 1936 to Dr. J. Gresham Machen. Dennison also mentions a fragment of a letter, a working draft that Machen intended in reply to Buswell, but Machen died while on a speaking engagement in North Dakota and the reply was never finished. I presume that draft fragment is preserved among the papers of Dr. Machen, in the archives at the Westminster Theological Seminary.

What we do have is the other side of the conversation, found among the papers of Dr. Buswell, and in addition to the previously posted letter, there is another interesting letter that sheds further light on the situation, and which also contains an interesting admission by Dr. Buswell.   In both of these letters, I think there is much that can be gleaned as to how Christians can and ought to conduct themselves in debate and disagreement.

In this letter, Dr. Buswell is writing to the Rev. Harold Samuel Laird, a highly-regarded pastor in Wilmington, Delaware.


Rev. Harold S. Laird
R. D. #3
Wilmington, Delaware
My dear Dr. Laird,

I told you in conversation the other day of my conference with the West-

minster faculty Monday evening, January twenty-fifth.  I feel that you
as a trustee of Westminster and as one who has sacrificed so much for the
cause we all love, should be informed, and therefore I am writing down
certain conclusions which I think were reached.

(1)  The faculty stand by Professor Murray’s attitude towards alcoholic
liquor.  They defend him not only in theory but in his practice.  Pro-
fessor Murray drinks liquor and insists upon the principle of personal
liberty in doing so.  The faculty insist that he is right.  This none
of them will dispute, I am sure.

We did not exactly agree on definitions of terms in regards to the emphasis

Read the rest of this entry »


Parting Words : Buswell’s Last Letter to Machen

In J. Gresham Machen, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 31/05/2012 at 16:10

Over at the OPC web site, there has been the recent posting of a 1996 article by Charles Dennison, the late historian for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The article is entitled “Cornelius Van Til and the Identity of the OPC”, and in the opening paragraph, Rev. Dennison made reference to the last letter that Dr. J. Oliver Buswell wrote to Dr. J. Gresham Machen.

I thought our readers might like to see that letter, for added context and background to the Dennison article. A second letter by Dr. Buswell—written late in January of 1937 and bearing a significant comment on this first letter—will follow in our next post.


Dr. J. Gresham Machen
206 South Thirteenth Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dear Dr. Machen

Since reading the last issue of the Guardian, I have been confirmed
in feeling that I ought to write you with reference to certain
points which I have not had time to discuss with you adequately.
(1) The first of these is the method to be used in correcting
dispensational error.  You are a far more experienced and more
capable Christian leader than I, but I have had certain experiences
with devout people misguided by dispensationalism, which I think
you have not had.  I have found that such people will generally
listen to specific arguments with definite references but they are
not convinced, and I think could not be expected to be convinced,
by general phrases such as “the dispensationalism of the Scofield
Bible.”  Professor Murray’s article last May and Dr. Allis’ two
articles in recent issues of the Evangelical Quarterly were more
definitely characterized by careful handling of detail.  The last
issue of the Guardian contained a very effective appeal on page
seventy-one, column two-b, but it is all in the realm of generalities
and hence in the realm most likely to cause irritation rather than
to bring conviction.  This is especially true since the doctrine
of a literal millennium is seen to be a particular within the
general phrase which Dr. Kuiper used. Read the rest of this entry »

Their Finest Hour

In Bible Presbyterian Church, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 10/08/2011 at 09:07

The Seventeenth General Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church convened in Greenville, South Carolina on Thursday afternoon, June 3rd, 1954. The whole of the next day, Friday, was given to worship and prayer. Following devotional exercises that morning, the Rev. Francis A. Schaeffer brought a message. Then in the afternoon, the Rev. John W. Sanderson spoke and the Synod broke out for group prayer meetings. Finally, the Rev. Robert G. Rayburn brought the concluding message that evening, followed by a united prayer meeting.

So much for what you can tell from the official Minutes.  To my knowledge there were no tape recordings made as the General Synod met that year.  If we were left with the official record, we might be impressed that they spent the day in prayer and worship, but that would be about it.  But stored away among the Buswell’s papers, in Box 283 there is a half sheet of onionskin paper with this typed report prepared by his son, the Rev. John Buswell, who was at that time the pastor of a church in Philadelphia:

From the Church Bulletin
Bible Presbyterian Church of West Philadelphia

The Pastor’s Paragraph * * * The Seventeenth General Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church experienced the reality of revival in their midst. On the second day of meeting no business was allowed, and three messages were given, followed by three seasons of prayer. The morning message was concerning Reformation and Revival, the afternoon one concerning Prayer and Revival, and the evening message was on the Holy Spirit and Revival. The times of prayer were characterized first by tears of confession. Person after person got to his feet to pour out his soul in repentance before God. Then the prayers turned to praise : praise for the great and marvelous opportunity God had set before the Bible Presbyterian Church for evangelism. Then the prayers centered on the need to take advantage of that great opportunity. There settled on the Synod a great and binding hunger for greater love among God’s people; love which would unify our hearts and churches for the glory of God. Then there was a greater hunger for the compassion and love for lost souls that they might find Christ. A year passed and not enough souls had been saved by the work of the Bible Presbyterian Church. Seventeen years have passed and we stop and consider where are we going? A firm and settled conviction that the stand of the Bible Presbyterian Synod for the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ was the right one, pervaded the body of ministers ; and yet there was dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction with progress, dissatisfaction with the brightness of our testimony. We must go forward with the proper balance for the TRUTH of God and for the LOVE of God. We must maintain the purity of the Testimony and at the same time we must allow the Holy Spirit to pervade the Testimony of our church with compassion for our brethren in Christ, as well as those who are unsaved. Romans 12:5—”So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another . . .” ; Philippians 2: 15, 16—”. . . in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life . . . ”  Read the rest of this entry »

Clark Gets the Last Word

In Apologetics, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 29/07/2011 at 08:00

This is the third and last of Dr. Clark’s replies to Buswell’s review and critique of Clark’s work, A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION. Buswell had begun with a review of that work, to which Clark replied, Buswell commented, and so on. As with the Buswell-Van Til exchange, in this exchange Buswell gives his opponent the last word (though in Van Til’s case, Buswell peppered CVT’s final reply with editorial comments. Clark at least faired better, in that regard.

System and Induction


This is the third in a series of short articles by Dr. Clark. The others, accompanied by argumentative editorial comments of my own, are found in the December 1947 and January 1948, issues of The Bible Today. The series was started off by my review of his recent book, A Christian Philosophy of Education, in The Bible Today for October, 1947.

I must confess that, as I see it, Dr. Clark fails in the present article to meet the issues. Rather than repeating, I suggest that the reader who wishes answers to what Dr. Clark says and to the questions he asks here, will find the answers in my editorials in the December and January issues. My arguments have not been answered.

(While searching, the reader might look for the alleged place where I have “admitted that the cosmological argument is a formal logical fallacy.” I haven’t found that place!) For the present then, I shall let Dr. Clark have the last word. I think you are making a great mistake, good brother. Ed.

A sound rule of Biblical exegesis is that the meaning of a crucial word should be determined by the context, the author’s usage, and his intent. For example, the meaning of the words faith, flesh, redeem, sin, life, death, are neither necessarily nor usually just the same in the New Testament as they are in pagan writers. To assume that the meanings are the same would reduce parts of the New Testament to absurdity. Similarly it is a sound rule for criticizing contemporary books to determine the meaning of the author. If one of his words interpreted in one way makes nonsense of some of his paragraphs, it would be wiser to seek another meaning than to jump to the conclusion that the author makes no sense. Furthermore, an author may use the same word in several senses. A critic cannot legitimately require a writer to confine himself to just one strict meaning.

It seems to me that Dr. Buswell in his book review of A Christian Philosophy of Education and in his two Editorial Comments violates this principle of interpretation. He seems to insist, even in his January Editorial Comment, that system can mean only “a more or less consistent or inconsistent complex of thoughts.”

I defended the legitimacy of my usage of the word system by two citations. The first was from Brand Blanshard: The Nature of Thought. Dr. Buswell, it seems to me, confuses the isuue by first objecting to elements of Professor Blanshard’s philosophy. I too am in fundamental disagreement with that philosophy; but the point at issue was not certain phases of rationalistic idealism, but whether the word system can be used in the sense of a perfectly consistent series of propositions. Having thus confused the issue, Dr. Buswell continues by arguing that Professor Blanshard did not so use the word system. His reason is that Professor Blanshard uses the word system in the other sense also. If by “fragmentary systems, whose parts are connected by the most diverse relations” Professor Blanshard indeed means “more or less inconsistent complex of thoughts,” still it does not follow that he has not also used the word in the sense of a perfectly consistent series of truths. An author cannot legitimately be required to use a word in only one sense.

Webster’s Dictionary also, to which Dr. Buswell appeals, allows of several meanings. There is nothing in Webster that requires Dr. Buswell’s preferred meaning. In fact neither Webster nor Funk and Wagnalls even mention Dr. Buswell’s inconsistent complex. Read the rest of this entry »

Buswell Sees Progress!

In Apologetics, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 28/07/2011 at 12:54

Here are Buswell’s comments following Clark’s entry “Concerning System and Demonstration”. For the moment we’ve skipped over the article by Vernon Grounds that appeared in the midst of this series of exchanges between Buswell and Clark. That article will post later. And as is our habit, links to the entire series of articles can be found at the bottom of this post.

Editorial Comment

I DO feel that there is definite progress in Dr. Clark’s thought, or at least in his expression, from the book,[1] through his article in the December issue of The Bible Today, to his present article. The discussion of the word “system’’ grew out of material found on page 163 and following in his book quoted on page 71 in the December Bible Today. Dr. Clark’s statements there[2] “. . . there is no such thing as a common ground between Christianity and a non-Christian system,” led straight forward to his remarks on the way in which a “faithful Christian presents the Christian faith to an unbeliever.” Then followed his statement, “This is not an appeal to a common ground . . .” The word “this” refers directly to the presentation of the Christian faith “to an unbeliever.” It is the idea that we have no common ground when we present the Gospel to an unbeliever, which gave me such great concern.

Now, in this article on System and Demonstration, as well as in his article of last December, I feel that Dr. Clark has removed the “system” of unbelief so far into the abstract that it cannot interfere with evangelism. Thus my purpose is partly accomplished[3]

The readers who are not interested in logic will please doze off while I go on with the next few paragraphs. Those who are concerned about the basic logic of evangelism, the epistemology[4] of Christian evidences, may do well to read carefully, whether they wholly agree or not.

Our discussion of the word “system,” as I have said, starts from Dr. Clark’s words “a non-Christian system.” Naturalism, or anti-super-naturalism, which practically amounts to atheism, is the “system” which most conspicuously confronts us. In discussing such a system of thought, I should define the word “system” as I did in my editorial note in the December Bible Today, as “a more or less consistent or inconsistent complex of thought to which people adhere.” Thus Webster’s Dictionary gives the following to illustrate usage, “the theological system of Augustine; the American system of government; hence, a particular philosophy, religion, etc. ‘Our little systems have their day.’ “

In Robert Flint’s great worksAnti-Theistic Theories, and Agnosticism, he treats of such systems as materialism, pantheism, secularism, etc., showing inconsistencies in each. In a course in history of philosophy we take up such systems as idealism and realism; in history of Christian doctrine we take up scholasticism, Calvinism, Arminianism, etc. All of these “systems” are “more or less consistent or inconsistent complexes of thought.”

Of course my definition (and Webster’s) supported by usage as it is, does not exclude the perfect system of truth as God sees it; nor does it exclude the system of revealed truth. Dr. Clark’s error in citing Presbyterian usage is in his failing to mention that before the statement accepting the Westminster standards “as containing the system of doctrine taught inthe Holy Scriptures,” every Presbyterian minister was required to declare that he believed the Scriptures to be “the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” A “system” may be “more or less consistent or inconsistent”; a “system” taught in an “infallible rule” must be perfectly consistent[5]

I am interested in Dr. Clark’s reference to Prof. Brand Blanshard’s views on “system.” I had said I doubted if any writers in this field ever use the word “system” as meaning “the definitive element as such in a complex of thought. ‘

But this is not Prof. Blanshard’s view at all. He would agree with Dr. Clark and me that the truth is a perfectly consistent system. In the passage to which Dr. Clark refers, he says:

If the end of thought is truth, what is truth? It lies, we shall hold, in system, and above all in that perfect type of system in which each component implies and is implied by every other.

Blanshard is a rationalistic idealist. Dr. Clark is not. I should accept the proposition that the truth is a perfect system, but I deny that the truth “lies [or consists] in system.” Rather, it may be checked by its integration as a criterion. It is true because it is there and because it is so. (Dasein und Sosein). Read the rest of this entry »

Clark Elaborates His Approach

In Apologetics, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 26/07/2011 at 10:34

Clark now replies with some elaboration of his apologetic approach.

Concerning System and Demonstration


Dr. Clark very kindly gives us here a clarification of his use of the word “system”, and further comment on so called “isolated facts”, “neutral facts”, and geometrical “demonstration.” Editorial comment follows his article; see page 114 and following.Ed.

Since the philosophic problems of evidence are of such great importance for the effective presentation of the gospel, I greatly appreciate the generous invitation of Dr. Buswell’s Editorial Note (December 1947) to discuss briefly the notions of “system” and “demonstration.” As an introduction to this matter, I should like first to repeat something from my Comments and place it beside a part of Dr. Buswell’s Editorial Note.

In the Comments I pointed out that the book, A Christian Philosophy of Education, denied a common ground between Christian and non-Christian systems, but it did not deny a common ground between regenerate and unregenerate individuals. Dr. Buswell, quoting the paragraph in his Editorial Note, prefaces the quotation with the statement, “he has made important concessions to the point of my argument.” And he also speaks of “The distinction which Dr. Clark’s reply now makes between a non-Christian system and non-Christian people . . .”  This distinction, Dr. Buswell continues, “seems to me to involve and lead up to a complete surrender of his position.”

To this I wish to repeat that the distinction was not made just “now” in the Comments. It is not at all a “concession” to Dr. Buswell’s review, but on the contrary it is found explicitly in the book itself. Nor is the idea of a system confined to the one paragraph Dr. Buswell quotes. The first chapter of the book virtually defines educational endeavor as the striving toward a system; the argument of the second chapter, involving the criticism of the traditional proofs of God’s existence, depends on the notion of system (cf. pp. 48, 49 and passim); the several chapters against neutrality have the same basis; and in short the notion of system rather permeates the book. I am therefore forced to conclude that Dr. Buswell has viewed as a “concession” what in reality is his own better understanding of what I explicitly said.

In order further to elucidate, I must ask agreement to the proposition that all men are more or less inconsistent. The fact that you and I are born again Christians does not mean that everything we think is Christian truth. This should be obvious because we sometimes contradict each other. If you are right, I am wrong; and in this case what I believe is not a part of the Christian system. Hence clarity requires a sharp distinction between what a given person thinks and what the system really is.[*] If there were no such distinction, the beliefs of anyone who called himself a Christian could be taken for Christianity. Indeed, this is the point of view that Modernism with its anti-intellectualism actually adopts. To define Christianity the modernist does not determine the exact meaning of what the Bible says; he simply notes what ideas happen to be popular in his ecclesiastical fraternity. Accordingly the point must be emphasized that a Christian, even a true Christian, and Christianity are two different things. The Christian is inconsistent. Christianity is the whole consistent truth. Similarly an atheist and atheism are two different things. Atheism, a system, is as consistent as any false system can be. But an individual atheist not only may, but does believe propositions inconsistent with his professed atheism.

[*] Dr. Buswell doubts that the word is ever so used; but cf. Brand Blanshard, The Nature of Thought, Vol. I, p. 78.  Read the rest of this entry »

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: Read the rest of this entry »

Clark’s Reply

In J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 24/07/2011 at 18:35

Continuing our series on the 1947-1948 exchange between J. Oliver Buswell and Gordon H. Clark, the following is Clark’s initial reply to Buswell’s review of Clark’s book, A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION. And as with the series of exchanges between Buswell and Van Til, this series too provides a lesson in the exercise of Christian polemics.

Dr. Clark Comments


DR. BUSWELL, whose zeal for the cause of Christ I admire and whose friendship I value, has generously offered me the opportunity to comment on his review[1] of my book, A Christian Philosophy of Education. The points raised in the review are so numerous that it would require more than a volume to deal with them all. I must therefore refrain from analyzing Dr. Buswell’s various arguments against my position, and direct attention to one point, a very important point, where Dr. Buswell has misapprehended my meaning.

On page four Dr. Buswell says, “He denies that we have any common ground, in facts and rationality, with unbelievers.” This does not happen to be the case.

It may be that some contemporary Calvinists, in their efforts to state the Biblical position and to defend it against humanism, have denied “any common ground, in facts and rationality, with unbelievers.” To me, however, this denial seems unscriptural and therefore untrue. All men are made in the image of God, even though the image is marred by sin; and all men are inhabitants of one and the same universe. These are two “grounds” in common.

The quotation from A Christian Philosophy of Education, p. 164, which Dr. Buswell uses in this connection, does not deny such common ground. If it is read in its context, one will see that it says “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 Christianity.”

In this philosophical discussion it has seemed important to me to distinguish between a system of thought and an actual person. Since everyone is fallible, since some people hold more erroneous views than others, it is clear that a given Christian does not have all the truth or all the system. Some of the system he must believe in order personally to be a Christian; some of the system he may not know at all; and some parts of the system he may consciously reject. For example, Calvinists and Arminians accuse each other of rejecting parts of Biblical teaching. Therefore what is true of an inconsistent person is not necessarily true of a consistent system. And I have maintained that there is a common ground among persons, but not among systems.

Dr. Buswell is not the only person who has failed to see this distinction. Probably the fault lies in my manner of expression. Doubtless the immediate interest in Christian schools led to a too concise and therefore obscure formulation of more basic and more general philosophic principles. But that the distinction is important may be shown by noting, in one or two cases, the effect of this misapprehension on other parts of Dr. Buswell’s review.

On page five Dr. Buswell quotes the argument that the resurrection viewed as an isolated historical event does not prove that Christ died for our sin. This should be obvious, for other people have been raised from the dead, and yet they had not died for our sin. Clearly therefore a resurrection does not prove an atonement. Then says Dr. Buswell, Read the rest of this entry »

Buswell Reviews Clark (1947)

In J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 23/07/2011 at 13:03

Prior to the series of articles on presuppositionalism that appeared in THE BIBLE TODAY, there was about a year earlier another series begun by Dr. Buswell when he reviewed A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY, by Dr. Gordon H. Clark. This series of exchanges between Buswell and Clark will include the following:

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.

“A Christian Philosophy of History”[1]

Dr. Clark is a competent scholar of outstanding achievements, and a well informed, devout Bible-believing Christian. His B.A. and Ph.D. degrees were taken at the University of Pennsylvania. Of unquestioned loyalty to Christ and the Bible, his teaching and his writings have exemplified a high order of learning which does honor to his Phi Beta Kappa key.

It has been remarked by prominent teachers of philosophy, and Dr. Clark calls attention to the fact (p. 6), that whereas the Roman Catholics have presented their philosophy in a fairly well integrated form, based upon the teachings of Thomas Aquinas,[2] the Protestant philosophy has not been presented (at least not as a technical system of metaphysics) in any compact body of philosophical writings.

To meet this need in part Dr. Clark has undertaken to write not a Protestant philosophy in general, but a philosophy of education which, as he says, is one of the important branches of the field.

Dr. Clark has indeed made a noteworthy contribution. Whereas, so far as bulk is concerned, this review may seem critical, I should like to urge that the excellencies of his work so far outweigh the points which I criticize, that there is no comparison. It is hoped that the book will be widely read and circulated not only by school teachers but especially by parents who seriously care to fulfill their obligations in bringing up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” I have heard that someone in conversation once criticized Charles Hodge for the bulk of negative material in a certain portion of his writings. Thereupon Hodge produced a marine map and showed that by far the larger number of notations were to be found in the shallow waters near shore. The great open stretches of the ocean where the sailing is clear were generally characterized by absence of comment. So it is with my review of this product of the workmanship of my good friend and former colleague.


My most basic criticism has to do with Dr. Clark’s theory of evidences. He is one of a group of earnest Bible-believing younger professors who do not regard the traditional arguments for the existence of God as valid, and who give entirely inadequate logical place to the historical data of the Christian message. He denies that we have any common ground, in facts and rationality, with unbelievers. His constructive view is given in the following words:

Persuasion therefore is not an appeal to a common ground or [should read of (?)] 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 fulness. 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. (p. 164)

I thoroughly agree with the affirmations in the above quotation. It is the denial of a common ground in factual and reasonable material to which I strongly object. Indeed in our proclamation of the Gospel we are utterly dependent upon the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. No word of ours would have the slightest effect were it not for the fact, promised by the Lord, that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world.” (John 16:8)  In this, however, we have a constant principle of all Christian activity. In explaining our dependence upon the Holy Spirit in evangelistic activities, Paul used the obvious illustration of agriculture. “I planted, Apollos waters ; but God gave the increase.” (I Cor. 3:6)  Is the farmer not on some common ground with his crops, because he trusts God for the increase? The Apostle Paul in his own ministry constantly assumed a direct transitive interaction between his proclamation of the Gospel and the mind of the unbeliever. “Knowing . . . the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.” (II Cor. 5:11)

Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology, Volume III, p. 79f.) points out that the denial of a common rational factual ground between believers and unbelievers is found in certain historical Lutheran writings, but is contrary to the Calvinistic position. Dr. Clark is a “High Calvinist.” It is strange that in our generation several prominent “High Calvinists” have take a distinctly non-Calvinistic position in denying common intellectual ground between believers and unbelievers. Read the rest of this entry »

Buswell Critiques Dooyeweerd (1949)

In J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 13/07/2011 at 16:54

While we’re on things philosophical, and not to focus so much on Buswell, but I noticed this review in passing. It’s about the earliest critique of the Dooyeweerdian system that I’ve seen. There is a short review of Dooyeweerdianism by J.G. Vos that we have preserved among the Papers of Dr. Robert G. Rayburn, but that falls much later, in 1974, written in response to a problem on the campus of Geneva College at that time.

Book Review

[The Bible Today 42.7 (April 1949): 209-210.]

Transcendental Problems of Philosophic Thought : An Inquiry into the Transcendental Conditions of Philosophy, by Dr. H. Dooyeweerd, Professor of Philosophy, The Free University of Amsterdam. Eerdmans, 1948, 80 pages, $1.50.

The philosophy of Professor Dooyeweerd is called, “Philosophy of the Idea of Law.” The author explains that the words “idea of Law” are not an adequate translation of the Dutch word Wetsidee. The phrase is used, however, for lack of a better English term. The author has been noted for his writings in the field of jurisprudence. The list of his chief works, (page 79f), includes such titles as “The Cabinet in Dutch Constitutional Law” 1917, “The Struggle for Christian Politics” 1924, “The Structure of Juridical Principles and the Method of Jurisprudence” 1930, etc. This sounds interesting. I read the book very carefully, looking for the notion of the “idea of law,” hoping to find something corresponding to the thought which the words naturally convey to the reader. I thought I was to be entirely disappointed until I came to the next to the last page of the text. There I learned that “every concept of the different aspects” is founded upon three types of ideas, those which have to do with (1) “mutual relations,” (2) “radical unity,” and (3) “Origin.” Then the author gives this explanatory statement . . . these three ideas are bound together as a coherent complex and this complex we call “the idea of law” of a philosophical system. (Page 76)

Well, if that is what Professor Dooyeweerd calls “the idea of law,” then that is what he calls it.

The author has much to say against “the autonomy of human reason.” He regards those who believe in such autonomy as not among his “congenial spirits” (page viii). He says that “… the autonomy of scientific thought is self-refuted.” (Page 49) Nowhere does the reader find a clear definition of the word “autonomy” as Professor Dooyeweerd uses it. If “the autonomy of human thought” means that human thought is independent of God, human minds not created by God, and human thinking capable of proving God in error, then of course the autonomy of human thought must be rejected by all who believe in God.

However, such a definition of the term “autonomy” would be unjustifiable. The Kantian use of the notion of autonomy certainly does not exclude external standards of truth and right, or the grace of God. See, for example, Book IV, Apotome II, Section IV, of Kant’s Religion Within the Boundary of Pure Reason. The title of the section referred to is “That conscience is at all times her own guide,” and the title of the Scholion which follows it is “Of means of Grace.” Read the rest of this entry »