Clark’s Axiom: Something New? -- By: Mary M. Crumpacker

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 032:3 (Sep 1989)
Article: Clark’s Axiom: Something New?
Author: Mary M. Crumpacker

Clark’s Axiom: Something New?

Mary M. Crumpacker*

In the 1963 Wheaton Lectures, Gordon Haddon Clark presented his axiom: The Bible is the Word of God. At about this time many began to see a change in his position. Some were shocked because he acknowledged no truths not deducible from the Scriptures, whereas prior to the Wheaton Lectures he supposedly did. Voicing his objection Ronald H. Nash writes:

Clark’s second theory of knowledge appears for the first time in his Wheaton Lectures which are contained in Part One of this volume. Professor Clark may deny that he has changed his mind or he may argue that his later view is contained implicitly in his earlier position but I shall contend near the end of this chapter that the two views are quite incompatible.1

According to Carl F. H. Henry there has been no fundamental change in Clark’s philosophy: “While Clark has not altered the basic positions affirmed in A Christian View of Men and Things,2 he has subsequently elaborated his view.”3 Gordon R. Lewis, whose summary of Clark’s apologetic system won Clark’s commendation as the best summary of his position he had ever read, does not mention the possibility of any fundamental revisions.4 Clark himself sees no basic change over the years:

Indeed, if I have learned anything at all during a lifetime of philosophy, it is the exceedingly great difficulty in learning anything at all. And if anyone detects some change of view between my first and last publications, it is a greater emphasis on ignorance.5

The “exceedingly great difficulty” to which Clark is alluding is not due to the skepticism to which all learning that begins with man inevitably leads but to that of adding new truths to the Scriptural knowledge we already possess. Even if we accept the plenary verbal inspiration of the autographs we are a long way from having arranged the true propositions

* Mary Crumpacker is associate professor emerita of foreign languages and literature at Valparaiso University in Indiana.

into axioms and theorems. In short, we shall probably never achieve in this world the kind of certainty for which we ought to strive—that is, complete axiomatization. We shall have to be satisfied with partial knowledge. In fact we ought to be grateful for it because secular learning gives no truths at all—that is, truths in the sense in which Clark uses the term.

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