Gordon H. Clark And Assurance -- By: Shawn C. Lazar
JOTGES 29:57 (Autumn 2016) p. 35
Gordon H. Clark And Assurance
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
In Faith and Saving Faith,1 Gordon H. Clark argues that all faith is propositional. To believe is to be persuaded that a proposition is true. The difference between faith and saving faith is not in how you believe, but in what you believe. To have saving faith means to believe the saving proposition.
Clark’s propositional definition of faith became influential in Free Grace Theology (hereafter FGT). One reason is that it is Biblical. Another reason is that it helped defend the purity of the doctrine of justification against attempts to redefine faith in a way that includes works.
However, while Clark’s definition of faith is well known, his doctrine of assurance is not. The purpose of this article is to examine Clark’s doctrine of assurance both critically and constructively. First, I will explain how Clark understood assurance of salvation. Second, I will show that his doctrine makes it impossible to be assured. Third, I will argue constructively that Clark’s definition of faith clarifies the nature of assurance as being persuaded that the assuring proposition is true.
II. Clark’s Doctrine Of Assurance
Clark often criticized other thinkers for their lack of definitions, so it is surprising that he never defines assurance. However, his doctrine can be summarized along the following lines.
JOTGES 29:57 (Autumn 2016) p. 36
A. Faith Without Assurance
“When we think of the Reformation, we usually think first of the doctrine of Justification by Faith,” Clark explained. “But the Reformers also discovered assurance.”2 According to some scholars, Reformers like John Calvin thought that assurance was the essence of saving faith.3 If so, Clark believed they were confused.4 According to Clark, you can believe in Christ for salvation and yet not be sure that you are saved. You can have saving faith, without assurance of salvation, because assurance is not the essence of saving faith.
B. Assurance Is Possible
Clark believed that it was possible, but not certain, for a believer to have assurance of salvation. “The Gospel promises the possibility of assurance. It does not quite promise every Christian actual assurance.”
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