If Gordon Clark has been somewhat forgotten, ignored, and overlooked in our times, we certainly cannot blame him for that. He didn’t just write a book or two. He wrote quite a few books and extended essays that were published in his day. Since his death, many of his remaining unpublished and uncollected writings have been published in book form. He was prolific and scholarly and able to comment on a wide range of topics. All that being said, his works and thoughts have been neglected in the decades following his death.
How important was he? When asked which theologian from our times would be read in 500 years, R. C. Sproul said, “Gordon Clark.” (But don’t wait that long to start.) Why has his star dimmed or why is he not more noticed, respected, and read? Read Douglas Douma’s fine biography of Gordon Clark, titled Gordon Clark: Presbyterian Philosopher, and it will detail the controversies, issues, and convictions that made Clark who he was but also contributed to his lack of popularity.
I reviewed that book earlier this year and am still singing its praises. However, in this post, I want to explore the roles of two men (primarily) and two publishing firms that promoted Gordon Clark’s books.
One of the most fascinating Christian works of the twentieth century was the creation of a publishing house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and later Nutley, New Jersey called Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company. It was started by Samuel Craig, himself an interesting man and author, and was continued by his son, Charles, and later, his grandson, Bryce. The son was Charles Craig (1912-1983)–one of my heroes.
Mr. Craig must have had some really deep convictions about Christian books, doctrines, and thought, along with no sense of how to make money publishing books. From 1957, when he took over the family business, until his death in 1983, Presbyterian and Reformed published a number of heavy, weighty, often lengthy, serious books on a wide range of topics. Long before “Christian worldview” became a catchphrase among Christian schools, home schools, and Christian campuses, Craig was producing the works that provided solid intellectual foundations for Christian thought. These were not books that would have appealed to a wide audience or that were easy beach reads. (For example, one of the publications was a book by the late William Young, titled Hegel’s Dialectic Method: Its Origins and Religious Significance.)
I have heard that Craig himself was not a deep thinker or reader, but he certainly became the instrumental means of many Christian thinkers getting their ideas into print. There was a time when creationism or creation science or 6 day creation had virtually no adherents or defenders in the evangelical publishing world. Then Craig published The Genesis Flood, which has remained in print for over 50 years. By the way, this event happened after R. J. Rushdoony read the manuscript (which other publishers had rejected) and pressed Craig to publish the book.
He also published the counseling books by Jay E. Adams, theological studies by Oswald T. Allis and Benjamin Warfield, historical studies by C. Gregg Singers, works opposing Communism on a Christian and philosophical level by James D. Bales (a Church of Christ scholar) and Francis Nigel Lee, books on Christian philosophy by William Young and David Freeman, books on eastern religions (such as Zen Existentialism: The Spiritual Decline of the West by Lit-Sen Chang), Gary North’s books on economics, Greg Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics, and many works extolling Calvinistic and Reformed views of salvation.
There was a whole series of relatively short monographs called the Modern Thinkers Series. These books covered such people as Freud, Nietzsche, Toynbee, William James, Rudolf Bultmann, and others. The authors of this series were among the top Calvinist thinkers of their age, including R. J. Rushdoony, H. Van Reissen, Gregg Singer, Gordon Clark, and others. (This whole series deserves to be reprinted and packaged in a good hardback set.) Another series was called the University Series: Philosophical Studies, and those volumes, many of which I have acquired, are still great studies and were really helpful to me in years past.
Men who later became associated with theological and cultural wars were published by Presbyterian and Reformed during those decades that James Jordan referred to in his essay “The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind” and that I referred to in past writings and lectures as “Calvinistic Worldview Thinkers in the Wilderness Years.”
High on the list of authors that P & R (which is both an abbreviation and now the new name of the company) published was R. J. Rushdoony. In time, many would shy away from or attack Rushdoony over aspects of Christian Reconstruction. But for a long time, P & R was publishing and promoting mind-changing and thought-provoking works by Rushdoony on American history, politics, science, overpopulation, education, philosophy, and theology. In 1973, P & R published Rushdoony’s monumental work The Institutes of Biblical Law, Volume 1. P & R still carries that title. (Regardless of one’s perspective, this book is essential reading and a necessary reference work.)
It was P & R that promoted most of the early English translations of the work of Dutch Christian Philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. Along with editions of In the Twilight of Modern Thought and The Christian Idea of the State, the four volume work entitled magnum opus, titled A New Critique of Theoretical Thought was a P & R publication. It was initially priced at a very affordable level and was later selling for less than $20 for the 4 hardback volume set. Along with that, the same company published other books promoting and discussing Dooyeweerd’s thought (such as works by E. H. Hebden-Taylor) as well as books that were critical of Dooyeweerd and his followers.
The most surprising thing is that P & R became the main publisher for the famous “unpublished syllabi” of Cornelius Van Til, along with complete books of his thought, and works by his most famous fellow Presbyterian adversary Gordon H. Clark.
Obviously, Mr. Craig was primarily interested in getting the ideas, debates, and discussions going among Christian students rather than taking a side and attempting to suppress one view or the other. One would not have noticed in the P & R catalogs that Van Til and Clark had waged a theological/philosophical battle royal. Both authors works were published and both were devoted to many of the same topics. Van Til wrote Christianity and Barthianism and Clark wrote Karl Barth’s Theological Method. Both men were strongly opposed to Barth’s theology and concerned about the popularity of his writings and thought among American Christian pastors and teachers.
Both jousted with and did mortal combat with atheism, Darwinian naturalism, and other non-Christian philosophies. Both were highly critical of neo-Orthodoxy, Arminianism, and Catholicism. Their books and subjects complemented each other.
A few of Gordon Clark’s books were published by Baker Book House and other publishers, but P & R was the main source for his books for many years. Often the P & R titles were published under the name of Craig Press, which enabled more college teachers and non-Presbyterians to use the books. In time–not sure of the exact time frame here–P & R changed its focus and began publishing more books designed to reach a wider audience. The covers became more attractive, the topics were more practical, and the publication was no longer the hard-core Calvinistic scholarship center it had been from the 1950s-1980s. This should not be taken as a criticism of P & R, nor should anyone think that P & R is not still publishing some great and weighty books. See, for example, the works of John Frame (including his History of Western Philosophy and Theology), the books by and about Cornelius Van Til (including Greg Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic), and books on a number of social, cultural, and theological topics.
Around 1977, a man who had embraced Gordon Clark’s theology, philosophy, and apologetics began a publishing and study center in Unicoi, Tennessee. His name was John Robbins, and he had already made his mark in areas of Christian writing and political action. His doctoral thesis was on Objectionist author Ayn Rand. Still in print today under the title Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System, it is the only book I have ever come across that gives a Christian critique of Rand, who remains popular in conservative and libertarian circles.
As Robbins was working through his own thoughts and ideas, he read widely in the tradition of philosophers who were political or theological or both. Upon reading Gordon Clark, he had his “eureka” moment and fully embraced a Clarkian view of God and man and things. As Clark’s books were going out of print, Robbins was able to take up the Clark banner and publish or reprint the books.
The result is that more of Gordon Clark’s books are available today than ever before. Robbins’ publishing house is called The Trinity Foundation. Clark’s books are available in paperback, some in hardback, and more and more in digital formats. With the publication of the Douma biography of Clark, we should expect more Christian readers to want to read the man’s own writings.
Be warned: Gordon Clark never felt the need to apologize for God, side-step the Bible and its authority, or give a safe, mealy-mouthed answer to any issue. He was dogmatic, assertive, and unswerving in his convictions. It was not meanness or rudeness that compelled him to write in such a blunt, straight-forward way. Clark was a man of deeply held convictions who would not or could not tolerate sloppy thinking. I admit that I would never have approached Gordon Clark unless I were armed with a friendly bowl of chocolate ice cream. And I would never ever attempt to play chess against him.
But the time is ripe to start grabbing up, collecting, and reading Gordon Clark’s books. He will challenge even when he doesn’t convince. He will set a high bar for Christian thinking. His gift was not in writing in a winsome easy style, so be sure to have strong, hot, caffeine enhanced coffee, along with a pen and paper at hand. Be prepared for a blessing, but one that will take some amount of labor to obtain.
Postscript: John Robbins was Clark’s bulldog. A gracious and generous man in the classroom (according to Nathan Clark George–grandson of Gordon Clark and student of Dr. Robbins), Robbins was also generous in distributing books. My school has used Clark’s Logic, Machen’s Education, Christianity, and the State, and Clark’s short book God and Evil: The Problem Solved, all of which were provided free of charge by the Trinity Foundation.
Also, a few years before he died, Dr. Robbins published a book of economic essays he had written. Some of these had previously appeared in the Trinity Foundation newsletter. In one of his essays, Robbins referred to Hilaire Belloc as an American Catholic. I emailed Robbins and told him that Belloc was an Englishman of French ancestry. “I don’t want anyone attacking your essay because of a mistake.” I admitted that I wasn’t sure whether or not I agreed with the essay or not, but I didn’t want Robbins’ argument sidetracked.
When that essay–now corrected–appeared in the book, my copy of the book was autographed with the inscription saying: “Thanks for saving me from conferring American citizenship on Hilaire Belloc.”