Gordon Clark Refuted in Three Sentences

Faith is trust/reliance/persuasion/belief — frame it how you will — in something which one holds to be truth.  All faith is propositional only if all truth is propositional.  But John 14:6 has already shown us that this is not true.

31 Responses to Gordon Clark Refuted in Three Sentences

  1. Mike Bull says:

    I’m not smart enough to understand this. One more time for the dummies?

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    Not your fault. That one was aimed at particular people; it was kinda an inside thing.

    The issue is Clark’s position that all faith is belief in a proposition, as he lays it out in Faith and Saving Faith. Included in that is the idea that “faith in a person” is ultimately reducible to belief in certain propositions about that person.

    My contention is that trust in a person may be expressible in propositional form, but it is ultimately a direct, relational experience between the two people, not reducible to propositions. (This was unconscionable to Clark, because he was a hardcore rationalist, and if it couldn’t be reduced to propositions, it didn’t fit into his epistemology.)

    If all truth is propositional — for Clark, it was — then Clark’s model makes sense: truth is correct propositions, and right contact with truth (i.e., faith) is exclusively about propositions as well. If truth is ultimately a Who, not a what — which is where John 14:6 comes in — then right contact with truth is about right contact with that Person, and there’s an irreducibly relational element to it that is perforce non-propositional, or at least extra-propositional.

    Am I doing any better this time around, or am I still making no sense?

  3. Mike Bull says:

    Yep – all makes sense. Faith cannot be distilled to intellectual assent. Thanks

  4. No, Tim, I’m sorry to say you’re still making no sense at all. All you’ve told us is that saving faith is some kind of “direct, relational experience” and “right contact” with the Logos. Until you can precisely define what that means and entails, you’ve done nothing more than tell us we must @%$&*#! to be born again.

    But since you’ve finally admitted that what you now believe should rightly be called mysticism…well, I suppose asking you to precisely and rationally define what a person must do to be born again would be a most unreasonable request, would it not? We can’t even have a rational discussion about what this “experience” and “right contact” really means can we?

    But if you can, would you please give us at least some intelligible CLUE what you’re talking about beyond @%$&*#! ?

  5. I would just add one thing. Since you say this “experience” and /or “contact” must be “right”, we can infer from this that there’s such a thing as “wrong” contact or experience– and unless we have some way of knowing what constitutes this “right” contact or experience we have no way of knowing if we are truly saved and in union with Christ do we?

    If you know it must be “right”, then surely you know and can tell us what “right” means can’t you?

  6. Mike Bull says:

    I agree with Tim. Right contact with truth is mystical, but perhaps that’s not the best word for it. Regeneration comes when propositional truth is presented, and the relationship to it is mixed with faith. The mystical union is the work of the Spirit. The Jews travelled Land and Sea to present propositions, and those whose response was mere intellectual assent were twice the children of Hinnon that they were.

    Intellectual assent without the unseen work of the Spirit is like Judaizing, all the form of godliness without the power. It’s cut meat on the Altar, but it’s the Altar of Baal – no fire.

  7. Mike,

    “Intellectual assent” to the truth had nothing to do with the proselytes becoming twice as much the sons of hell as the Pharisees. The problem was that they were being to converted to a lie. That is to say, the proselytes were only being to converted to the same legalism that the Pharisees believed and practiced. The fundamental error of the Pharisees was that they did not believe that justification was by faith alone. Abraham was not their father because they were not “of the faith of Abraham” (Rom 4:16). They believed that justification was by faith AND faithfulness in keeping the law of Moses– similar to what most people in Christendom still believe today.

    So-called “head faith” (intellectual assent) vs “heart faith” had absolutely nothing to do with it. Neither the Pharisees nor their converts believed the truth of justification by faith alone. They didn’t even give “intellectual assent” to the idea that a person could be saved by faith alone apart from the faithful keeping of the Law. On the contrary, their faith in law keeping as a means of justification was a “zealous” faith.

    “For I bear them witness that they they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. for they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Rom 10:2-4)

    By the way, Mike, the term “intellectual assent” is nothing more than a theological cuss-word, most often used as a pejorative attack on those who believe and teach that justification is truly by faith alone. It would be to your credit to give up using that term because it betrays a lack of understanding regarding the true nature of faith and human psychology.

  8. Oto says:

    Where does Clark say “all truth is propositional”? Perhaps it would be better to say that Clark argues that truth is understood by us propositionally.

    For example, Clark writes, “Belief is voluntary assent to an understood proposition; and when we say we believe a man or believe in a man, we mean we accept as true what he says. Hence, when we believe Jesus’ name, we mean we believe what he said.” (First John, p. 119)

    So for Clark, if I understand him correctly, even the truth that Jesus embodies must be understood by us propositionally.

    Suffice it to say, I don’t think John 14:6 (nor your three sentences) refutes Clark’s understanding of faith.

  9. Tim Nichols says:

    If you’ve got a word for it other than “mystical,” I’m all ears. I haven’t been able to figure out a better way to say it. As you can see, that terminology touches a nerve ’round here, so I’d be glad to have some synonyms. (I’ve tried “relational” but the people I’m talking to seem to be able to mentally edit that back to a matter of propositions somehow.)

    Intellectual assent is essential, and God works through it. But yeah, it’s possible for it to degenerate into nothing more than a head game. Pastorally speaking, I don’t see it as a common problem in conversions (the way that, say, the Puritans did), but it’s a great whacking HUGE problem in sanctification, especially for people with a more academic personality bent.

  10. Tim Nichols says:

    Everyone has contact with God (see Rom.1). That contact is either of the right sort or the wrong sort, which is to say that we either glorify and thank the God who is really there, or we hate him; we draw near, or we draw away; we believe or we doubt. John 6 is another of the great biblical descriptions of this dynamic from a different angle.

    Since I’m in the market for better terms than “mystical,” I’ll happily use your term “@%$&*#!,” although I’ve got to tell you that I doubt it’ll catch on. You’re mad about it, but I think you’ve pegged the epistemological problem nicely. Asking for a precise propositional encapsulation of a relationship is just a category error. You can get a good description, sure, but you can’t transmit a relationship by way of propositions. For example, Bob Wilkin is my friend. I can describe that relationship to you in propositions such that you’ll understand my relationship with Bob, but I can’t give you a set of propositions that will create, for you, the same relationship with Bob that I have. If you want to be friends with Bob, you have to deal directly with Bob. Or, if you prefer your terms, I can describe Bob to you, but you must @%$&*#! to know Bob yourself. Relationship with God is, pre-eminently, relationship, and the same dynamic applies. There’s no such thing as second-hand friendship. Surely this is not so hard to grasp?

  11. Tim Nichols says:

    granting your reading of Clark for the moment, I think my objection still stands. A Person who is Truth calls not just for understanding, but trust, which is a relational element that goes beyond dealing in propositions.

  12. alvin Fen says:

    Excellent discernment Gary, your the surgeon general on this one~! That God would give the living water to someone freely is foreign to the human mind, and by adding trust as something MORE than believe denies it:(


  13. Oto says:

    You are confounding knowledge by description with knowledge by acquaintance.

    Also, where is this person/proposition discussion taking place. The links in your posts don’t seem to lead anywhere.

  14. Tim Nichols says:

    No, I am untangling knowledge by description from knowledge by acquaintance. Kind of the whole point.

    links: Scroll down — it’s a category of posts to which the current post belongs, as well as others.

    Gary E.,

    You’re making my point for me, brother, if only you knew it. [THIS COMMENT WAS MISPLACED AND HAS BEEN MOVED TO THE RELEVANT THREAD. My apologies for the confusion and miscommunication my error caused. -Tim]

  15. Mike Bull says:

    Gary – fair call about the Pharisees’ lie, the Oral Law. Yet in the gospels and Acts we see true believers, Jew and Gentile, coming out of the woodwork.

  16. No, Tim, you are making my point for ME. If you can ever answer my question, though, I’d truly love to hear it. Maybe we would have a starting point for a discussion then.

  17. But I do like your latest comment on the other thread, Tim. You’re connecting with me there… so I’m encouraged. 🙂

  18. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary E,

    Whoops. I put that comment in the wrong thread — sorry about that. Will repost it where it belonged, with a clarifying quote or two. Maybe we can get the discussion going.

  19. Tim Nichols says:

    Greetings Alvin,

    Thanks for dropping by. Do you seriously hear “believe plus ___” here?

  20. Mike Bull says:

    Surely part of the problem here is our modern propensity to cut things up and put them into little boxes? Like the ascension rite in Lev. 1, salvation is a process. But it has a definite beginning and a definite end. To quibble about the bits involved, or at least our own academic definitions of them, while entirely ignoring a couple thousand years of word pictures from God, is the height of arrogance. Get with it, guys!

  21. Tim Nichols says:


    Lot of truth in that, although I’d point out that you’re due a tu quoque on the matter of intellectual assent. That particular way of carving up the inner man is biblically bankrupt, as I said in the other recent thread. We all have a lot of spadework to do, getting rid of metaphors and ways of cutting the pie that just don’t fit with the controlling metaphors and stories in Scripture.

  22. Mike Bull says:


    Did I carve up the inner man? (I might have, but don’t remember.) Carving up is the key though. The process of conversion does follow the ascension rite. Intellectual assent is when God divides the joints and the marrow. We are cut to the heart. Then comes the Spirit – the fire on the Altar, the relational aspect.

    God carves up the entire man!

  23. Tim Nichols says:


    I contend that there’s no “intellect” to offer intellectual assent. That anthropology is bankrupt; it can’t be correctly described that way. I’d buy that conversion follows the ascension rite, though.

    A man is “cut to the heart” (cf. Ac. 2), “the secrets of his heart are laid bare” (1Cor.14), and then believes with his heart (Rom.10:9-10), and the Spirit unites him to God. In contact with God’s people the unbeliever is cut up on the altar and all is laid bare; then he believes, the Spirit brings fire on the altar and he is united with the glory cloud.

  24. Mike Bull says:

    Yep. It’s certainly glorious.

  25. Tim,

    I expressed the hope in my last comment on this thread that we possibly had a rational basis or starting point for a discussion on the issue of what a person must do to be born again, that is to say, I thought maybe you had given me an answer to the question I posed to you earlier in this thread. Then we carried on this discussion on the thread ( https://fullcontactchristianity.org/2011/01/23/mystical-union-the-only-alternative-to-legalism/ ) where I thought you had answered that question. Unfortunately, the discussion quickly turned into nothing more than an argumentum ad hominem directed at Zane, Bob and the GES as a springboard for again leading us back into the realm of subjective mysticism as a context and basis for explaining your concept of what constitutes true saving faith–this “idea that’s in your head.”

    I just wanted to clarify that for anyone who might read this thread. I would not want them to be misled by my previous comment here into thinking that you had, indeed, answered my question.

  26. Oto says:

    [[granting your reading of Clark for the moment, I think my objection still stands. A Person who is Truth calls not just for understanding, but trust, which is a relational element that goes beyond dealing in propositions.]]

    As Clark has pointed out, to be persuaded that what someone says is true is to trust that person.

  27. Tim Nichols says:


    You’re not accounting for the stopped-watch problem. A completely untrustworthy person isn’t automatically wrong about everything. Being persuaded that the person has said something true doesn’t mean the person is trustworthy at all. A complete fool can watch the Weather Channel and tell you (accurately) that it’s going to snow tomorrow; the devil once quoted Psalm 91 accurately.

    Trust is relational.

  28. Oto says:

    I fail to see how the stopped watch is a problem. If I am persuaded that what the stopped watch indicates is true, then I am trusting the watch.

  29. Tim Nichols says:


    Not so. Say the stopped watch says it’s 4:37. If you are aware that the watch is, in fact, stopped, you have every reason to distrust it, and no reason to trust it. You might look at a watch that is not stopped, note that it also reads 4:37, and on that account believe that it really is 4:37, but that’s not trusting the stopped watch.

    And come on, you know this. Suppose I said “Hey Oto — what time is it?
    You say, “4:37.”
    “How do you know? You aren’t looking at the clock on the mantelpiece, are you? That thing has read 4:37 for the last six months.”
    “Well, actually, I am looking at the clock on the mantelpiece,” you say, “but the clock on my cell phone also says 4:37.”

    Which one are you trusting, and which one are you not?


  30. Oto says:

    Have you never *trusted* a watch that had stopped only to find yourself late for an appointment?

    I still fail to see how your “stopped watch” is a defeater for Clark’s argument that to agree with what a person says is to trust that person.

  31. Tim Nichols says:


    Ah. I see where we’re not communicating. Let me take another run at it.

    “To agree with what a person says is to trust that person.” No, for the reasons I went over above. You can agree in a given instance with a person you know to be untrustworthy — that doesn’t mean you trust the person; it just means he’s not always wrong.

    But take it the other way ’round: “To trust a person is to accept that what the person says is true.” Sure. You can’t trust the person and not take him at his word.

    But the thing is not reversible, you see? Trust implies accepting as true the proposition the person sets forth, but it doesn’t follow that accepting the proposition as true implies trusting him.

    And this kinda makes my point — trusting the person is more than simply agreeing that a proposition he spoke is true.

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