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Archive for April 27th, 2009

In earlier post, I wrote on JOHN ROBBINS CHARGE: VAN TIL TEACHES FOLLOWERS NOT TO STATE THINGS CLEARLY? as an evaluation of a snippet from Robbins’ booklet titled Cornelius Van Til: The Man and the Myth.  While I have read the entire short booklet, in the business of ministry, work, a relationship and Seminary, I can only go slowly in trying to locate all the sources of Clark’s citation.  So today’s entry is narrowly focused on this one point:

JOHN ROBBINS CHARGE: A JOKE OR AN EVIDENCE OF VAN TIL’S CULT OF UNINTELLIGIBILITY?

One of John Robbins charge against Cornelius Van Til in his booklet, Cornelius Van Til: The Man and the Myth, is that “Van Til’s prose is frequently unintelligible.”[1] Under a subsection of his book titled “The Cult of unintelligibility”, Robbins found that “this very unintelligibility is transformed by Van Til’s perfervid disciples into a sign of great intelligence and profundity.”[2] What is Robbins’ evidence that Van Til’s disciple’s have a cultic adoration of his “unintelligibility”? Robbins quotes from Van Til: Defender of the Faith, an authorized biography of the life of Van Til written by William White. Here is Robbin’s quote from William White’s book, of a banquet at Westminister Seminary:

“…the master of ceremonies was presenting the good-natured Dutchman. ‘There is a controversy today as to who is the greatest intellect of this segment of the twentieth century,’ the m.c. said. ‘Probably most thinking people would vote for the learned Dr. Einstein. Not me. I wish to put forth as my candidate for the honor, Dr. Cornelius Van Til’ (Loud applause.) ‘My reason for doing so is this: Only eleven people in the world understood Albert Einstein…Nobody—but nobody in the world—understands Cornelius Van Til.”[3]

Robbins sees this as a great hint of how among Van Til’s followers there is a “tendency to assume that unintelligibility implies superior intelligence, learning, or profundity.”[4] The charge against the students of Van Til as being a “cult of unintelligibility” is serious, and there must be a closer evaluation of the quote Robbins cited as evidence before one accept such a serious a charge by Robbins.

When one goes to the original source which Robbins quoted, one see that the context of the quote was in a chapter about Cornelius Van Til and humor. Looking at the immediate context after the portion which Robbins cited, the next line in Williams book goes on to add: “And nobody in the banquet hall enjoyed the joke more than the subject.”[5] The immediate context before the quoted text further reveal that Robbins quoted a joking moment when it stated: “But a delightful dimension of Cornelius Van Til is his willingness to be put in stocks and pillory if it contributes to wholesome amusement.”[6]

One must have to ask themselves that for such a serious charge, Robbins would do better than to usher in a joking moment as evidence. What Robbins has done is certainly laughable, only it wasn’t a joke but a serious allegation.

Robbins’ faulty method to justify his charge can also be turned around against his beloved Christian philosopher Gordon H. Clark. I have no intention of attacking Gordon Clark, whom I have profited much spiritually and intellectually from, but only to reduce Robbin’s way of arguing to absurdity, and take it to a conclusion he does not desire, to show his ways for what it is. Will Robbins charge Clark’s prose as “frequently unintelligible” on the basis of what is revealed in the book Robbins has edited titled Gordon H. Clark Personal Recollection? Is there a “cult of unintelligibility” among the followers of Gordon Clark? (Remember I am reducing Robbins’ argument to absurdity here). What would Robbins do with this evidence coming from Deborah Kozlowski, who has this to say after taking Clark’s course on philosophy?

“He lectured from his book, Thales to Dewey, and asked numerous questions of his students. Most of us were too confused to give meaningful answer”[7]

“I found most of the issues baffling…”[8]

Yet Deborah Kozlowski herself sees Dr. Clark as profound and reveres him. Can it be that Clark’s mysterious unintelligibility and confusion in his lectures and his book has suddenly been transformed by his followers into something profound and intellectual (Robbins’ charge against Van Til’s followers)? Are other other Clarkians endorsing this outlook on Clark, when the pro-Clark flagship organization, The Trinity Foundation, have these words on print in a recollection of Clark? To think this cult of unintelligibility spread to John Robbins himself, who edited the Recollection!

Of course, the overall context matters when it comes to the source of the citation concerning Clark. So should the context of citations concerning Van Til. Robbins should have cited something that legitimately does justice to the context.


[1] John Robbins, Cornelius Van Til: The Man and the Myth, (Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation), 4.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 4-5. Original quote is from William White Jr., Van Til: Defender of the Faith (Nashville, New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 181-182.

[4] Robbins, Cornelius Van Til: The Man and the Myth, 5.

[5] William White Jr., Van Til: Defender of the Faith (Nashville, New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 182.

[6] Ibid, 181.

[7] John Robbins, Gordon H. Clark: Personal Recollections (Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation), 66.

[8] Ibid, 65-66.

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