Gordon Clark lecture, “Is Christianity a religion?

The following is my transcription of Gordon H. Clark’s guest lectures at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. In March of 1994 the late John Robbins had written a Trinity Foundation piece entitled, “The lost soul of Scott Hahn.” Anyway, in doing some math, these lectures by Gordon Clark were recorded some time before 1982. Robbins writes:

I once knew Scott Hahn. I met him about twelve years ago when he was a Presbyterian minister living in the Washington, D.C. area. (I had spoken to Hahn by phone before that: When he was a student at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, I paid him to record the guest lectures of Gordon Clark at the seminary.) http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=186

Here is Gordon Clark’s lecture, “Is Christianity a religion?” [the transcribed lecture begins about 21 minutes into the approximately 41 minute lecture]:

[Clark] “From here on the discussion will proceed from the viewpoint of Christianity. The term Christianity is far more definite that the term, ‘religion.’ Christianity has certain doctrines–about a personal God, Christ the Redeemer, Heaven and Hell–that cannot be confused with Communism. Or with Mohammedism or Spinozism. But if definiteness of intellectual content is a virtue, why should one stop with just a little. Even the word Christianity is used colloquially in various senses. And one is forced to admit that professing Christians themselves often have inadequate ideas of what Christianity is. Surely the images, medals, beads, and other paraphenalia of Romanism is or are not the same religion as iconoclastic Puritanism. It is there…it is essential therefore to define Christianity more exactly by a specific doctrinal system. Romanism is not what is meant.

By Christianity we shall mean–to use common names–what is called Calvinism. Or to be more specific the definition of Christianity shall be the articles of the Westminster Confession. With such a definite basis it will no longer be necessary to spin dizzily in a whirlpool of equivocal disputation. Now we can know what we are talking about. And I might say I’m not ashamed of it, if I use the word ‘Christianity’ I usually mean the Westminster Confession that’s my definition of Christianity. I’m well aware that people don’t accept that definition, but that’s what I mean by the word. And it is within the general usage of the word, so it’s not absolutely absurd, yes? [Clark says ‘yes?’ because a student had a question to ask–CD]

[Student 1] “Would you classify John Wesley as a Christian?”

[Clark] “I’m not asking who is a Christian, I’m asking what is Christianity. Whether John Wesley was a Christian or not I have no idea.”

[Student 1] “So then you don’t have to–in other words you don’t have to be an adherent to Christianity to be a Christian.”

[Clark] “No. People are saved by their ignorance sometimes. At least by very little knowledge. No, I’m not asking who is a Christian, I’m asking what is the definition of Christianity. And I’m quite sure John Wesley had no, not much of an idea as to what Christianity was. You can tell that to some other people who might…[inaudible due to the students laughter–CD] After all, John Wesley would say the same thing about Calvinists wouldn’t he?”

[Student 1] “Well, I don’t know if he would say it quite that forcefully.”

[Clark] “Well, he did say some things rather forcefully.”

[Student 1] “Like he talked of…He did say that…tell one Calvinist …I don’t remember who it was now…one who believed in predestination: Your God is my devil.”

[Clark] “Yeah something like that. I must say one thing in favor of John Wesley.It’s the only commendatory thing I could possibly think of.[student laughter–CD] He is the one person, who unambiguously defined the phrase ‘author of sin.’ Now you will find you don’t want God to be the author of sin. You will find this in many religious writings. And you will hardly ever find that phrase defined. Now, I suppose maybe some people define it. But the only person I have yet found to define it, has been John Wesley. And he defined it: ‘God of the author of sin means that God sins and God alone sins.’ Nobody else does. That ‘nobody else,’ isn’t in his text. What he said is: ‘God sins and nobody else sins.’ That is the only definition of ‘author of sin,’ that I’ve been able to find in any book at all that I’ve read. Now, if you can find some other person that’s defined it I wish you’d let me know. I haven’t read all the books in the library. And I may have missed some that I have read… missed it in some that I’ve read. So if you find any other definition somewhere, please tell me.

[Student 2] “What do you think of that definition?”

[Clark] “Oh, I think that’s as good as…It’s the only one there’s been. It’s the best we have…[inaudible student comment or question–CD] No I don’t think it’s the worse, I think it’s very good. I think it’s very good. The trouble is that most people don’t know what they’re talking about when they use the phrase. And naturally, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, well, no telling what you say.Yeah.”
http://www.trinitylectures.org/MP3_downloads.php

The book of Proverbs talks about answering a fool according to his folly. Gordon Clark is the fool who I will so answer. Specifically, his statement made in this interchange with one of the students:

[Student 1] “So then you don’t have to–in other words you don’t have to be an adherent to Christianity to be a Christian.”

[Clark] “No. People are saved by their ignorance sometimes. At least by very little knowledge. No, I’m not asking who is a Christian, I’m asking what is the definition of Christianity. And I’m quite sure John Wesley had no, not much of an idea as to what Christianity was.

According to Clark, a Christian does not necessarily believe Christianity. Wesley didn’t believe Christianity, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a Christian. So there is absolutely no ability to judge who is a Christian and who is not. Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus don’t believe Christianity, but that doesn’t mean they’re not Christians. So goes the ludicrous logic of one of the profoundest of philosophers, Gordon H. Clark.