Monday, June 30, 2008

Reviewing "God and Evil"

God and Evil: The Problem Solved, Gordon H. Clark. Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation. Large paperback, 48 pages, [1996] 2004, 0940931737. $5.95.

If someone has solved the "problem" of a good God and the existence of evil, I want to know it. The Trinity Foundation has so re-titled what is Chapter Five of Gordon Clark's
Religion, Reason, and Revelation to say that he did.

Who is Gordon Haddon Clark (1902-1985)? He was a preacher, author, philosopher, theologian -- and sometimes lightning rod within the Presbyterian Church. He was an educator for 60 years and author of over 40 books, including A Christian Philosophy of Education, Logic
, Essays on Ethics and Politics, God's Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics, The Johannine Logos, Today's Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? and The Biblical Doctrine of Man. He wrote commentaries on about 12 New Testament books.

Many Christians avoid the subject of God and evil. It is (so they say) controversial, unedifying and embarrassing (p. 12). Yet it is a serious topic that cannot be avoided. "How can the existence of God be harmonized with the existence of evil?" (p. 9) Gordon Clark, in his logical and methodical manner, sets about to tell us just that, believing the "...system known as Calvinism and expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith..." provides the answer. The words "Calvinism" and "
Westminster Confession" may put off some early on, but patience will yield some interesting fruit. In his review Darrin R. Brooker wrote, "God and Evil...sets forth the only coherent and consistent answer to the problem [of evil]." Earlier he wrote, "Quite simply, the problem only exists where there is an errant view of the character of God."

Clark first provides an historical exposition of the subject/problem, including proposed solutions of both secularists and religionists -- e.g. both good and evil deities, God is not omnipotent, there is no evil, etc. The author serves his readers by clearly defining his terms, a service at times not well performed by authors. Free will is "...the equal ability, under given circumstances, to choose either of two courses of action." (p. 15) " faced with incompatible courses of action is as able to choose any one as well as any other." Free will is not free agency (p. 31). " agency -- or natural liberty -- means that the will is not determined by physical or physiological factors." Choice is "...a mental act that consciously initiates and determines a further action. The ability to have chosen otherwise is an irrelevant matter and has no place in the definition." (p. 32) Whether the reader agrees with Clark on these definitions, he will know of what the author speaks when he uses a particular term.

One is easily swept along by Clark's logic. His presuppositions admitted, his conclusions are easily accepted. He leads the reader through the "Calvinistic system" to the ultimate question, "Is God the author of sin?" Mr. Clark posits that God IS NOT, though he is "...the sole ultimate cause of everything." (p. 38) God is not sinful. God is not responsible for sin. If anyone has come close to solving the problem, Clark has.

God and Evil is well-written and demands close attention and deep thinking on the part of the reader. It is short enough to read in one sitting. Large side-margins with large print quotes give instant eye appeal (though eventually the older reader may wish the print was larger!). Clark quotes others such as John Gill (Baptist) and Augustus Toplady (Anglican) to demonstrate he is not just espousing a Presbyterian position (p. 29, 30). The Crisis of our Time by John Robbins and a list of books available from Trinity round out the volume to 61 pages.

There are few defects in the work. At times Clark can be a little too heady toward his opposers ("If Arminians had a keener sense of logic they would not be Arminians." p. 28). I noticed one citation error. On p. 31 the text attributes a quote to Toplady while the large print quote on the side margin attributes it to Gill.

Gordon Clark's view of God and evil is well-integrated into his "system known as Calvinism," though it seems to one could embrace Clark's conclusion without adopting Calvinistic soteriology. Whatever one believes, surely Clark is right when he writes, "...the doctrine should be fully integrated with the rest of God's revelation..." (p. 35)

At some point most every God-believer wonders, "If God is all-good and if God is all-powerful, why are sin and suffering in the world?" (p. 7) Gordon Clark is either right or wrong. Regardless, this book is one of the best succinct presentations of the problem of "God and Evil". A philosophic journey on the road to understanding the relationship of God and evil should pass through this place. If your problem isn't solved, perhaps it's just begun.

A nice companion book in publication style and subject is Gordon Clark's


My Daily Bread said...

I have always thought that Gordon Clark's writings were a great benefit to bible students. I agree with him on predestination and on the law of non-contradiction, and such things.

God bless


R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Please come by and comment more often. I have only fairly recently begun to read Clark's writings, but have really enjoyed his contributions.