August 9: Gordon Haddon Clark

A Christian Philosopher

ClarkGHA Google search on the name of Gordon Haddon Clark will bring up reference after reference  for you to read.  One of them is from the PCA Historical Center, where his manuscript collection is preserved; a biographical sketch is posted there as well.

Gordon Clark had the advantage, after his birth in 1902, of being reared in a Christian home, and indeed being the son of the manse.  His father, the Rev. David Clark, was a graduate of Princeton Seminary in 1887, where he had studied under the great Reformed thinkers of that era.  Not surprisingly then, young Gordon was raised in a home where the Westminster Shorter Catechism was taught.  In addition, with his father’s library at hand, he had the opportunity to read Reformed masters like Calvin, Warfield, and Hodge.  It was a providential training which would bear tremendous fruit in his later pastoral and educational work.

Dr. Clark served as a Professor of Philosophy first at the University of Pennsylvania and then at Wheaton College from 1929–1944.  It was on August 9, 1944 that he was ordained as a teaching elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by the Presbytery of Philadelphia of that denomination.  Unhappily, that ordination was opposed by some in that church until finally Dr. Clark left the OPC to join the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

It was during this same time that Dr. Clark became a faculty member of Butler University, serving as a Philosophy professor from 1945 to 1973.   Many of his best known books were written during this time at Butler University.  Retiring from Butler, Dr. Clark entered a new phase of his ministry in 1974, when he began teaching at Covenant College. He continued teaching there for about ten years, while also finding time to teach at both Sangre de Christo Seminary in Colorado, and Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia.

When the UPCNA joined the Presbyterian Church in the USA in 1958, Dr. Clark and the church he was the pastor of, in Indianapolis, Indiana, affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod.  The latter group joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and became the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.  Then in 1982, they joined the Presbyterian Church in America, but Dr. Clark joined with the unaffiliated Covenant Presbytery.  Dr. Clark thus had a remarkable relationship with many of the Reformed Presbyterian denominations in the United States.

He passed on to glory in 1985.

Words to live by:  A strong training at home, as Dr. Clark possessed, especially a training in the Westminster Shorter Catechism in younger years, is the missing note of many a covenant family.  But it is never too late to address that omission.  The pastors and Sessions of our Presbyterian congregations need to place that emphasis in the families of the congregation, even appointing a person, such as a retired teacher, to hear recitations of catechism answers each Lord’s Day.  Or heads of families, joined by their wives, need to train up their children in the Shorter Catechism.  It will be a gift which will never lose its influence for good in their hearts and lives.

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  1. James T. O'Brien’s avatar

    Are there audio tapes of Dr. Clark’s preaching? I think it would be very interesting to hear him in a different context than the classroom.

  2. archivist’s avatar

    Great question, and one I hadn’t thought to ask before. I don’t know that we have any here in the Historical Center, but I will now look, to make sure. I have three other places I might look, outside of the PCAHC.

  3. James T. O'Brien’s avatar

    An interesting side note. Dr. R.C. Sproul studied with Dr. Thomas Gregory who taught philosophy at Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA. Dr. Gregory was very instrumental in introducing R.C., whom Dr. G. called Bob, to Reformed theology. I had the privilege of having Dr. Gregory for my advisor and teacher when I was in college a decade later. Dr. Thomas Gregory taught for quite a few years at Butler University and was a colleague of Dr. Gordon Clark.

  4. Felipe Sabino’s avatar

    “Are there audio tapes of Dr. Clark’s preaching? I think it would be very interesting to hear him in a different context than the classroom.”

    I am translating Gordon Clark’s works for Portuguese and I am publishing them here in Brazil.

  5. archivist’s avatar

    Felipe:

    I will see if I can locate any tapes of Dr. Clark’s preaching. I don’t know that we have any preserved here at the PCA Historical Center, but there are some other possible places where tapes like that might have been preserved.

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