Pooh’s Think

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In Defense of Professor Scott Clark

Some of you might be familiar with the interesting internet presence of Kevin Johnson. With Johnson, you never know quite what you are going to get, a fact I think illustrated in a recent post by Johnson criticizing Professor Scott Clark. You can see it here.

To his credit, Johnson generally has negatively valenced emotions when it comes to the Wood’s fascinating lab specimen under the label of ‘Douglas Wilson.’ Johnson has at times even seen right through Wilson’s thin veil of pastoral piety; but like I said, you never know what you are going to get with Johnson. Recently, for example, Johnson failed to even mention Wilson’s shameless attack on the PCA’s judicial tradition while commenting on Wilkins’ jeopardized status in the PCA. Similarly, Johnson has just now commented on Wilson’s attempted lynching of Dr. Scott Clark while apparently missing the most important elements of Wilson’s public actions.

Wilson’s Lynching of Clark

I have offered a more light-hearted and unsympathetic defense of Clark, which you can see here, and my friend has offered a more straightforward and sympathetic defense as found here.

If you don’t understand the rhetorical and social mechanisms Wilson is in the business of exploiting on a daily basis, then you don’t know the man, his work, and his ministry. There is simply not an action and word from Wilson that is not a strategic plotting towards political/ecclesiastical dominance; as we have seen [speaking to those more long term residences of the Wood], Wilson manipulates the crowd, manufactures conflict, and isolates individuals for harm—constantly. And what Wilson did with Clark is no exception to this pattern.

Wilson jumps on what was clearly a hastily written short note on a discussion thread (since mildly edited), successfully whipping up the Wilson following crowd. But Wilson did not only uncharitably pounce on Clark as soon as he had his rhetorical moment; Wilson also clearly lied about the content of Clark’s statement. I have already pointed this out, but it is getting to the point where I shouldn’t have to spend time arguing for this sort of thing anymore. We have perhaps four dozen well documented lies from Wilson here in the Wood already. This is simply what Wilson does, and this is what he did to Clark.

Wilson then had the audacity to taunt Clark and demand a debate with him. Wilson even said he would fly down to Escondido for a debate. Once again, this is just another crowd manipulating tactic, as likely would be a “debate” with Doug Wilson, and this tactic worked (as it usually does with the following).

I have already noted one obvious reason why Scott Clark would not want to debate Wilson. The point is simple: if these guys debate Doug Wilson they lend automatic credibility to him. These guys already understand Wilson’s kind of music. He is a dishonest, power hungry, manipulator. I watched Wilson change his tune over the FV controversy from the front seat row here in Moscow, and no doubt these fellows saw some of it from California. Early on in the business of subversive tactics Wilson was preaching about the “dirty diapers” of reformed theology and he allowed me to start an entire series on the subject in Credenda Agenda well after I had told Wilson that I was not reformed. Clark also made it clear that he thought the following surrounding Doug Wilson is nothing less than a literal cult—and we certainly agree with this assessment. Wilson simply does not deserve a debate, and any publicized discussion over some narrow theological points would lend credence to the more important, broader aspects to Doug Wilson’s personality and status. These guys are not going to debate Wilson, and the primary reason why is clear (and I have received off-line confirmation about this). They should not debate him.

And Wilson knows this. He knows that if he can get a debate, it just interjects him back into the status of legitimate Presbyterian pastor/theologian. This is why Wilson is not only demanding a debate, he is almost groveling for it, explaining that he would be glad to purchase a plane ticket himself to Escondido anytime. I bet he would.

Yet notice what Johnson tells us about all this:

So, when Wilson challenged Clark to a debate, you’d think a guy with this much negative to say about these things would immediately accept.

Nope. Not in the Reformed world. This is the place where you can make unsubstantiated attacks on an Internet board and go to town on folks. In response, here is what firebrand Clark had to say to Douglas Wilson’s challenge:

1) I’m not quick enough to debate well. A debate plays to the strengths of the glib, of which Doug is chief. I’m a plodder. It took me several years to get a handle on this business (NPP/FV). I doubt I can hear his argument, analyze it, and respond constructively as quickly as necessary in a debate…

Of course, Clark goes on and on about other reasons why he won’t debate–but really…let’s boil number one here down to the essentials. The distilled version is this…if Clark were to debate Douglas Wilson, he’d just flat lose. He knows, we know it, the whole world knows it.
But that’s Reformedville…often tragically amusing but mostly just tragic in terms of how these things work themselves out. Clark needs to take his views and go home if he’s not willing to defend them. He owes the FV men an apology for his cutting words and he owes similar words to the family of the late Dr. Bahnsen for posthumously attacking a great man and his dedication to seeing men properly ordained and installed in the ministry.

Johnson has got his story upside down on this one, and I wonder if Johnson would be willing to debate someone contesting his brash claims here about Clark, Bahnsen, Wilson, and “Reformedville.” Wilson owes Clark an apology for publicly pouncing on what was at most a mild misspeaking instead of handling it in a commonsense “pastoral” fashion; given that Wilson even decided to lie about what Clark said in order to whip up the crowd and cover up the more important material against Wilson in Clark’s post, Wilson needs to fly down to Escondido to simply offer some tears of contrition.

Secondly, Johnson is either having a bad brain day or he is fairly ignorant of the relationship of Greg Bahnsen’s theonomy to WTSCA. Given the pastoral fruits of Bahnsen’s following, the schismatic trajectory to his writing and debating (e.g. his debate with RC Sproul over presuppositionalism), his wife’s adultery and resulting divorce, and what I take to be a very unfortunate approach to “law” and religious text in general, it is not clear to me why we should expect Bahnsen’s historical opponents to be honoring him as “a great man.”

Thirdly, and most importantly, not only is Johnson wrong about the kinds of justifying reasons Clark has for refusing to debate with Wilson, to me it seems he does not understand the problems that are associated with “debates” generally. Clark is perfectly correct in worrying about years of academic “plodding” to be publicly ridiculed within a short rhetorical moment with someone like Douglas Wilson. The lack of academic credentials Johnson brings to the table might have something to do with his failure to understand this point. Clark publishes on some of the relevant topics in peer reviewed, academic journals, whereas Wilson is merely an expert “bar brawler” as he explained to us himself. And despite our nostalgic habit of looking back to those amazing and brutal moments between Augustine and his opponent or Luther and Erasmus, this is not where the rubber really hits the road. This is particularly true with Wilson. Wilson picks his debate partners strategically and what he gives the audience is primarily fun rhetoric. Wilson is good on his feet, getting the audience to laugh at his opponent. But he is very poor at rigorous, intellectually honest debate. He is also offering a hypocritical concern in that Wilson habitually refuses direct debate from within his own church, and seeks to silence argument and evidence through ad hom attacks and intimidation. Wilson even has an unfinished debate with me that was planned for publishing in Credenda on a FV subject; he refuses to even finish the debate he started.

In sum, Johnson gets his story upside down on this and he should certainly know better than to defend almost anything Doug Wilson does at this point. Unsurprisingly, the one time Johnson tries to offer some judicial defense of Wilson, he gets it wrong. Or was this a judicial defense? Perhaps Clark is simply a more in your face opponent for Johnson at the moment. Indeed, here is how Johnson opens his post:

Clark is a prof at Westminster West and has been leaving the most outrageous messages at Truly Reformed hangout, The Puritan Board where the very mention of my name, this website [Johnson’s site], or saying anything bad about the Puritans will get you tarred, feathered, and banned in short order.

Update: Kirk apologist Chris Witmer has offered a helpful reply to my argument here over at Ba and MoBa, providing, as always, a helpful link to the primary document ridiculed (not):

One local nutjob who has frequently whined that Doug Wilson won’t debate him is now (in the context of defending Scott Clark’s refusal to debate Doug Wilson) saying that Wilson does not deserve a debate because that would lend credence to him and imbue this “cult leader” with the status of a legitimate presbyterian pastor/theologian. (I take it this means there will be no more whining about how “Wilson won’t debate me.”) Still, that must be pretty hard on the ego: getting pooh-poohed by someone who has been pooh-poohed by real theologians.

Christopher Witmer – 12/26/2006 9:35:37 AM | Report Comment

You can see what happens when Witmer tries to get serious and rational at the same time here.

January 2, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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