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A Wee Tribute to Ed Clowney

Category Articles
Date June 13, 2014

This has been my Ed Clowney week. It began when I was reflecting about how to understand Sabbath better, and remembered I’d never read Clowney’s How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments. There it was, he opened it up, he told us so well just what it meant to rest in Jesus, so pastorally. I couldn’t put the book down then and went on to read the whole thing.

It was all good, but the Thou shall not covet stood out, about how to be totally satisfied with Jesus. Biblical theology at its best, that’s what he did and modelled for us — but that sounds too academic, not what he really did, in blessing us in focusing our hearts on our Jesus. Our complaint back then was just, he did so well so why didn’t he help us to do it better too? I think the answer is, if you love Jesus with all your heart, then you follow him more easily.

In the intro was something I hadn’t expected: the story of his teenage history with the dispensationalist Scofield Bible, his later discovery of biblical theology — and then his conclusion that they were both on the same track, and getting closer! Now there’s my Ed, the bridge-builder, thoroughly vigorously Reformed and at the same time eager to bring great blessing to the entire evangelical world! That brings me back again my grand world at Westminster Seminary, ministering with God’s Word to many denominations and perspectives, all of us coming closer and closer to Jesus, and closer to each other. Thank you for that, Ed.

Then I was looking through my books and there was his Eutychus (and his pin). Remember when you could buy a hard-cover for $2.50? That was originally his anonymous ‘letters’ in Christianity Today, as invited by his college friend, editor Carl Henry. They are a hoot. Let me give you one title: Predicandus Amorphus. All things to all men. An evangelical-liberal with leanings toward and away from neodoxy and paloism. Heartily concurs in both sides of every argument — with minor reservations. Man of many deep convictions which last for days.

In those anonymous days Ed would lurk in the Westminster library, eavesdropping on student responses to his stuff, gratified that we were on the same page with him. Not only did he have a knowing eye for unbiblical ravings but also for evangelical trivialities. He brought us together from both ends.

I remember little scraps of Clowney life: our WTS Christmas party with Harvie Conn, announcing that he had a special present for little Prosper Clowney; our accidental lunch together, sharing our common joy in the remembrance of despised Gordon Clark; his bringing Sam Logan on the team, telling him to go to Scotland to Sinclair Ferguson — don’t come back without him. Most of all, his enticing recruiting as big and wide as the gospel – one year WTS had students from 80 denominations and 40 countries.

Jay Adams was right, he was the most brilliant of all of us. He used that brain to show us Jesus everywhere in the Word, and to expose all the phony ones out there. He shaped a Westminster of love and respect and mutual blessing, not that easy in a seminary. He laughed with us the laughter of Abraham and Sarah when they heard Isaac was coming, first with their sceptical laughter, then their laughter of blessing, as Ed led us in maturing together in gospel joy.

Being a church historian wasn’t always good for me, tempting me to be cynical about God’s people. But Ed wasn’t that way, though he knew a lot more about unbelief and scandal than I did. He rejoiced in Jesus and in his people and brought me far along that way. Thank you, Jesus, for him!

Dr D. Clair Davis is Emeritus Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, a former colleague of Edmund P. Clowney, and author of provoking and thoughtful letters which he sends to a number of friends.

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