John William Robbins ( 1948-2008 ) died at his home in Unicoi County, Tennessee on Thursday, August, 14. He was 59.
I am indebted to Robbins’ life work. He has helped more than any other theologian, second to my pastor, understand what it means to have a biblical worldview. God gifted him with a great mind and, in my opinion, he put it to very great use. However, not everyone shares my opinion, to say the least.
Robbins’ work is often simply ignored because people do not appreciate his tone. Gary North said “He was a bulldog in everything he did.” I have heard Robbins’ worked described as “some of the most vitriolic rage on the internet.” He has been described as a drug “pusher” responsible for getting young Christians hooked on Gordon Clark’s “methamphetamine” Scripturalism. I once had a conversation with a professedly Reformed Christian who told me he “hate(d) John Robbins so much,” he wanted to become a Roman Catholic just to spite him.
Now I recently listened to John Piper’s biography of the great defender of the faith, J. Gresham Machen and I learned something of great interest:
Others attribute the controversies and divisions that Machen was involved in, and often the ringleader of at that, being due to in large part to his peculiar personality, for example, his “temperamental idiosyncrasies.”(36) That is, it is claimed that Machen was a very difficult man to get along with, even for his friends. Machen has been called just about everything including: bigoted, cankerous, a crank, inflexible, intolerant, lacking the ability to separate people from the issues he disagreed with, militant, narrow-minded, an obscurantist, rigid, temperamental (given to fits of anger), a troublemaker, and so forth.
He seemed to have a personality that alienated people too easily. The committee that did not recommend him to the chair of apologetics at Princeton referred to his “temperamental idiosyncrasies” (see note 63). He seems to have had “a flaring temper and a propensity to make strong remarks about individuals with whom he disagreed” (see note 64).
J. Gresham Machen – especially as a commonsense theologian and as a Southerner – in some ways might be considered a period piece. Not only that, he might be considered a cantankerous period piece. He had a personality that only his good friends found appealing, and he stood for a narrow Old School confessionalism and exclusivism that many people today find appalling. Nonetheless, despite all these features which might tempt us to dismiss him, I think we can also see there was a deeply committed Christian of great insight.
-George Marsden, “Understanding J. Gresham Machen,” in Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, p. 200
Perhaps future generation will look more kindly upon John W. Robbins than men do today. Hopefully they will at least read his life’s work.