John W. Robbins (1949-2008)

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.

12 thoughts on “John W. Robbins (1949-2008)

  1. Those descriptions of Machen were interesting . . . and fitting. I was always of the opinion that the constant complaining about John’s “tone” was a way to dismiss him without ever having to deal with him. I always found his tone refreshing. I much prefer someone who is straightforward and direct.


  2. Gus Gianello

    What a big surpise that both Robbins and Machen were and are excoriated! Did not Jesus say, “If the world hated me it will hate you also”? Evangelicalism hates these men because–Evangelicalism isn’t Evangelical. A recent Christian Show “Southwest Missions” highlighted the fact that one researcher of the Emergent Church Movement, found what he heard at a recent conference featuring the “Godfather” of the Emergent Church so disturbing and disgusting, that he no longer wanted to be known as an Evangelical. In the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses, the Scripture saith. Then for the 2nd witness consider the Saddleback Conference, where Obama was identified as an Evangelical Christian. Remember the Communist Party of America, lauds him in its recent review of Obama’s policy. Wake up! There is NO Christianity in North America–just a lot of religion. Finally, on one email list I belong to, one individual could not even wait for John to be cold in his grave before he publicly insulted him. “Rejoice when all men speak evil of you for my sake”, our Saviour said.


  3. “I was always of the opinion that the constant complaining about John’s “tone” was a way to dismiss him without ever having to deal with him.”

    I agree. Perhaps I mis-interpreted the quotes about Machen, but I understood them to be saying the same thing about him.


  4. Paul M.

    I thought I removed any reference to drug pushing so as to force scripturalists to deal with substance and stop focusing on emotional issues (which Gordon and John wouldn’t like).


  5. I just recently have read two extremely courageous books about the crisis within the OPC and was taken aback for a very short moment when I went to the web site and found that pastor John W. Robbins had called home to e with our Lord.

    I had come across a web site where John’s final article was posted about his infirmity and his response to the three categories that well wishers had offered to him. his conclusion and seeking our hearts desire being the biblical view of the three about his infirmity is one of those small yet profound observations from scripture that only a Good and faithful servant may come to and share with those who are hungry for the truth of God’s word. please find that article and post it for everyone. as I have not been able to come across it again. my deepest thanks and appreciation to our Lord and savior for having given His word and servant like John W. Robbins to hold aloft the light of His truth for us all.
    God’s peace and comfort will surely bless His Family and friend who have lost such a stalwart Christian companion. to God be the Glory and our Hearts desire. Manuel Lemos,
    Member at Faith Community / OC, CA


  6. Michael

    Actually, John Robbins was a very kind and patient man in person. To be sure, his writings had a bite to them. One might not have guessed the former from the latter, but writings can miss some of the nonverbal cues involved in communication. Perhaps that is a reflection of our sinful tendencies to depend too much on sensations, rather than the logical argument.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s