Reformed theology is in evangelical theology known to have the greatest reputation for defending orthodoxy.
In the 20th century Cornelius van til was celebrated as one of it's Greatest apologists.
Yet buried in one of it's heroes teachings was a foundation for real heresy. In fact, if ever there was, this was a march back towards Rome.
The epistemological flaw
As overemphasis upon total depravity van til argued that the mind of man could never understand the mind of God. Although this doctrine went beyond the teaching of depravity but actually creator creature distinction Making God above truth comprehensive to humans. Thus this was a total rejection of the clarity of scripture.
1corinthians 14:33For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
Isaiah 1:18Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Yet the God of scripture is not against logic. he is not the author of confusion and willing for us to reason with him.
"II. The Subject of our Knowledge in Systematic Theology
God is the ultimate interpreter of the world; man receives knowledge as derivative from God. As Christians we may apprehend the things God has revealed in Word and his world but we look to God only as the one who can comprehend all things. He is the one with absolute knowledge; we are the “re-interpreters” of this knowledge which he has revealed." Outline of Cornelius Van Til- Introduction to Systematic Theology Rev. Charles R. Biggs
com·pre·hend /ˌkɒmprɪˈhɛnd/ Show Spelled[kom-pri-hend] Show IPA
verb (used with object)
1. to understand the nature or meaning of; grasp with the mind; perceive: He did not comprehend the significance of the ambassador's remark.
2. to take in or embrace; include; comprise: The course will comprehend all facets of Japanese culture. Dictionary.com
ap·pre·hend /ˌæprɪˈhɛnd/ Show Spelled[ap-ri-hend] Show IPA
verb (used with object)
1. to take into custody; arrest by legal warrant or authority: The police apprehended the burglars.
2. to grasp the meaning of; understand, especially intuitively; perceive.
3. to expect with anxiety, suspicion, or fear; anticipate: apprehending violence.
verb (used without object)
4. to understand.
5. to be apprehensive, suspicious, or fearful; fear.
Now the difference of these two words is not very great. But I believe what this is saying is that God understands the truth. Man can can attain truth but not understand it. And remember, this is after you have been regenerated by the Holy Ghost.
Let's see if van til's disciple John Frame will clear this up.
"Van Til's basic concern in the context of the incomprehensibility of God is with our understanding of scripture. Can we say that we have "fully" understood a passage when we have understood it correctly? Van Til says No. for essentially the reason that I noted above. God's knowledge, even of human language, is of a fundamentally different order than from ours. Does that mean that scripture is unclear and even unintelligible? If so we would have to say that God failed in His attempt to communicate! No, Scripture is clear enough, so that we have no excuse for disobedience." pg 34 The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God John M. Frame
So here Frame admits that the Bible being unintelligible would be a crime. He admits that according to van til we can not fully understand revelation from God. His defense is that we have enough ability to understand revelation, to the degree where we are morally accountable. Yet how is that true? If we can not fully understand what God is trying to communicate how can we be fully responsible for our disobediance? We have not even included the factor of our own moral depravity! We are not allowed the ability to make sense of scripture and are not given the moral holiness to follow it, and yet are responsible? Well, that doesn't included Calvinistic predestination! We are not given the ability to understand scripture nor the moral ability to follow it, nor the ability to believe it, and yet we have enough to be held responsible? And that doesn't include the weight of damnation? We are not given the ability to fully understand scripture, the moral ability to follow scripture, The ability to believe scripture and yet it is enough to damn us to Hell for century upon century and all eternity burning in the fires of God's wrath?
"So there you have what appears to be the categories concerning our understanding of divine revelation: univocal (we mean the same thing as God entirely); equivocal (we never mean the same thing); analogical (we mean the same thing only by analogy, but genuine truth is communicated in this form of manner even if incompletely or imperfectly). Clearly, Van Til is with Aquinas on this point. For Clark, analogical knowledge is simply a cover for equivocal knowledge and ultimately suffers from the same problems – skepticism. For Van Til, analogical knowledge is the only way to preserve the Creator-creature distinction and yet have access to genuine communicable knowledge and truth (he went to great pains trying to distance and distinguish himself from Barth’s theology on this point)." Troy Gibson thereformedmind.wordpress.com
So from an outside analysis does Van Til leaves faith irrational? In "Reason, Religion and revelation" Gordon Clark lays out the history of philosophy. How Thomas Aquinas segregated the concepts of faith and reason. As we see in secular philosophy it is based upon Aquinas understanding of reason without faith. Which falls apart into nihilism. Then from Soren Kierkegaard we see Reason without faith also a by-product of Thomism. Which falls apart into irrational-ism. Here this blogger naturally sees Van til in the same boat as kierkegaard, being that he has followed Aquinas understanding of faith. Although this blogger would not accuse van til of existentialism. Which only makes the case more obvious. How does analogy disprove skepticism?
"This led Clark to accuse Van Til of being a Barthian and an irrationalist or existentialist (since Barth said that divine revelation is essentially inexpressible in human language and totally outside of rational thought)."Troy Gibson thereformedmind.wordpress.com
How can partial certainty lead to absolute certainty? Afterall, we cannot fully understand God. So perhaps He is not the deity we understand from scripture. If so we are ill equipped to handle the challenge of the problem of evil.
1 Corinthians 2:9-16
9But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
15But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
16For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.
There is no doubt that the natural unregenerate man has no access to God knowledge. Yet The believer who has the Holy Spirit is guaranteed this knowledge assurance and certainty.
The effect on scripture
"all teaching of scripture is apparently contradictory." Common Grace and witness bearing pg. 22
So what good is the inspiration of God's Word if it is incomprehensible?
"It is precisely because they are concerned to defend the christian doctrine of revelation as basic to all intelligible human predication that they refuse to make any attempt at "stating clearly" any christian doctrine, or the relation of any one christians doctrine to any other christian doctrine. They will not attempt to "solve" the "paradoxes" involved in the relationship of the self contained God to his dependent creatures." Introduction to Systematic theology chapter 13 page 172
van til said these remarks in regards to His students
This is an unbiblical approach.
1Peter 3:15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
We are to show the gospel as rational as well as the rest of the word of God. Which is really the whole point of the word of God in general.
deaut. 30:11For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.
12It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
13Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
14But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
Even in the Old Testament The Word of God has been delivered to us so that we may comprehend it and live by it.
The effect on theology
The confused trinity
Essentially Van til will prove his point by confusing the trinity. For some bizarre reason Van til wants to confuse the words person and being/essence. Thus making the trinity to be possibly 3 beings and also one person.
"We speak of God as a person... the persons of the Godhead are mutually exhaustive of one another." pg220 Introduction to Systematic theology
"We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead is one person."
"we must maintain that God is numerically one. he is one person." An introduction to Systematic theology chapter 17 page 229
Ultimately this sets up a an argument for modalism as well as other heresies.
Now John M. Frame is noted as Van Til's key and most famous student. When I attended a reformed baptist institution, the professor explained to me that Van Til had an awkward style and thought process and could be easily misinterpreted. Well obviously as Frame teaches the trinity He is not going to confuse the nature of the trinity regarding persons and beings right?
"The Nicene Creed says they are one "being" but three "substances," or differently translated, one "substance" and three "persons," I prefer simply to say "one God, three persons." The technical terms should not be understood in any precise, descriptive sense. the fact is that we do not know how precisely the three are one and the one is three. We do know that since the three are God, they are equal; for there is no superiority or inferiority within God. To be God is to be superior to everything. All three have all the divine attributes. All three are "Lord." All three have the relations to creation that we have earlier ascribed to God. All three are members of the upper circle in Van Till"s drawing."
The scripture is not confusing. No where does the Bible teach that there are three gods. It is consistently monotheistic.
1Corinthians 8:4As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
5For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
6But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
2 corinthians 13:14The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.
Ephesians4:4There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
Whenever it refers to God as one person it is refer to one of the three persons. Which it is almost always referring to god the Father. It points to the Son and spirit as God. Yet only as the same essence and as different persons.
2corinthians 13:14The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.
The effect on ancestors
There is a Presbyterian theologian named Tim Shepherd. Tim shepherd was defrocked from His ministry and found heretical for teaching legalism. By confusing the new and old covenants. Him and several others out of Westminster theological seminary started a theology known as "federal vision". the leaders not only became part of the christian reconstructionist movement but claimed van til as their inspiration.
"They see additional support for their position in the Dutch Reformed tradition, citing, among others, the works of Y.E.P. De Jong, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Klaas Schilder. Kuyper and Bavinck influenced Christian philosopher Cornelius Van Til, who was also raised in the Dutch Reformed tradition. An influential Christian thinker of the 20th century, Van Til has influenced contemporary evangelical views on such things as apologetics, political theory and philosophy. Van Til particularly influenced R. J. Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen, who founded the Christian Reconstructionist movement. Several leaders in the Federal Vision began their theological careers in the Christian Reconstructionist movement until differences in methods and interpretations led to their exodus from Reconstructionism. Peter Leithart and James B. Jordan are two notable examples, as is, to a lesser extent, Jeffrey J. Meyers."Wikipedia
"In important ways, the unbelivers knowledge is like the believer's. Surveying the outline of the last seection. we can say (1) that god is knowable but incomprehensible to believer and unbeliever alike and (2) that in both cases the knowledge can be described as covenant knowledge. Both believer and unbeliever know about God's control, authority, and presence. The knowledge of the unbeliever, like that of the believer, is a knowledge that God is Lord (cf. passages mentioned earlier)." The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God pg. 50 John M. Frame
So in arguing for the doctrine of general revelation many of this school argue for the unbelivers having some form of belief or as frame puts it knowledge. This does more damage as to the doctrine of salvation and the nature of evangelism. What is a believer?
faith and works!
So Now that knowledge and belief are confused how is faith any different? It has to be through works.
We see this teaching on the popular level first make waves with the teachings of Johm Macarthur. As time progresses this movement is very obviously coming out from the the teachings of current reformed theology. It involves the question of repentance of sin and it's bearings upon theology
Romans 11:6And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
The effect on salvation
So if the Bible has all these apparent contradictions, then does salvation have apparent contradictions?
"James Jordan has denied that any part of Christ's earthly works are imparted to believers. Norman Shepherd is in agreement with him. Peter Leithart has publicly said in a letter to PCA Pacific Northwest Presbytery that,"
"What the Federal Vision proponents do question is whether Christ's earthly works do us any good. Jordan says:
Merit theology often assumes that Jesus' earthly works and merits are somehow given to us, and there is no foundation for this notion. It is, in fact, hard to comprehend what is meant by it. What does it have to do with my life that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and this good deed is given to me? The miracles that Jesus did were not required of me to satisfy God's justice. ... There seems to be nothing in the Bible to imply that we receive Jesus' earthly life and then also his death. His earthly life was "for us" in the sense that it was the precondition for his death, but it is not given "to us.""
So here we see questioning regarding the imputation of Christ righteousness. So federal vision proponents end up with a wesleyan version of Justification which denies assurance of salvation. I argue this point more thoroughly in my critique on John Piper. (when the music fades...tuning out John Piper's Christian hedonism hangover)
While I am not necessarily blaming this doctrine on Van til. Hi followers have used his philosophy of confusion to confuse justification and sanctification.
"most if not all of the FV proponents would claim either to be followers of the apologetic methodology of Van Til or would other wise not see themselves as not contradicting him." Report on justification, pg. 66, (73rd general assembly of the OPC)
Federal vision is a movement which confuses the categories of justification and sanctification. This is march back towards legalism.
Advocates come out of van til's philosophy of confusion. Applying this haze that vantil applied to the trinity onto the doctrine of justifcation as well. Jon Piper has repackaged this heresy in his book future Grace.
In conclusion. Van til's doctrine may not be understandable to the common pew sitter. But to those who train for ministry it is quite deadly. I have encountered three apostates who started there spiral as disciples of van til. God is not the author of confusion. Confusion is babylon. We must beware of babylon in all her splendour.
Revelation 18:4And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. 5For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.