Monday, February 18, 2013

Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, Chapter 1

This is the first post in a series of posts on Corneilius Van Til's work "The Defense of the Faith." I am reviewing it chapter by chapter as a way of digesting the book. It is not thick, but he says a lot which influences reformed thinking today.

I'm also coming at it from the perspective of a philosopher who wants to be a help to today's reformed thinkers. So I won't be making comments on all parts of the book but rather limiting my comments to where I think I can help clarify ideas and definitions and correct problems.

Introduction of the Book
In his introduction, Van Til quickly distinguishes himself from Rome. He finds that Roman Catholic thinkers have compromised Christ by merely asking the "natural man" to "add wisdom and work of Christ to that which man has in and of himself." (Pg. 3) The consequence is twofold, man is not shown his internal inconsistencies and this view gets stuck in "contingency."

Christians ought to reject this view of apologetics by uncompromisingly put forward Christ. Specifically, "their method of apologetics should be in line with their theology. In both Christ should be taught and preached unto men who are lost in all their thinking and living without him." What Van Til means, man is really lost and without Christ he can't even think straight. Van Til also distinguishes himself from other views. He claims to be following Warfield's line of thought. (As a philosopher, the reformed v. Neo-orthodoxy v.Arminianism doesn't interest me right now since I have yet to see how I can as a philosopher be helpful.)

What is Theology? 
Enough of the introduction, Van Til says right off the bat in the first chapter that theology is simply taking what the Bible says and teaching it. So, the first chapter Van Til summarizes this "system of truth" acquired from the Bible.

History, what about it? 
He notes that Christianity is a historical religion and Christ being a historical figure, Christianity is not void of a history. He notes that a pragmatist will attack this historical argument for Christianity by saying that all facts are unrelated and so to make a connection between the fact of Jesus' resurrection and us 2,000 years later, is superfluous. Hence, we must be involved in a philosophical discussion since we have to respond to the pragmatist. (I actually like this point. He says we should do philosophy as a way of defending the truth of Christianity. Glad I have a place in Van Til's system.)

Reason/Experience vs. The Bible - a Problem 
Van Til goes on to stop us from throwing away the Bible by saying "we do not first defend theism philosophically by an appeal to reason and experience in order, after that, to turn to scripture for our knowledge and defense of Christianity." Okay, stop. We need to talk about this.

Why does Van Til think that one must place the introduction of Christianity in an order? Why do you either introduce God's existence through reason and/or experience and then the Bible or vice versa. You're in trouble if you take this approach. You're bound to start with experience.  All knowledge stems from experience. (Cheers to Locke and Edwards for this point.)
note: Yes you can believe that all men are born with innate ideas/dispositions and say this. Edwards did. 

The Problem Explained 
If you want to say we ought to start with the Bible you are not actually saying that. Rather you are actually saying we ought to start with our senses picking up the Bible and then telling us about them.  No person on earth has sensory experiences or thought processes that are devoid of experience. Philosophically I'm saying something controversial, but let's follow a simple thought experiment. Think of anything, God, friends, your thoughts or your thought of your thoughts of your thoughts. Is that thought process devoid of experience? Well, what's a good criteria for something being an experience? For simplicity sake, let's say time is necessary. A necessary part of experience is the passing of time.
Okay this definition does get me into issues of "how do I know what is time outside of experiencing time?" If I can I can't then this goes in a circle. If you don't see the circle, here is is, what is experience? time. What is time? something we experience. Well, what is experience? So, let's get out of this circle by deal with what is time better, but that would take a book. I'm not writing a book. 

Did you pass time while you were thinking? Think about it. Notice, to think about whether time occurs when you think requires a bit of time. So, we're left with experience being foundation. I don't know if that's Biblical. It could be, but I don't know. As Van Til said, we want to stay Biblical, perhaps we don't want to get into this situation.

The Problem Resolved (hopefully...) 
Well let's resolve this sticky situation by saying we don't have to start with one or the other. Let's ask this question, do we have to start with either experience or the Bible? I argue there is no good reason for us to say one has to go with the other. God created us to function through experiences. They are vital to our identity. The Bible is vital to our knowledge of God. If one places them in two separate spheres saying one is prior to the other then we get into an unnecessary mess. So let's just say one doesn't have to start with one or the other. The implication for this is that we do have to do philosophy. Van Til said that. Oh good we can move on.

What Van Til Said 
Now, I know Van Til didn't create such a mess. He's not a second rate thinker. He doesn't say "One must start with the Bible and nothing else," but rather he says "It is therefore the system of truth as contained in the scriptures which we must present to the world." This is different then saying "ultimately we must start with the Bible." He is saying the Bible is the determining principle for what we say about what is.

If you don't think carefully, you may think that ultimately the Bible is foundational to EVERYTHING. No, no no. Let's not get into that false dichotomy  Let's say the Bible contains the truth and we need to follow it.

Van Til goes on to exposit basic concepts in systematic theology: Doctrine of God, Doctrine of Man, Doctrine of Christ, Doctrine of Salvation, Doctrine of the Church, and Last Things.

I won't bother discussing these parts since I've already said a lot. Next time we have chapter II and a really fun problem in philosophy which I don't think Van Til solves. - watch me eat my words.

Feel free to ask questions, critique or comment on this post. This is the first work I've read of Van Til so getting feedback from more educated individuals will be helpful. 

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