Van Til's Apologetic Comprehension and Ethical Responsibility

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Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
As I read through Van Til's works, I find myself getting excited, then getting confused, then being let down when he doesn't address things. His emphasis on how, on the one hand, incomprehensible the things of God are to unregenerate man, and, on the other, how they know God is undeniably similar to myself. In Common Grace and the Gospel Van Til shows how similar the reprobate and the elect are in appearance - one looking back at the father's house periodically, and the other walking back to the father's house while often looking at the pig sty. This does not in fact help my spiritual disposition.

Throughout his writings I am faced with his ethical directives, which leave me frustrated. It is the unbeliever and the unwise who do not accept or understand the things of God on Scriptural authority. Yet it is I who do not understand Van Til after years of trying in - what I would characterize as - legitimate and Charitable reading of him. Amid questions of mystery and certainty within my heart, the answers he offers are in my own heart unsatisfactory, whether that disposition is sinful or no. Van Til would most likely call this unbelief, but is it so?

I am not sure if any of you have dealt with similar times of difficulty, but it has been nearly 6 years of confusion over this Reformed system of doctrine and apologetics and how it interacts with philosophy and the other disciplines, and at the end of it all I simply wish I could say I knew anything. Truly in much study there is much weariness if the flesh, and in it I feel quite a bit dumber than before.

It seems that Van Til is trying to do something which turns much of normal philosophic discussion on its head - I appreciate this, as far as it goes, if it is Scriptural, then why worry - but I am far from being close to understanding him. His method is seemingly to point at all times in all directions.
At one time nearly a decade ago I felt as if I understood him and generally had wonderful discussions with pagans, but for years it has been a great struggle to understand him. Perhaps my mind is not wired his way - yet his response would be it is not about wiring, but the heart changed by Christ.

In Van Til's ethical understanding of knowledge, this would seem to be a culpable backsliding into earthly ways of thinking. I do not know if this is the case, but I find myself increasingly frustrated with his project and some of its methods. Perhaps it is simply because his project was such momentis of a shift in the water that it is so, but it seems as if Van Til's waters are all murky. At bottom, I want to be Van Tillian, but I can barely follow what the man has to say, and if I do it seems I do not have the intellectual or spiritual fortitude to understand his conclusions. And yet it is "Something Much Too Plain to Say"!

After reading Turretin and the other Reformed Scholastics, I feel a breath of fresh air pumped into me. I can actually remember some of their categories, and yet they are too abstract - for our thinking must be concrete - for Van Til and therefore ought not to be too closely followed. So, the murky waters creep in. I feel I might know more if I listened to Van Til less. But his answer, as I imagine it, would be a call to repentence for autonomous reasoning.

Yet Van Til never seems to be understood, for once someone critiques him his followers say they are not understanding him correctly. The question for those of the Van Tillian disposition is to diagnose my problem from your view, and to speak on the subject of the ethical culpability of not understanding what apparently should be understood by each Christian.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
Have you tried reading Scott Oliphint or Greg Bahnsen instead? Van Til wasn't the best communicator...
I have, though to be honest my reading for some the of Van Til, Oliphint and Bahnsen reading has been less than stellar, as Westminster requires ludicrous speeds of reading, but I can say I have "read" them. I have read "Covenantal Apologetics" and the majority of the Bahnsen reader, as well as listening to the Bahnsen debate with Stein. I have not been able to read the debate Bahnsen had with Sproul yet, though. That is something I hope might help.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
Perhaps if you finding reading the scholastics a breath of fresh air it would be worthwhile to read more of them? I don't find most of reformed scholasticism to be overly abstract. Many of them were very focused on the practice of theology and of holiness. Van Mastricht is a great example of this, but there are others.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
Perhaps if you finding reading the scholastics a breath of fresh air it would be worthwhile to read more of them? I don't find most of reformed scholasticism to be overly abstract. Many of them were very focused on the practice of theology and of holiness. Van Mastricht is a great example of this, but there are others.
I'm excited to do just that! Maccovius has been very refreshing, and I'm looking forward to reading Van Mastricht.

Still, the question is not where I should go depending on my bent, but is more about the ethical implications of not understanding Van Til's program based upon Van Til's apologetic. If I do not understand it, am I in sin according to Van Til, because to understand it to have not the mind of Christ, but the mind of an unbeliever? (Ala 1 Corinthians 1-3)
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
but is more about the ethical implications of not understanding Van Til's program based upon Van Til's apologetic. If I do not understand it, am I in sin according to Van Til, because to understand it to have not the mind of Christ, but the mind of an unbeliever?

You're not in sin. I think CVT is simply saying that his ethic is to have your mind sanctified by Christ. More hard-line CVT students will say that doing classical apologetics is sin. I just ignore them.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
You're not in sin. I think CVT is simply saying that his ethic is to have your mind sanctified by Christ. More hard-line CVT students will say that doing classical apologetics is sin. I just ignore them.

I would like to agree that CVT is merely saying that our mind is to be sanctified by Christ, but his theory seems to be so based upon the thorough-ness of our transformation, that we live in a different world from the unbeliever. Perhaps it might be more that his system logically ends in calling classical apologetics sin, but that he did not himself. His discussions with his contemporaries would make me think this: he was frustrated with them, but I am not sure he ever called them sinful. However, to deviate from Scripture - as he is saying his opponents are doing - is sinful, apologetically or not.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
To be clear, my (non-)understanding of Van Til is this:

At back of everything is God, not logic, not man. Unbelieving positions can legitimately come to a place where all is absurdity and can live with that profession, though not in a consistent manner. He comes from the system of the unbeliever and shows them that their claims are unjustified because in order to systematically claim anything with certainty there must be more basis than mere probability, and it must be completely consistent. Considering the nature of the person is finite and sinful (though they might reject these things), they cannot have any justified claim. Additionally, since there is no God to stand on, all would be undifferentiated chaos - no logic is possible, in fact nothing would be meaningful at all. Considering things ARE meaningful, things ARE consistent in life, and that we depend upon these things, there is a consistency which the person relies upon, which they understand from their very being, and it is the Triune God of Scripture. A meaningless world is completely impossible. However, I think Van Til is less abstract than this. The world cries His name and glories in it, but the sinner suppresses it to the best of his ability. The unbeliever knows he is a creation of God, and that he is in Adam a Covenant breaker worthy of wrath, but he suppresses this in unrighteousness. Therefore, his philosophy will hold all metaphysical objects in common with unbelievers (within believers and unbelievers perception), but the content of those facts will be completely distinct: the believer will interpret based upon the authoritative word of God, while the unbeliever will interpret based upon the his own or his favorite merely human "authoritative" word. Therefore, because the thing and its interpretation are inseparable, the believer - in this second sense - hold nothing in common. Not even logic.

However, given that the unbeliever desires to use logic, and even the absurdist actually used logic in order to be argued into and stay in absurdism, the transcendental argument should show them that the actual prerequisites of logic and all meaningful life are held in God. Therefore, rejecting God ultimately destroys all reality. Christianity alone allows for and adores mystery, but never allows the contradictory, only the apparently contradictory (limiting concepts), which alone gives the process of history and logic meaning.

I intentionally wrote this without any help from sources. I was very hesitant to actually send it because I'm sure it is an adulteration, but "the fool opens his mouth..."
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
However, to deviate from Scripture - as he is saying his opponents are doing - is sinful, apologetically or not.

No Christian of any apologetic method believes he is deviating from Scripture, so that doesn't get us anywhere. These dead-ends are some of the reasons why I am no longer a Van Tillian.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Graduate
Can you demonstrate such from Scripture? If not, the law of Christian liberty says it is not sin.
Right. In any case, and I know that Taylor might be speaking tongue in cheek, but I am not ready to say Turretin was in sin on this point.
I’m very much joking. I am a convinced Van Tilian, so I do think other approaches to apologetics are deficient. But sin? I would never say that, and I think those who would argue such are being ridiculous. I hope I’m not one of those presuppositionalists that so frustrate Jacob. ;)
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I’m very much joking. I am a convinced Van Tilian, so I do think other approaches to apologetics are deficient. But sin? I would never say that, and I think those who would argue such are being ridiculous. I hope I’m not one of those presuppositionalists that so frustrate Jacob. ;)

No. They are the ones who have never read anything in basic philosophy or ethics.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
To paraphrase John Henry Newman, "To be deep in the Reformed scholastics is to cease to be a presuppositionalist." :stirpot:

Even more, there is a certain apologetical method embedded within Reformed scholasticism. There is a reason why many presups have generally been hostile to scholasticism.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
Even more, there is a certain apologetical method embedded within Reformed scholasticism. There is a reason why many presups have generally been hostile to scholasticism.
@Reformed Covenanter, you sly dog. Ha! It seems like a real thing, though: the more I read the scholastics, the more I feel I understand the issues at hand. I have often wondered why Van Til is an opponent of the scholastics, while his followers often are not as far as I can tell.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
@Reformed Covenanter, you sly dog. Ha! It seems like a real thing, though: the more I read the scholastics, the more I feel I understand the issues at hand. I have often wondered why Van Til is an opponent of the scholastics, while his followers often are not as far as I can tell.

The scholastics used the language of Thomism. That's not to say they were all Thomists (though many were), and that's what allowed them to speak with clarity.
 
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