Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman III discusses Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith as a book that most influenced him. I must say, I was delightfully surprised by this. Longman calls the book “monumental.” Indeed.
Filed under books, cornelius van til, video
Hmm, I’m beginning to have serious doubts about Van Til’s legacy…but interesting that T.L.III was so influenced by that book, and is prepared to go public!
Doubts in what way?
As you know, I’m an admirer of CVT. I think he made a huge contribution to Christian thought with his transcendental argument for the existence of God. He’s no Shedd though! :)
I worry about whether or not Van Til really put the Scriptures above his system of thought… I was concerned to hear recently that he apoke in defence of Norman Shepherd at an OPC General Assembly and/or committee during the justification controversy at Westminster late 70s/early 80s… and I dont like his emphasis on our having no real knowledge of God (to me that is instinctively bunkum)… I worry about the tendency of presuppositionalists to simply ignore non-Christian positions in apologetic discussion… I find him impossible to read… and although I’m increasingly wary of Barth’s legacy and influence, Van Til’s engagement with Barth only confirmed his own modernist weaknesses and led Reformed Confessionalism into a deep cul de sac for most of the 20thC.
Can it be an accident that the institution that Van Til influenced most has had such a difficult history over the last thirty or forty years?
Thanks for the links to Oliphint!
Those are common concerns held by many. In terms of readability, I don’t disagree with you. He can be quite difficult at times. I’ve found reading the Bahnsen book to be quite helpful – it’s sort’ve a “critical edition” of Van Til.
Berkouwer, in the festschrift for Van Til had the same concerns about whether or not Van Til was exegetically founded. And oddly enough, Van Til agreed with him in his response. Richard Gaffin, however, and others like Lane Tipton, have done a good job showing the exegetical foundations of his thought.
It’s a common Clarkian assertion that Van Til didn’t believe that we have real knowledge of God. That’s not the case however. Van Til emphasised very clearly and repeatedly that we are to think God’s thoughts after him. That what we know by revelation is true knowledge. His unfortunate term for our knowledge of God is “analogy.” This to philosophers conjures up either Aquinas or Butler. Van Til means, however, that our knowledge is an analogue of God’s. We are not God, we are dependent upon him for knowledge. God is the primary interpreter of his creation, because he created it. We thus have thoughts analogous to God’s by virtue of our created status. But our knowledge is nonetheless real.
To me, the glory of presuppositionalism is that it requires dialogue and the need to understand where your “opponent” is coming from. All worldviews fall into a slim set of categories, and by asking questions in conversation, we can determine whether our friend is a monist, an atomist, etc. Therefore, we can provide an answer based upon what has been told to us and what we know of these various worldview positions.
I honestly can’t speak to the Barth issue that well because I’m no Barth expert. I’ve only ever read John Webster’s biography of him. But I would think that the concerns you have of Van Til would be multiplied ten-fold in regard to Barth – if what I know of Barth is true.
There is no doubt that Van Til was a “Reformed isolationist.” But Meuther’s biography does a very good job at giving the rationale and nuance of Van Til’s perspective on this.
I’d highly, highly recommend Meuther’s bio if you haven’t read it. It clears some misconceptions and offers re-interpretations of Van Til that seem to fit the man better.
As much as Westminster has gone through controversy (it was birthed in it!) I still think it’s a great place. In fact, those who are currently steering Westminster in a good direction are all committed Van Tilians (except maybe Trueman, I’m not sure).
Anyways, sorry for the rambling tractate!
Probably my biggest beef with Van Til’s influence has been the outright disregard for Aquinas and medieval theology. Of course there is much that is problematic, but we cannot understand the Reformers and post-Reformation if we ignore these great thinkers. Van Til’s criticisms were right, but often too sweeping and dismissive. I’m glad to see that Aquinas and others are being recaptured by the likes of Richard Muller, etc.
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