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Archive for November 1st, 2008

Given the limitation of scope and also given that I have a busy schedule, any comments will only be limited to specifics of Robbins quotation of Van Til that is mentioned here.

JOHN ROBBINS CHARGE: VAN TIL TEACHES FOLLOWERS NOT TO STATE THINGS CLEARLY?

In his booklet Cornelius Van Til: The Man and the Myth, John Robbins believed that Van Til’s theological and apologetics outlook was heavily irrational. Not only did Robbins believed that Van Til was irrational, but he also charged Van Til for defending theological confusion saying, “Van Til’s anti-theology is an attack on Christian apologetics and doctrine” (Robbins, 28).

Robbins quoted Van Til to demonstrate his point that “not only asserts nonsense, which, if it were true, would destroy Christianity, but he defends it as the essence of piety: ‘It is precisely because they [the colleagues and followers of Van Til ] 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 Christian 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 creature’ (Robbins, 28-29).

On the basis of the quote which Robbins provided, he goes on reasoning that “according to Professor Van Til, those who are concerned to defend Christian doctrine will refuse to make any attempt to state clearly any Christian doctrine” (Robbins, 28). Robbins questions the biblical faithfulness of this practice when he asked rhetorically “what the Apostle Peter meant when he wrote: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’?” (Robbins, 28)

His charges are serious.

If anyone, Van Til or otherwise “who are concerned to defend Christian doctrine will refuse to make any attempt to state clearly any Christian doctrine”, it is not only the neglect of 1Peter 3:15 (which Robbins quoted) but a whole host of Scripture on teaching and the duty of the teachers of God’s Word.

Scripture is also serious about not slandering another brother. The source which Robbin’s quoted was from Van Til’s An Introduction to Systematic Theology, originally a class syllabus. Going to the December 1949 edition (the advantage here is that there can be no charge of any ‘cover up’ in later editions), the quote can be found on page 167, in the chapter “The Incomprehensibility of God”.

One sees that in the context of the discussion, Van Til is dealing with a position he disagrees with: Something is only stated clearly only if it is explained thoroughly. What Robbins quoted from Van Til is the fourth and fifth sentences from the paragraph. Looking at Robbins quote of Van Til again, one observes that Van Til’s phrase ‘state clearly’ is originally in parenthesis. Context reveals why. In the sentence (the third sentence) right before what Robbins quoted, Van Til wrote, “For to ‘state clearly’ can mean nothing but to ‘explain exhaustively’ unless one presupposes the doctrine of revelation.” (Van Til, 167). Notice that “state clearly” is in quotation here also as well, and “state clearly” would mean “explain exhaustively”, which was the position of Van Til’s opponent. It is Van Til’s stance that explaining something clearly does necessarily entail one to “explain exhaustively”. The anteceding sentence here puts the Robbins’quote from Van Til back into its proper context: When Van Til stated that his supporters “refuse to make any attempt at ‘stating clearly’ any Christian doctrine, etc” it was that his supporters were not going to “explain exhaustively” (that is, in its full entirety) all Christian doctrines. The sentence that follows the quote (sentence six) affirms this: “It is their contention that without stating clearly, ie., exhaustively, man can yet truly know the meaning of a proposition” (Van Til, 167). This last sentence again reinforces the argument that in the context Van Til meant “exhaustively” when he presented his opponent’s view of what that particular gentleman meant by “explain clearly”. Saying it again (to be clear), because of the context and even hinted in the quote with the parentheses for the phrase “explain clearly”, Van Til is saying that his supporters are not going to exhaustively explain every Christian doctrine. This might seem strange, but the reason is because of God’s incomprehensibility (by the way, the subject of the chapter which the quotes came from) will limit the Christian’s ability to exhaustively know everything. Since this is the case, it is impossible that Christians can exhaustively explain everything because a Christian can not know everything about Christian doctrines. But Van Til believed that one can clearly state Christian doctrines without necessarily explaining everything exhaustively, quoting sentence six again: “It is their contention that without stating clearly, ie., exhaustively, man can yet truly know the meaning of a proposition” (Van Til, 167).

Clearly Robbins have taken Van Til out of context, trying to make Van Til say something Van Til did not say and it was not true that: “according to Professor Van Til, those who are concerned to defend Christian doctrine will refuse to make any attempt to state clearly any Christian doctrine” (Robbins, 28). If one sees the fuller context of Van Til’s quote that Robbins utilized, then clearly the charge must be discredited base on Robbin’s fallacious evidence.

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