Archive for the ‘dutch reformed theology’ Category

Common Grace and the Gospel by Cornelius Van Til

Cornelius Van Til. Common Grace and the Gospel.  Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1972. 233 pp.

This book is a collection of various essays by Reformed apologist and theologian Cornelius Van Til on the topic of common grace.  The writings found in this book spans twenty five years of Van Til’s teaching career.  By common grace we mean God’s unmerited favor shown both towards the believer and nonbeliever.  The subject of common grace has been a topic of no small debate in Reformed circles in the twentieth century (and carries over to the twenty-first century as well).  How the doctrine of common grace is understood or even rejected has implications for other areas of theology beyond the attributes of God such as the area of evangelism, apologetics, and one’s theological view of culture.  Here is Van Til’s contribution to the discussion gathered conveniently in one book.


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For those who are familiar with Cornelius Van Til and his work on apologetics, this book will be a treat. The author happen to be Cornelius Van Til’s nephew, and the work explores the implication of Calvinistic theology on culture. Divided into three parts, the first section is largely devoted to the question of what is culture, the relation of it to culture and the effect of sin upon culture. In light of John Calvin’s 500th birthday, for those who are exploring the rich heritage of this servant of God will enjoy part two of the book that discusses the historical development of Calvin and his Reformed predecessors’ contribution towards the intellectual framework for a Calvinistic culture. This section also has a discussion about Augustine. Finally, the third section goes over some of the implication of the theology of Calvinism as it pertains to culture. Excellent work, rather lengthy read at times, but thought stimulating never the less. It has a vintage Dutch Reformed flavor throughout the book. Despite being dated, it is still relevant for those who are exploring what their theology mean when it comes to culture

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I wished I have earlier gotten around to reading some of the Christian philosophers from the Dutch Reformed tradition.  The name Herman Dooyeweerd is probably the better known name for those new to it such as myself.  In the introduction of the book that Presuppositionalist thinker R. J. Rushdoony wrote, he stated that the book “In the Twilight of Western Thought” was a good guide to Herman Dooyeweerd other larger work, A New Critique of Theorethical Thought.  The orientation which drives my review of this book is basically VanTillian.  I have found that the work was helpful in providing further food for thought when it comes to critiquing Secular thought.

The first two chapters was devoted to the pretended autonomy of Philosophical Thought.  Seeing how these two chapters unfolded his “Transcedental Method”, I wished he could have defined more clearly what he meant by autonomy as well.  His insight with the modes of experience is fascinating, and a useful way of thinking about aspects of theorethical thought (6-7).  It was wonderful to see Dooyeweerd stress the interdependency of these modes (spatial, movement, organic, energy, etc), which would be the key to why he sees autonomous reasoning apart from the Transcendent God of the Bible is logically futile to begin with: Whenever man idolize something else as absolute in place of GOD, idolators in essence make an aspect of reality (mode) absolute.  But each of these modes require the necessity blocks of the other modes and hence no mode can not be the final foundation which everything stems from.  It is idolatry of various modes (history, economic, biological etc)  in place of God that result in the various “isms” of philosophy (historicism, logical positivism, Darwinism, etc).  Whatever is the foundation of theorethical thought in its entirety, it must transcend the level of philosophy found in each modes.  Another wonderful insight was how he saw the history of Western Civilization as driven by four motives, which is at core “religious”.  Three of these are dialectical: 1.) The Greek’s “Form vs. Matter”; 2.) the Scholastic’s Nature vs. Grace, 3.) and Nature vs. Freedom.  Contrary to these pretended autonomous starting point is Scripture’s Creation, Fall, Redemption Motive.

There are however, somethings that brought some red flags with this book.  Dooyeweerd sees religion as the ultimate foundation of man, including theorethical thought.  This I agree with, but he makes a distinction between religion and theology, a distinction that is rather difficult for me to accept.  According to Dooyeweerd, religion as “the spiritual basic motive”, “is elevated above all theological controversies and is not in need of theological exegesis, since its radical meaning is exclusively explained by the Holy Spirit operating in our opened hearts, in the communion of this Spirit” (Pg. 146).  Yet, this ‘religion’ of the heart is to be distinguished from the content of theology or exegesis.  The Christian religion that he stated is  the Creation, Fall and Redemption motif, but there is more content that needs to believed than that to be a Christian: There is the doctrines of the Trinity, Jesus Incarnation, etc, all which human arrived at through exegesis.  Yet exegesis is in Dooyeweerd’s view, part of the theological mode which has nothing to do with religion.  His terms are not helpful here.

Dooyeweerd himself stated that “it might seem a dangerous enterprise for a nontheologian to speak concerning the relation between philosophy and theology” (Pg. 113).  Because of his concept of the faith mode, which is where theology belongs in Dooyeweerd’s perspective, he dismisses six day creationism since this is the result of faith mode interfereing improperly into other modes such as astronomy and astronomy (Pg. 149-150).  He even think that six day creationism is the result of “Greek philosophy” rather than an exegesis of Genesis One!  I believe in six day creationism on the basis of the grammatical rule concerning the use of numbers in the Hebrew language, and it strikes me that the autonomy apart from God which he has tried to argue for, is sneaked back in with the independence of certain spheres and modes from the rule of what God’s Word might have to say in those spheres.  It boils down to the question of whether Dooyeweerd would allow the Scripture to speak on other spheres.

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This is very interesting:

Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary has written a book review of John Muether’s biography of Cornelius Van Til

It is interesting of how many people have crossed path with Dr. Van Til during his lifetime, and Richard Mouw is one of them

I would not consider Dr. Mouw as being in the same theological camp as I am, but his review talks about the good impact of Van Til to those who are more theologically left:

Those of us—and I consider myself in this crowd—who are more tempted in the commonness direction would do well to learn from a nice little vignette that Muether relates. Toward the end of his life, Van Til returned to Grand Rapids and visited one of his Calvin philosophy professors, William Harry Jellema, who was close to death. Jellema was very much a common-grace type Kuyperian, well known for his expressed hope that he would meet Socrates in heaven. He and Van Til had long parted ways on many key philosophical and theological matters. On this occasion, however, Van Til thanked his former teacher for what he had learned from Jellema. Jellema responded: “Yes, but Kees, it was you who at times kept us from going too far.” Jellema is not the only one with that kind of indebtedness to Van Til.

Here is the link from Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/global/printer.html?/bc/2009/marapr/4.9.html

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