Reflections of a Broken Man

On “The Defense of the Faith” – Part II: Christian Theology by StephenMac

**Currently listening to Never Take Friendship Personal – Anberlin. I finally brought all my CDs from home in to college, but still can’t go past the favs…**

OK, poor start to the series. I labelled the first post “Part I”, but van Til labels it a mere introduction. Hence, “Part II” is actually chapter 1… go figure.

van Til argues that to understand his apologetics, you must understand “the structure of his thought”… which is the Reformed system of doctrine. And so we begin with the six points of reformed Doctrine:

  1. Doctrine of God
  2. Doctrine of Man
  3. Doctrine of Christ
  4. Doctrine of Salvation
  5. Doctrine of Church
  6. Doctrine of Last Things (eschatology… but Last Thingy sounds better)

**Switch in music… Lost in the Sounds of Separation – Underoath… was planning on podcasts with Earng and Gardner, but too difficult to listen and type at the same time**

I think what has struck me is that to be involved in apologetics, you need to know what you are defending. And as van Til points out, we are defending “Christian-theism as a unit”. What this means is that if you are doing walk-up, you must speak of the Christian God, and not god in general. To an atheist, you must speak to him of the Christian God. van Til’s point is that you can’t defend Christianity (the historical religion) apart from Christian theism (which involves philosophical discussion).

This Christian theism is known as “doctrine”. And van Til argues that to speak of doctrine, you must speak in the language of philosophy. Yet this language is not divorced from the Bible (it is not an appeal to reason or experience), but is deeply Defense_of_the_Faithgrounded in it. Therefore, this system of truth, this Christian theism, this doctrine is what Christianity is founded upon, and it is this that we present, and it is this that we defend.

This feels esoteric at the moment. But, think about when you do walk-up. What questions do you ask, and what points do you defend? What words, or concepts, or worldviews do you present. If you are talking to an atheist, you cannot use theistic arguments to first convince them of the existence of God, then move to the reformed view of salvation. No, your first and only argument is the reformed view of the existence of God, and the the reformed view of salvation: our first and only apologetic must be the reformed Christian apologetic, which van Til points out is in opposition to Romanist and Arminian apologetics.

This I still feel somewhat uneasy with, if only for the labels. To defend a reformed or evangelical doctrine (which I do in practice) is fine, but to label it that means that I am automatically emphasising a division in Christianity. That division does truly exist (doesn’t mean I have to like it though).

Second, I think we need to be conscious about our reformed evangelical faith. We are not merely Christian, but Reformed Evangelical Christians, bound to the Scriptures, but influenced by those who have gone before us like Luther, like Calvin, and like van Til. And so as we do our evangelism, our teaching, our encouraging and growing, we hold  must hold that we are doing this in the Reformed Tradition. Sure, “tradition” is a pejorative word that the reformers held against the Romanists, yet it is what we hold to be true.

Thirdly and finally, van Til argues,

it is shown first that it is the Reformed Faith, not some common denominator “core” of Christianity, that must be defended. (p. 43)

What does this mean for its authority? Sure, van Til argues that this Reformed Faith is biblically based, but is it infallible or inerrant (despite the problems of those terms). I hold the Bible is unswervingly and always true, my yardstick for any question of “truth”. But can I say the same about the “Reformed Faith”? I hold it to be true, but is that a mere mortals interpretation? Or does it too have the same authority? My guess is probably not, but it’s the best we got so far… “but I could be wrong…



4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Good thoughts bro… I reckon it’s worth fighting for the concepts of inerrancy and infallibility, and not feeling bad because the terms are out of fashion. That said, if the terms are a stumbling block (especially to the Barthian persuasion), it’s probably worth holding tightly to the concepts and using different terms.

Comment by Mark Earngey

Cheers Earng,

my point was more this: van Til is standing up for the Reformed Faith, and not some Christian lowest common denominator. At what point does inerrancy and infallibility kick in? Doctrine or a step back and the Bible itself. I would argue that it is in the Bible itself. Thus, what should we take our stand on? What is it that we are defending?

I will stand and use the terms inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, but I must ask, what is van Til getting at?

Comment by StephenMac

Yeah, ok… Right. Well Van Til likes to see the Christian faith (the reformed faith that is) as a “concrete unit”. Those are his words. That is, they rise and fall together. Frame critique this pretty well, and says something like: well yes, Christianity is a system and it does rise and fall on certain things. But we cannot expect people (apologetically speaking) to have to take in the “concrete unit” of everything before they believe. The unit takes a fair while to become concrete.

Anyway, don’t know if that hits the mark of not.

Oh, and on the doctrine OR the bible issue – it’s not a dichotomy like that. Just imagine: the Uniqueness of Christ OR the Bible! The Uniqueness of Christ is written into the Bible, just as is Inerrancy and Infallibility (and the Trinity for that matter!)…

Comment by Mark Earngey

On the second point.. yeah good point. But our “doctrine” is derived from the Bible. We synthesise what the Bible teaches into a coherent system (“concrete unit”). But it’s our interpretation of biblical teaching.

So for example, our doctrine would encompass the uniqueness of Christ, but a liberal or Romanist may argue against this particular aspect of the Reformed doctrine. Our doctrine would hold the total depravity of man, but the Arminian, the Romanist, and the Liberal would all disagree to certain degrees. My point is that there is, actually, no real common denominator.

There *is* a difference between doctrine and Scripture.

Comment by StephenMac

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