Where I Am Right Now In My Personal Study
[Update: I originally wrote this post in June 2010. I decided that an update was in order so, if anyone is interested, please see “Where I Am In My Personal Study – February 2012.”]
I am now within two posts of finishing up my series on the Ten Commandments. It has been rewarding for me personally and I hope the same is true for my readers. Since I am getting close to finishing up the Ten Commandments I am thinking long and hard about what new series I should start. The topic that is tempting right now is Christian apologetics. Not that I can actually contribute in any way to all the debates that are going on right now about apologetics. In fact, the very opposite is true. I can say that over the last four years I have been drawn to the topic of apologetics through some unexpected twists and turns in life (at least unexpected by me).
So, I have decided to give you all some context on the Christian apologetics I am thinking of writing about. As my regular readers probably know I grew up listening to taped sermons by R.B. Thieme, Jr. (a.k.a. Colonel Thieme) who was an influential dispensational teacher for many years. After leaving home I continued to listen sporadically over the years but I struggled and had a hard time continuing to listen. Don’t get me wrong, I still think he was a great teacher and I link to his ministry in my side bar. The problem was that I was having a very hard time forcing myself to sit down and listen consistently to his teaching for several reasons that I won’t go into at this time.
So, I was in the position of looking for some other solid teaching but I was not having success finding anything that I liked. I subscribed to theological journals, did internet searches for local churches, looked for online materials of any kind. I was certainly looking but I didn’t find anything for a while which was frustrating. Then, in the fall of 2006, through one of the journals I subscribe to I stumbled upon Charles Clough and his Bible Framework series (I have the link to the site in my side bar). As soon as I read the first page of the study materials I was hooked. I read every page of the 600+ pages of materials that were online before I ordered the audio CDs and then I listened to every minute of those.
Charles Clough’s framework series is basically a survey of the entire Bible with an emphasis on trying to place biblical events within a historical context. God has a plan and purpose for history which is made evident in the scriptures and Mr. Clough (Charles Clough is an ordained minister but isn’t pastor of a church at this time so I will refer to him as “Mr. Clough” for a lack of anything better) does an excellent job of bringing that out.
One of the frustrating things with Colonel Thieme’s ministry was that he really shorted the Old Testament. If my memory is correct the Colonel was in the middle of teaching a series on the life of King David when he discovered something important in the New Testament and he stopped the King David series and never finished it. That was in the mid 1970s and he never went back to the Old Testament except for a passage here or there. He knew the Old Testament material himself but he never went back and systematically taught his congregation anything from the Old Testament. When I found Clough’s framework series with its survey of the Old Testament I was very excited. I had already come to the conclusion that Christians really mess up interpretation of the New Testament because they don’t understand the Old Testament (I still believe this) and this series was just what I was looking for.
During the course Mr. Clough used some of Colonel Thieme’s material so I knew that he was familiar with the Colonel’s teaching. It has been in the last few months that I found out that Mr. Clough was actually ordained by Colonel Thieme. It can be a small world sometimes.
You may ask: What does this have to do with apologetics? That is an excellent question! Well, Charles Clough based much of his approach in the framework series on the apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. Van Til was a reformed (Calvinist) apologist who developed presuppositional aplogetics (or, at least, one of the developers). While Mr. Clough is a dispensationalist he holds to some Calvinist doctrines. I didn’t realize it at the time but apparently this is fairly common.
So far, so good. Clough believes that Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics is one of the greatest breakthroughs in apologetics in a long time (maybe ever) so I wanted to learn more about Van Til’s work but his writing has a reputation as being dense. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a scholarly book (or set of books) that would collect dust. Over time I have kept coming back to Van Til’s work and every once in a while I would find something on line and read it. Slowly the dawn has begun to break for me and I am beginning to understand but not in the way I had expected.
What has brought this to a head for me is that in the last two months I ordered a copy of a paper that Mr. Clough references in his framework on how logic is affected by Van Til’s apologetic and I had some real problems with it. In fact it has led me to discover that I really agree much more with Gordon Clark (a Van Til rival) than Van Til. Even more than this I think that Colonel Thieme’s work on the angelic conflict was a better apologetic than either of the Calvinist apologists. Why did Clough choose Van Til over Clark? Also, why did Clough chuck Colonel Thieme’s teaching for the Calvinistic one in the first place?
I cannot answer for Mr. Clough since I am not privy to his thinking on the subject. My suspicion is that it is because he holds to the doctrine of the “absolute sovereignty” of God. Those who hold this Calvinist doctrine really cannot allow man to have free will in any meaningful sense. Colonel Thieme’s apologetic is really based on his teaching of the angelic conflict which requires both angelic and human free will (“libertarian free will” is probably a more precise way to phrase it). These seemingly esoteric doctrines have a true impact on what people believe and their view their place in God’s creation.
I have a lot going through my mind on this topic right now and may write some of it here on the blog. I don’t really want to have a blog that specializes in apologetics but a little bit may not hurt.
How does a little apologetics sound to my small but faithful readership?