Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ category

The Dialectic

November 13, 2014

I have written several posts in the past documenting how I went from an enthusiastic supporter of Charlie Clough’s Bible Framework Series to no longer being able to recommend it to anyone. The reason for this is that I continued to research topics related to Cornelius Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics that Charlie Clough based the series on. Before I go any further I want to make it clear that what I am about to write should not be construed as doubting the salvation or sincerity of either Cornelius Van Til or Charlie Clough. However I continue to see warning flags in regards to Van Til’s apologetics which I don’t think can be ignored.

For anyone who has listened to Clough’s Bible Framework series the charge that “Aristotelian logic” is wrong should be very familiar. Over time I began to realize that Calvinism (Van Til was a five point Calvinist) has absorbed a lot of “Platonic logic” via Augustine so of course Calvinists hate “Aristotelian logic.” What the Calvinists generally won’t tell you is that the Platonism that is embedded in their system of theology leads to the use of dialectic (see below for an explanation of dialectic). Only “Aristotelians” get hung up about contradictions while “Platonists” wouldn’t know what to do without them. If you have ever wondered why Calvinists aren’t bothered by all of the contradictions, antinomies, and tensions in their theology the answer is: dialectic.

I have recently began to read materials having to do with New Age, occult, and esoteric influences that have been diffusing into the church (please check out the Lighthouse Trails Research Project site or the Lighthouse Trails bookstore for more information on these topics). Many, if not all, of the occult religions and philosophies use dialectic logic. In fact I am reading an e-book on Scribd titled “Hegel: The Man Who Would Be God” by Michael Faust. Michael Faust is a pseudonym for someone who claims to be a member of the Illuminati (not a joke) and the text of the book reads like doctrinaire New Age religion. What caught my eye is that Mr. Faust hates Aristotelian logic as much as Cornelius Van Til did. More and more I consider any belief system that uses dialectic to be compromised (and that includes Calvinism). Now, without further ado, let’s hear from Mr. Faust on the topic of dialectic: (more…)

Van Til’s Summary of His Apologetics Written for the Layman

June 11, 2014

This is a post I have been agonizing over for quite some time. Cornelius Van Til is difficult to read so publicizing his explanation of his apologetics written for the layman should be very helpful to anyone who is interested. On the other hand every time I read Van Til’s writing I get angry. The material that I am going to link to, and quote from, was written by Van Til for a Reformed/Calvinist audience sympathetic to his theology and apologetics. The condescension he has toward other believers who disagree with his approach drips from much of it.

When I first read Van Til’s work I remember the confusion he used to cause me. He would back up certain statements with quotes from either the Bible or the Westminster Confession of Faith but that didn’t explain to me how he came up with his overarching system of apologetics. Once I figured out that his hatred of “Aristotelian” logic came from his syncretistic mix of Platonism with Christianity I could then understand where he got his ideas (hint: they didn’t all come from scripture). For background on this please read my previous article “Dr. Van Til or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plato’s Cave”.

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Articles from 1950–1959 BY CORNELIUS VAN TIL” is a collection of articles written by Cornelius Van Til in the 1950s for various Reformed publications. There are a total of 191 pages of Van Til’s writing available in that online document and reading through it is a good way to learn his thinking on apologetics. The explanation of his system I am focusing on begins on page 19 and runs for 33 pages. In those pages he touches on all of the highlights of his system.

I have toyed with the idea of extensively quoting from these articles but have decided against it. Not only might that violate copyrights (I am not sure if this is copyrighted material) but it would be just plain boring. Instead I would like to give my impressions of his apologetic approach and then quote from his summary paragraphs from the concluding article in the series.

Here are my impressions of Van Til’s writing: (more…)

Van Til and the Problem of Evil

May 26, 2014

I have been mulling over my next post about Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic for weeks now. While studying Van Til’s writings I found a short two paragraph statement of his regarding evil that is certainly worthy of a post all its own. Because of the reformed doctrine of the Absolute Sovereignty of God it causes all those who hold it, like Van Til, problems explaining why God is not responsible for evil.

Just so it is made plain I do believe that God is sovereign but I also reject that God is the author of evil. This requires that man have the ability to make decisions independently of God. This is what Van Til calls “the autonomy of man” a concept which he spends much ink rebutting and belittling. He spends much less ink defending God’s honor and denying that God is the author of evil. Of course I make that statement because I used my defective “human reason” and “Aristotelian” logic.

Here is what Dr. Van Til has to say on the topic:

Evil

Special emphasis should be placed upon the fact that even the evil that man does by virtue of his sinful will is still in accord with the plan of God and as such is revelatory of God. Man, not God, is the responsible author of sin. But man could not sin if his sinning were not, in spite of himself, revelatory of God. Man does not sin in a vacuum. He could not sin in a vacuum. The possibility of sin presupposes the all-comprehensive plan of God. God reveals his holiness in his wrath upon the sinner. God is angry with the wicked every day. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). Paul tells us that the sinner’s conscience excuses or accuses him according as he obeys or disobeys the revealed will of God (Rom 2:14–15). Man’s self-consciousness is moral self-consciousness. And as self-consciousness in general involves consciousness of God, so man’s moral self-consciousness involves consciousness of covenant relationship to God. To know himself at all man must know himself to be a covenant being. He knows he is either keeping or breaking the covenant.

Calvin greatly stresses the fact that all things that happen in history are revelational of God. Men ought to see God everywhere, he says. God is clearly to be seen by men whether they look round about them or within them, whether they look to the past or look to the future. The whole scene of history in all of its aspects reveals God to man. Men ought to see God as their Creator. They ought to see him as their bountiful benefactor. They ought to see him as their judge. He is everywhere clearly to be seen. Men cannot look in any direction without seeing the face and therewith the claims of God. Every man walks under the brilliant spotlight of the revelational claims of God.

Cornelius Van Til
Articles from 1950–1959
p 41

That type of stuff is why I will never be a follower of Cornelius Van Til. I have seen the tendency of certain theologies to lay at God’s feet attributes which make Him a monster. Even if there is a grain of truth somewhere in these philosophies I will shun them. I wonder if Dr. Van Til believes that God needs evil to accomplish His purposes? Or maybe to Dr. Van Til God just desires to do evil for some inscrutable reason that our sinful intellects just cannot comprehend. No good can come from such teachings.

Rather than rant and rave I will instead quote from Daniel Gracely book “Calvinism: A Closer Look” on this topic because he does it so much better than I can:

Calvinists attempt to solve their contradiction (as to who gets the final say in man’s choices) by doublethinking, the common type of solution applied in relativistic Hegelian philosophy. Georg Hegel (1770-1831) was a German philosopher who increased the pace of relativistic philosophy brought on by his predecessors, especially Immanuel Kant. Kant had appealed to reason rather than to revelation as the doorway to understanding. The problem with Kant’s philosophy from a biblical point of view is that man’s reasoning is often foolish and leads to the most outré results. As Hegel followed Kant he furthered the principle of irrationality by believing that opposing ideas are never either/or issues to be resolved but are equally true realities that are ‘qualified’ by each other. This means that Hegel believed that a person should not seek one true answer in religion or philosophy, as though one tried many shops in order to find the right shoes; rather, one ought to embrace the whole process of ’shopping’ itself. Thus, one shop is selling the idea that O’Brien is holding up four fingers, while another shop is selling the idea that O’Brien is holding up five fingers. “So what?” says Hegel, in effect. “Embrace the whole.” Philosophically speaking, Hegel called this cultural process of ’shopping’ the Spirit of History [Zeitgeist, literally Ghost (Spirit) of History]. Generally, philosophers refer to Hegel’s concept as dialecticism. When seen for what it is, Hegelian dialecticism is nothing more nor less than an endorsement for relativity of viewpoint. Yet it is not fair to lay the blame for the beginnings of Western relativism at Hegel’s feet alone, given the prior relativistic pantheism of Spinoza and German Idealism (or, arguably, even Heraclitus, et al.). And it is hard to say how much Hegel’s philosophy was influenced by remnants of the sovereignty/determinism ideas of the influential German Lutheranism of Hegel’s German predecessors (Luther was more of a ‘Calvinist’ than Calvin), or whether Hegel simply fertilized the ground in which the already existing Calvinistic contradiction lay planted (though rather dormant) in German congregants’ minds. At any rate, it all has proved consequential to Evangelicals in the West, who have largely failed to understand the roots of their culture’s philosophical relativism. Had they understood these roots, Evangelicals might have spotted the same dialecticism when it began appearing inter-denominationally within their own culture. Though saints we Evangelicals are, as sinners we ought to recognize how susceptible we remain to combining contradictory ideas with our faith. (As Jeremiah said—”The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can comprehend it?”).

My own personal experience (years ago) in embracing the doublethink of Calvinism was a frustrating one. I would liken it to riding a rocking horse. As a rider, I would throw my weight forward toward my belief in the absolute sovereignty of God until I could go no further, whereupon I would recoil backwards toward my belief in human freedom. Thus I would go back and forth in seesaw motion, lest on the one hand I find myself accusing God of insufficient sovereignty, or on the other hand find myself accusing God of authoring sin. All the while, there remained an illusion of movement towards truth, when in fact there was no real movement at all. Calvinist riders still ride out this scenario. This is why, among the Calvinistic writings of Van Til, Sproul, Boettner, etc., there are no unqualified statements about the absolute sovereignty of God or the free will of man. If one reads long enough, all forthright statements about them are eventually withdrawn by qualifying each statement with its exact opposite thought. This explains why every book and article advocating the absolute sovereignty of God ends with its terms unconcluded. Thus, Boettner, bold enough to open the main body of his text by saying that God’s sovereignty includes “all the activities of saints and angels in heaven and of reprobates and demons in hell” is found later to say that the Koran’s belief in “strict foreordination makes it necessary for us to qualify the sharper assertions of Predestination,” so that God’s absolute sovereignty will be in ‘harmony’ with human freedom (emphasis added). Boettner’s ‘harmony,’ of course, is his attempt, witting or not, to stake the tent of Evangelical apologetics within the camp of Hegelian dialecticism.

Calvinism: A Closer Look
by Daniel Gracely
Chapter 4 – Dialecticism: Like a Rocking Horse

The first philosopher to use dialectic that I am aware of was Plato himself. Plato is the fountainhead of a lot more of Calvinist theology than they will admit.

Cornelius Van Til: A Reformed Witness

March 26, 2014

In today’s post I begin a series of excerpts from Dr. Van Til’s writing. As I have tried to show, Dr. Van Til stands at the end of an intellectual line that begins with Plato who heavily influenced Augustine of Hippo who in turn was a major influence on John Calvin. The influence of John Calvin on Cornelius Van Til is very much in the open in Dr. Van Til’s writing. At times Dr. Van Til quotes from the Westminster Confession of Faith (a Calvinist document) as I would scripture. It becomes clear in Dr. Van Til’s writing that he developed an apologetic specifically for those Christians who hold to Reformed/Calvinist doctrine which really isn’t surprising.

I would also like to point out that all of these men in the “Great Chain of Theology”, from Plato to Van Til, hold the common belief that all events in human history are predetermined (see Causal Determinism and The Ten Dogmas of Determinism). This comes out in Van Til’s writing and as we go along I will endeavor to point it out. Plato used his pagan philosophy to justify this belief while Calvin cites the Divine Decrees but the concept is the same root and branch.

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The extended quote provided below sets the foundation for why I don’t believe that Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics should be taught in any Dispensational seminary or church. If you hold to Reformed theology then whether or not you hold to Van Til’s apologetic is your decision but for the non-Reformed (I won’t use that ignorant term “Arminian”) protestant to use it is counterproductive at best. Why do I believe that? The reason is simple: if you do not hold the same presuppositions as Dr. Van Til then it will definitely impact your Gospel presentation and your relationship with other believers. That is one thing that Dr. Van Til and I agree on.

I need to make one more point before I quote Dr. Van Til. I have stated before, and still believe, that a person can be both Reformed and Dispensational at the same time. I still hold to Laurance Vance’s definition of what it means to be Reformed/Calvinist:

All Calvinists, whether they be Presbyterian or Reformed, Primitive Baptist or Sovereign Grace Baptist; all Calvinists, whether they be premillennial or amillennial, dispensational or covenant theologist; all Calvinists whether they go by the name or not; all Calvinists have one thing in common: God, by a sovereign, eternal decree, has determined before the foundation of the world who shall be saved and who shall be lost.

The Other Side of Calvinism
by Laurence Vance
p 35

However do not make the mistake of thinking that just because I use this definition of Calvinism that Cornelius Van Til also does. Cornelius Van Til was ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and as such held to the Westminster Confession of Faith as being the definition of orthodoxy. Just be aware that I will blur certain lines that Van Til would never dream of doing.

Here is Dr. Van Til:

(more…)

What Does Cornelius Van Til Know?

March 20, 2014

I have slowly been building up to an examination of Cornelius Van Til and his system of presuppositional apologetics. I was introduced to Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics (VTPA) over seven years ago when I listened to Charlie Clough’s Bible Framework series which was largely based on Van Til’s work. I wanted to learn more about VTPA but was put off by the high price of his works and a writing style that one reviewer described as “turgid.” I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on books that I would never read.

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Over time I researched Van Til on the internet and bit by bit I discovered resources that filled in the missing pieces for me. I also learned that I want nothing to do with VTPA. “Why is that?” you may ask. The answer for me is simple: at root of VTPA is the belief that finite mankind cannot have true knowledge about anything. All human knowledge, according to Van Til, is analogical and therefore different in both quantity and quality from God’s knowledge. At first that seems really spiritual but after a while I realized that it makes a search for truth by any person merely wasted effort. Were the Bereans foolish to test the teachings of the Apostle Paul against scripture?

I have come to believe that all heresy begins by undermining objective truth. I think Groucho Marx had the concept down when he asked “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” If I can’t take what is in the Bible as reliable truth that I can understand then I have nothing.

In this post I am going to provide my few readers with some internet resources, along with some quotes, so you all can begin to make up your own minds about VTPA. Please note that all of the links and quotes are from those who hold to Reformed (Calvinist) theology. You may agree or disagree with them but please don’t tell me that I don’t understand Reformed theology.

First I would like to provide some short quotes from Van Til to get your appetites whetted: (more…)

Samuel Rutherford on Tolerance and Freedom of Conscience

March 13, 2014

Over the last few weeks I have been writing a series of articles about the roots of modern Calvinism. (see last week’s article: The Westminster Confession of Faith and Persecution). All of this is building up to a discussion Cornelius Van Til and his presuppositional apologetics.

However I am going to use this post to provide a lot of detail about Samuel Rutherford (one of the Westminster Divines) and his views on tolerance and freedom of conscience. I am doing this because of what I believe to be misrepresentations of Rutherford’s beliefs in Charlie Clough’s Bible Framework series. After listening to that series I believed that Samuel Rutherford was in the vanguard of 17th century men who vigorously advocated for freedom as expressed in the founding of the United States a century later. I even purchased a copy of Rutherford’s Lex Rex (a refutation of the divine right of kings) because of Pastor Clough’s teaching.

It was a shock when I found out how wrong that is; Samuel Rutherford did not believe in freedom of conscience in any way that I recognize. I don’t know if Charlie Clough wasn’t aware of Samuel Rutherford’s true views on freedom of conscience or if he simply chose to ignore them. Either way if Charlie Clough really believes in freedom he should never mention the name of Samuel Rutherford again.

In this post I am going to provide an extended quote  (18 pages) from William Marshall’s “The principles of the Westminster standards persecuting” written in 1873. In it Mr. Marshall quotes, in turn, from Rutherford’s “A Free Disputation Against pretended Liberty of Conscience Tending  To Resolve Doubts Moved by Mr. John Goodwin, John Baptist, Dr. Jer. Taylor, the Belgic Arminians, Socinians, and other Authors contending for lawless Liberty or licentious Toleration of Sects and Heresies”. Rutherford’s writing is probably typical for the 17th century but it is really dense and difficult for a modern reader. However I would recommend at least scanning the chapter titles at the link I provided. There are gems like “Chapt. 6. Errors in non-fundamentals obstinately held are punishable” and “Chapt. 13. Magistracy and perpetual laws in the Old Testament warrant the civil coercing of false prophets” give a good sense of where he stands.

Now, courtesy of William Marshall, here is the part of Chapter VII of “The principles of the Westminster standards persecuting” that deals with Samuel Rutherford: (more…)

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Persecution

March 5, 2014

In my last post “John Calvin and Augustine of Hippo” I provided some background information on the large influence that Augustine of Hippo, the Christian-Platonist theologian, had on John Calvin. The exact extent of Augustine’s influence on Calvin can probably be debated from now until eternity but it cannot be denied. As far as I am concerned Augustine blended Platonism with Christianity (this is syncretism) and the fact that Calvin thought so highly should set off alarms for any Christian who holds to sola scriptura.

Of course this is leading me back to Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic and Charlie Clough’s Bible Framework series. John Calvin’s theology as expounded in the Westminster Confession of Faith was the bedrock of Van Til’s apologetic and if you have a rotten foundation it will lead to a rotten apologetic. As I will note in a later post it was Van Til’s goal to develop an explicitly Reformed (Calvinist) apologetic. I believe he succeeded and that is why I can no longer recommend Charlie Clough’s Bible Framework series.

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While researching this I discovered some things that really upset me about what Charlie Clough taught in his Bible Framework. Throughout the Bible Framework Charlie Clough promoted the Puritans as defenders of freedom and really pushed the idea that the United States owes much of its freedom to Calvinism. To support this he particularly played up Samuel Rutherford, who was a Scotsman and a Westminster Divine, as a proponent of freedom. Because of Charlie Clough I purchased a copy of Lex Rex which was Rutherford’s treatise against the Divine Right of Kings. Of course there is no dependable freedom where the king, or any ruler, is above the law so I give Rutherford credit for that. However it is the other stuff that Pastor Clough left out that bothers me. Samuel Rutherford was no friend of freedom. The best that can be said for him is that he wanted freedom for certain Puritans but not for anyone that disagreed with his own particular brand of Presbyterianism. (more…)


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