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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding Book2 July 2013
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This book stands out as the best work on epistomology I have read, surpassing anything of Plato, Aristotle, Hume or Kant. The thesis, that God is the source and standard of all knowledge as against all other systems of thought that presuppose an autonomous man, is the answer to the nihilism that is undermining our churches, schools, pseudo science and governments. Well reasoned and well written, it is on my short list of best books ever written. No student should go to college without first reading this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It has its moments24 Aug. 2014
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While CvT's critique of Romanism was good, he didn't integrate his earlier (and fine) critique of Plotinus, Augustine, and being/non-being into his larger critique of Romanism, which likely could have buried Romanism. Instead, he got sidetracked on showing how Karl Barth is secretly in line with the nouvelle theologie of post-Vatican II theology. That simply doesn't wash. For all of Barth's problems, he rejected the analogia entis and the substance metaphysics upon which Rome is built.
CvT gives a fairly good summary and critique of the early church fathers. There is some difficulty in this, since no one, even anchoretic traditions, are entirely clear on who constitutes (and when!) the ECFs. Even admitting Tertullian is a heretic, I don't think you will find many exceptions in the ancient world to the epistemology CvT is summarizing.
CvT writes that the early church could not find a Christian view of freedom to coalesce with a Christian view of necessity, with the result the fathers opted for a nonbiblical view of free will. Non-Christian Continuity and Discontinuity
A non-Christian view of continuity sees an identification of God and man, as seen below:
The higher on the scale, the more real and "true" the thing is. Van Til notes that Tertullian sees sin as "the opposite of good." This sounds correct until we realize that means sin is "lower" on the scale of good. Sin has "slenderness of being."
On the principle of continuity it is hard to see how Tertullian (and Justin)'s view of God is different from the Stoics'. But when he argues against Marcion, he says the Christian God is "Other" than man (107).
Moving to the fathers (Origen and Clement) we see the scale of being hardened in place. CvT quotes Plotinus to the effect, "thought is motion" and this is inferior to ecstasy. (Rowan Williams has a helpful summary on this point).
Here our chart is modified. God is now seen as hyper-ousia, above ousia. How does one then get from the highest point on the scale of being to "above being?" Mysticism, ecstasy. Van Til can then make the critique that many of these fathers employed both rationalism (scale of being, continuity principle) and irrationalism (ecstasy, mysticism). In fact, rationalism and irrationalism on this gloss are dialectically correlative.
If man is on the scale of being and participates in good, then consistently we must say he also participates in non-being.
Is Finitude Evil?
This is the key point: on metaphysical accounts (and yes, I used the word "metaphysical") man is defective because he is finite (he participates lower on the scale of being, even to participating in non-being. Biblical religion, by contrast, sees man's problem as ethical: he is in rebellion to God. CvT then gives a helpful discussion on "total depravity." We are not saying that man's noetic capacity is ruined. It is in rebellion.
A Metaphysical Fall from Oneness
Augustine is very clear (City of God section on the Platonists) that One = Truth = Being. The further away from the One we get, the more irrational we get. The problem is that historical facts are in the realm of the many (further, since history is contingent). This is similar to Plato's problem of learning by experience. Van Til writes,
When Plato took his line and divided it sharply between eternal being of which there was genuine knowledge or science, and non-being of which there was no knowledge, he was faced with the question of how learning by experience is possible (129).
Back to Augustine: Eternal Truth and History are dialectical opposites. If Christ is the Eternal Word (and true) then how could he be historical? If historical, then not eternal, and thus not true, and thus unknown. This is where one's onto-epistemology leads. As Van Til says, "The first option leads to truth without content."
Van Til has a nice phrase to summarize all of this: slenderness of being. (And that is where these traditions find man's free will).
I almost understand what CvT means when he says pure rationality and pure irrationality demand one another (144). I wish he would have clarified it.
I understand his criticisms of Barth and some of them are valid. I don't think he fully showed how Barth's actualist ontology is at odds with Rome's analogia entis