An introduction to systematic theology
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Van Til argues that a skilled apologist is a skilled Theologian first and foremost, and he exhorts pastors to take this role seriously by preaching sound doctrine. Van Til refuses to isolate Apologetics from the context of the local church, which is unfortunately a popular modern trend; nor does he separate evangelism from Apologetics.
"It should not be forgotten in this connection that the minister's duty is increasingly that of an apologist for Christianity. The general level of education is much higher than it has ever been. Many young people hear of evolution in the high schools and in the college where their fathers never heard of it except as far as a distant something. If the minister would be able to help his young people, he must be a good apologete, and he cannot be a good apologete unless he is a good systematic theologian" (pg. 24).
Many of the key elements of Van Til's apologetic methodology presented such as the Creator-creature distinction and God's Immutability have been denied by those who claim to be his successors in presupposition Apologetics (e.g. John Frame & K. Scott Oliphint), however Van Til did not tinker with the classical doctrine of God as they did, so they actually undermine Van Til's methodology rather than preserve it. Van Til presents a robust defense of the classical doctrine of God, closely following Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics (he cites Bavinck repeatedly throughout this book along with John Calvin) and nowhere argued for "covenantal attributes". Van Til clearly affirmed that God did not change in any way when He created the universe. Van Til does emphasize the importance of covenant theology and federal headship in Adam vs. federal headship in Christ, but not in the sense that K. Scott Oliphint advances in his position of Covenantal Apologetics which assumes a modified doctrine of God.
I disagree with Van Til's statement of God being 1 person, in the context he was affirming the doctrine of Divine Simplicity and he had responded to Sabellianism a few pages prior to the statement, so he wasn't trying to deny that there are three subsistances. I don't think his statement gave any more clarity to explaining the doctrine of the Trinity, and it would have been better if he hadn't made that statement which has caused confusion. You can read his chapter on the Trinity (chapter 17) for more details where he discusses the statement in the context of his overview of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Van Til's method can be summarized as thinking God's thoughts after him in an analogical way (we receptively reconstruct God's own preinterpreted facts). He also builds his system around the following:
1) God's being and knowledge are coterminous. If God’s knowledge is not coterminous with his being, then it is a correlative of his being. This being is then given a potentiality of its own. No more internally complete knowledge. Hence the open and finite god of non-Reformed systems.
2) The principle of individuation lie withing the Godhead. Only there are facts correlative and brute factuality ruled out.
3) Van Til struggles with the 1 and 3 of the Godhead, particularly in terminology, but I think he is making steps forward and his difficulty is no different from Augustine’s.
Persons are mutually exhaustive of each other, but what does that mean?
he says we “speak of God as a person” (220). Is this necessarily modalism? Maybe not. Whenever God confronts us in Scripture, he speaks as one person. That could be what Van Til means.
Before we attack Van Til, we must acknowledge that there really isn’t a good definition of person. Indeed, for Eastern Patristic thought there cannot be a definition of person, because a person is what is uniquely particular about an individual and resists a universal definition.
Even more, Patristic definitions of person, such as they were, did not include self-consciousness and mind. Modern definitions of persons do. This isn’t to say the latter is correct, but it does highlight our problem today of speaking about persons.
4) Beware of Beginning with Bad Abstractions. We should not think of “Being” in an abstract, empty way.
An abstract “way of negation” is a convenient tool for the sinner to remove the positive demands God makes on him. If one uses the way of negation before the way of eminence (ala Rome), then one ends up with a finite god.
We lose the aseity of God when we begin with abstract concepts of being. Such abstractness makes God/being a correlative with other being(s).
If we “negate” simply by removing the creatureliness of a property--time and space-- and then applying that to God, we do not get the infinity of god. We get emptiness (211)
This book suffers from the usual defects, if such they are. He moves too quickly and key points aren't always elucidated. Still, if you work through what he is saying and continually reference Greek thought and Bavinck, many gems are within.