I feel so exhausted. All the way to New Jersey and back Saturday, and not enough sleep to compensate Sunday makes for a tired Patrick with little to talk about.
Right now, in addition to everything else I’m reading, I’m going through some articles Cornelius Van Til wrote for Torch and Trumpet back in 1950, the series entitled “Defending the Faith.” Van Til was a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, a graduate school I’m looking into attending in the near future. I figured since they seem to love this guy there, I’d better get to know him a little so I have a little perspective.
I’m about a third of the way through the series (somewhere around the third article) which, as he says, is about “whether Christians holding to the Reformed Faith should also hold to a specifically Reformed method when they are engaged in the defense of the faith,” defense of the faith also known as apologetics. Van Til, thus far, seems to be making an argument for the inadequacy of an evangelical apologetic over against a Reformed one, insinuating that the doctrine of free will (or the separation of the historical fact of the resurrection from its meaning, something I’ve never actually seen done) destroys any ability to make a solid argument and thus turn one’s opponent.
It’s hard for me to be a fan of Mr. Van Til’s arguments for his own cause here, in part because I do not wholly identify as a Reformed Christian (though I would say I do in some part), but also because of the sweeping generalizations he continues to make of the non-Reformed Christian. He presents his argument through hypothetical scenarios where an evangelical (Mr. Grey) attempts to present the gospel to an unbeliever (Mr. Black), and gets caught pitting himself against the arguments of a Reformed Christian (Mr. White) who has also given witness to the Gospel to Mr. Black.
With each argument Mr. Grey makes to Mr. Black, Black makes an objection regarding Mr. White’s argument, effectively forcing Grey against White, when they are, as Mr. Grey often believes, of the same witness. Van Til, after demolishing Grey’s argument through Black, will then say that the evangelical is surely better with witnessing that portrayed, but that is only because all true Christians are Calvinist at heart, and he is grateful for the witness of evangelicals, despite its inconsistencies.
My frustration with Van Til lies with what I’m seeing as a very elitist attitude over against anyone who’s not Reformed, or at least who doesn’t conform to presuppositional apologetics. It has an air of, “well, thanks for your help, you non-Reformers, but we’re still the only right people here.” The whole thing reeks of this “separated brethren” proclamation Pope John Paul II stated in regard to the Protestants, only this time we have one group fo Protestants claiming the title as the one true church over the others.
While I’d like to think I’m a champion for orthodoxy, and I understand that the lines must be drawn somewhere to maintain that orthodoxy, I am thus far finding Van Til’s lines to be constricting and excluding to many that have heard the Gospel and come to Christ outside his high and mighty Reformed circles, despite his objections to such views. Standing firm in one’s belief is one thing, but to be arrogant and pompous about one’s own doctrine that stands more open-handed than one believes, and to condescend to those who disagree directly interferes with one’s ability to defend the faith.
I have difficulty accepting the teaching of anyone who does not dedicate as much time to seeking a more unified church as he does to bringing people unto it. Yes, it is easy to be unified with the small group who sees everything exactly as you do, but it is a greater testament to the Gospel to join with those who do not see things as precisely as you do. Unification does not happen by extreme exclusion of other believers who share the same root beliefs as you, but by the separation of closed-fist and open-handed doctrine. The Gospel is found outside the Reformed Faith, evidenced in the fruits of a number of those believers who stand outside it.
OK, rant over. I’ll continue reading these and see how Van Til progresses here. Folks, talk to me about this one, particularly my Reformed friends. I find myself struggling to see objectively here. Have any of you read this series, or stuff similar to it? What were your thoughts?