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Tough Questions for Evangelicals

“Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer me.

“Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?  [Job 40:7&8]

I read a number of years ago that it was John Wesley’s frequent practice to visit a new town and publish the Ten Commandments.  Whether he did this orally or in writing I cannot recall.  Probably he did both.  He then would leave the village for a few weeks, (often pelted with wood and stones) and pray that God’s Spirit would do a deep work of conviction.  So, after a few weeks had passed, he would re-visit the town and proclaim publicly with much rigor the good news of the gospel, etc.  The folks were now duly prepared to hear about God’s mercy and grace in Christ.

I drafted he following questions to try to engage fellow Christians whose outlook is suffocatingly ‘pietistic’.  Let me know how you get on with them!  I may post my own answers in due course.  But, for the time being, here’s just the question!

Why is the evangelical church so marginalised? Who cares what evangelicals think?

Why are so many evangelicals unable to talk intelligently about politics?

Why are so many evangelicals indifferent about ‘Christian education?’

Does the Bible address Politics?

Does the Bible have anything to say about Science?

Is theistic evolution a principled position to take on cosmic origins?

Is crime the same as sin? What’s the difference?

Did Jesus die for our crimes?

Does the Bible identify crimes? Give examples.

Does the Bible tell us what the penalties are (should be) for different crimes?

Do you agree with capital punishment?

Is capital punishment Biblical?

Does God sanction capital punishment?

What crimes do you consider worthy of a capital sentence?

What crimes does God say are worthy of a capital sentence?

Is God wrong to attach capital sanctions to certain crimes?

Does your Christianity allow you to disagree with God? Is Jesus Lord?

How do most Christians avoid these sorts of questions?

Have you ever heard a sermon recommending God’s capital sanctions for the civil State?

Does the Bible tell us unequivocally what’s right and wrong?

Do you know what true justice looks like? How would you measure/calibrate it?

Why are evangelicals disinterested in Biblical justice?

Do you think God cares about our indifference to Biblical standards of justice?

What, according to Scripture, is God’s response to a people/society that disregards true justice and pursues its own preferred version of justice?

What name is given to the absence of justice?

What does the Bible say about societies that suffer injustice?

What responsibility do you have to inform fellow believers about justice/injustice?

Does the Bible indicate that the second coming of Jesus is imminent?

How have Christians historically sought to transform the culture?

A Plea for Authentic Christianity

This is the first of two pieces I have written recommending Christian Reconstruction as the authentic heir of Christendom.  I am aware of some of the in-house debates prevailing within the movement and reckon that some, perhaps not all, represent honourable contests for biblical Truth.  However, those skirmishes ought not to deter genuine Christian pilgrims from surveying the literature of its chief pioneers.  Bahnsen, Rushdoony and North were prolific in what they produced over a few short decades at the close of the 20th century.  Much of their output is available for free on line.  My own booklet is merely an introduction to what they collectively stood for.  I trust that it represents a faithful summary of what it was they sought to recover from our great evangelical and reformed heritage. May God bless its readership!  As ever, let me know where you perceive any faulty understanding.  The spirit of Berea (Acts 17:11) surely prevails today as it did in 1st century Macedonia!

Steve Layfield – June 2019

A Plea for Authentic Christianity (A5 booklet) PDF

The T-R-U-E Church of Jesus Christ – are you part of it?

It’s never quite ready.  Perhaps there are several typos and other incidental errors in this blog-piece.  But I must publish what I’ve been wrestling with now for the past month or so.

What is the True Church of Jesus Christ?

Sadly, I have felt constrained to withdraw temporarily from the evangelical Church scene.  However, providentially I am not bereft of friendship nor fellowship.  The Lord has kindly supplied that more abundantly than I could ever have thought or imagined.  Happily, after a few difficult months, I am back to meeting most Sundays with a few faithful saints with whom we open God’s word and together worship our Creator and Redeemer – Jesus Christ.  May the Lord use what I have written here to arouse the great giant of His True Church from her slumber.  My piece is an humble exhortation for the true followers of Christ to reflect carefully and truthfully on their own present Church experiences.  Click on the link above to download it.

Steve Layfield – June 2019

Do you Know the Lord?

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by injustice, who uses his neighbour’s service without wages and gives him nothing for his work, who says, ‘I will build myself a wide house with spacious chambers, and cut out windows for it, panelling it with cedar and painting it with vermilion.’ “Shall you reign because you enclose yourself in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well.

Was not this knowing Me?” says the LORD.

“Yet your eyes and your heart are for nothing but your covetousness, for shedding innocent blood, and practicing oppression and violence.”      [Jeremiah 22:13-17]

These words were spoken by Jeremiah to the sons of Josiah and in particular, Shallum and Jehoiakim, who we are told reigned instead of Josiah and who was carried away to Babylon in captivity where he died.  (see Jer 22: 11-12,18).

They are most striking!  Notice first that they are addressed to the civil authority.  The king of Judah was especially to implement the Law of God in his exercise of jurisprudence in the community.  That community was, of course, the commonwealth of Israel/Judah, redeemed by God under Moses & led by Joshua into Canaan to establish a kingdom of light to the surrounding gentile nations.  (See Deut 4).

Alas, the politics of man had slowly but surely overtaken the politics of God in Judah.  Equity & justice were in short supply.  Houses were being built by slave labourers; bricks & equipment were being stolen; dubious (unprincipled mortgages?) were being legered; selfishness and pride were the underlying motivations of property owners; complacency towards God – and especially His providential protection of the country – was commonplace.

They were reminded (see v15) of David’s manner of life; in particular they were challenged to reflect on the fact that David enjoyed the pleasures of life (see 1Tim 6:17) whilst retaining his concern for the Law of God to be honoured in the public square.

What did David discover during that season of his life?  Was there a cause/effect relationship that we are to notice?  See v 15b…. ‘Then it was well with him’!!  Wow!  David’s disposition inclined him to practice the application of God’s Law as it pertained to social justice; i.e. the politics of his own day.  As David consistently sought to apply God’s Law in the civic realm he was blessed and prospered in his soul.  In v16 we read the same thing again: ‘He judged the cause of the poor and the needy’.  And we are told AGAIN what happened as a result, ‘Then it was well’!

Now, the simple repetition of this identification ought to suffice as a basis of instructing us to push and press for God’s Law to be implemented by our own civil authorities today.  It is about as plain as the proverbial pike-staff that God attaches providential blessings to those persons who lobby for the implementation of God’s Law.  But notice, moreover, what God through Jeremiah says next: “Was not this knowing Me, says the Lord?”.  Huh?  Just a minute; I/we thought that ‘knowing God’ was an existential matter.  We have been taught persistently and expressly that ‘knowing God’ is essentially about “experiencing the love of Jesus in our hearts as the after-effects of the ‘Four Steps to Life’”.  Aren’t those the true saints of God who meet week in week out at Church to raise their voices in songs of worship, who read Christian books, who attend missionary prayer-meetings and who pass out tracts on the bus?  [Yes, of course I approve of all such activity!]

But notice how God evaluates the politics of man: ‘Yet your eyes and your heart are for nothing but your covetousness, for shedding innocent blood, and practicing oppression and violence.’ (v17)

Now, this indictment must have seemed a bit extreme to Jehoiakim & Shallum.  “What?” I can hear them asking.  “Huh?!”  What did we do?  God tells them, notwithstanding the ferocity of their appeal, they were each guilty of oppression and violence.  How so?  Because the failure to prosecute justice in the courts APART FROM GOD’S LAW is tantamount to the prosecution of INJUSTICE.  Such is the nature of justice.  As Van Til laboured over a lifetime to demonstrate, there really is NO NEUTRALITY!  There is no such thing as ‘natural law’ or ‘natural justice’.  There is only God’s (i.e. TRUE) justice and man’s (i.e. FALSE) justice – i.e. injustice!

Now it takes a moment of thought to see the antithetical nature of justice, but it stems ultimately from the character of God who is light and in whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

And so, we are inevitably left with this stark choice for ourselves today: ‘Theonomy or Autonomy?’ There is no third way; there is no conceivable alternative.

Alas, the contemporary Christian Church is swamped with voices pushing ‘natural law’ theory just as Jehoiakim and Shallum promoted it five centuries BC.  Will they begin to wake up & heed the call of Jeremiah?  Will they have the courage to abandon the legacy of 19th century rationalism & 20th century humanism?  Will they repent of their antinomian principles and discover afresh – like Josiah the child! – the rich treasures of God’s Law right under their noses (in the OT)?

In a word, will they learn truly, existentially & practically what it really means to ‘KNOW THE LORD’?

 

Van Til Apologetic Chapter 4B – The Epistemological Side of Apologetics

4.4a What’s the correct relationship between nature & Scripture? (p195)

Both nature and Scripture are revelational of God.  It is wrong to think of Scripture however as a sort of 67th Book supplementing the Scriptures which, like the Scriptures ‘speak for themselves’.  Rather, nature is to be comprehended in the light of Scripture (Ps 36:9).  Nature represents an ocean of factuality that finds its true explanation ONLY as it is surveyed by the eye of faith in humble submission to the Word of God.  Thus we cannot suffer any interpretation of any fact apart from the conditioning framework of God’s Word.  This is what is signified by St Paul’s exhortation to bring every thought captive to Christ.  Thus, e.g. star-light from a distant galaxy cannot be comprehended to be older than the Biblical age of the universe!  This might well entail a careful re-think of the principles of cosmology, but we simply must not entertain the thought that Scripture may be broken.  Christ tells is it cannot! (see Jn 10:35)

4.4b What are some of the symptoms of noetic sin?

Noetic sin is committed by that mind which denies the laws of logic & which acts arbitrarily.  It is likewise stumbled into, perhaps unwittingly, when we reason fallaciously.  Formal and informal fallacies (syllogisms) include the following and are commonly found in people’s words & expressions.  We must be careful, if we are to be holy & pure in our thinking, to avoid them.

  • Begging the question
  • Reification
  • Special pleading
  • Equivocation
  • False dichotomy
  • Straw-man
  • False analogy
  • Argument from ignorance
  • Red-herring
  • Circular reasoning
  • Hasty generalization
  • Cherry picking
  • Appeal to fear
  • Ad hominem
  • Ad populum
  • Genetic fallacy
  • Appeal to authority
  • Tu quoque
  • Post hoc ergo propter hoc

We must comprehend true rationality as a truly SPIRITUAL activity which, because of sin’s pervasiveness has been corrupted through the Fall.  Right thinking & clear lines of reasoning are the fruit of faith & godliness.  We reason because God is a reasoning God.  Our thinking is to be patterned upon His thinking.  The characteristics & true principles of both deductive & inductive logic can be drawn out from a careful study of Scripture.  Moreover, the true limits of valid thinking (e.g. what is possible, what must remain mysterious/unknown, etc) are established by markers found in Scripture.

4.4c By what authority do we accept Biblical authority?  How can we know this?

We accept biblical authority on its own ‘self-attesting’ authority.  If our validation of Scripture was grounded upon something more ultimate (more authoritative) than Scripture, then Scripture would not be our ‘ultimate authority’.  We must acknowledge that such reasoning is circular – but we may (must!) recognise it as ‘virtuously circular’.  A man who says he uses his reasoning to validate his reasoning is being ‘viciously circular’ because the conclusion is present in the premise.  The Christian asserts that true/adequate justification for reasoning arises from our trust (faith) in God who has made us sufficiently self-aware of this underlying justification.  Thinking is PERSONAL and is properly the fruit of the ‘personalness’ of our constitution.  We reason by virtue of our being creatures made in the image of God.  Faulty reasoning is Christless.  (Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. [Col 2:8]; O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge [1Tim 6:20])

Returning to the question, Scripture, like Jesus’ authority, like God’s authority is self-attesting.  “I am that I am”.  (Ex 3:14)  It is worth noting that this idea is foundational to the Protestant conviction regarding Scriptural Authority & the formulation of the Canon.  VT points out (p214) that ‘the Church merely recognised the Word in its self-attestation.  It is Christ whose voice the Church hears in Scripture’.

4.4d Was divine revelation needed before Adam fell?

Yes, even before Adam fell, he was dependent on God to comprehend properly (truly) his environment.  Both the tree of the knowledge of good & evil & the tree of life were first interpreted by God before they were interpreted by Adam.  The pattern of obedience was plainly established BEFORE the Fall.  If it applied then it applies all the more for us today when the corruption in our minds very much inclines us to think & reason independently of God!  “Man shall not live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4)

4.4e The Reformers argued for the ‘necessity’ of Scripture.  Why?

Scripture is necessary for the following reasons:

  • Sin arises from man seeking to interpret facts apart from God’s revelation (VT p218); man was to deal covenentally with the facts of history (VT p204). Man is required therefore to identify all facts about him as the bearer of God’s requirements (VT p204).  Adam’s comprehension of the two Trees (Knowledge of Good & Evil; Life) was EXEMPLARY for us.
  • Scripture presents us with the fulness of God’s instruction whereby, as St Paul tells us (2Tim 3:16) ‘the man of God is thoroughly furnished for every good work’. The ‘good’ work that we would do must be validated & defined by God.

 

4.4f What ‘life & death struggle’ does VT reference on p207?

The life & death struggle is that which prevails between covenant keepers & covenant breakers.  The clash is over which INTERPRETER of life is authentic and which is governed by rebellious creaturely self-will.  Pietism represents a corrupted, degraded ‘brand’ of Christianity, masquerading as orthodoxy, that reduces this distinction.  Van Til, exposes it for what it is: “Christianity has been all too often interpreted in a narrowly soteriological fashion. Accordingly, the territory of nature & history was left vacant for any first comer to occupy.” (p206/7)  Pietists limit their concerns to soul salvation & getting folk ready & prepared to abandon the theatre of God’s creation to be swept off to another celestial sphere, etc.

4.4g What’s wrong with the ID struggle?

Van Til puts his finger on the problem.  ‘All too often it happens that scientists who are Christians …do not place their labours at the foot of the cross.  On the other hand, all too often theologians have been to blame for this neglect ….because they have spoken as though Christianity had no bearing upon Science.’  Let’s unpack this.  We have seen that the actual cosmic struggle taking place under our noses represents a clash of worldviews.  It is not the ‘brute facts’ that speak for themselves but rather the significance attached to them by each diametrically opposed worldview.  The monist sees the fossilised mollusc as one small step in the record of gradualistic evolutionary development; the Christian, fitting the fact into his biblically constrained paradigm, sees the same fossil as a remnant of the Genesis flood deposited catastrophically less than a hundred generations ago!  The ID proponent naively imagines the obstacles to being heard will be politely set aside if he can expunge his apologetic of its religious garb (i.e. Bible vocabulary).  Unwittingly, he’s inviting his adversary to stand where Eve stood & consider the empirical merits of sight, taste, touch, etc in determining whether the fruit is acceptable.

God’s word is the proper foundation of all truth.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom & understanding (Prov 1:7)

4.5a Compare God’s knowledge & ours

Ours is creaturely knowledge.  Therefore, it is necessarily limited in scope & quality whilst being adequate.  God’s knowledge is comprehensive, archetypical & transcendental.  Man’s knowledge, therefore, ought to be reckoned ‘analogical’ – (a sub-set?) of God’s.  At our very best, our thinking is reconstructed after the fashion of God’s; hence we should think of our true propositions as ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him’.

4.5b How do (or should) we account for the universality of logic?

God’s thinking comports with His being and character.  God, being utterly honest, cannot lie & therefore His expressions of propositional truth as we encounter them in Scripture must be consistent & harmonious.  We, as image bearers and covenant keepers, should therefore seek to be non-contradictory with no propositions violating the established laws of identity/logic.

Our consciousness of logical laws providing a silent constraint in all our conversations testify of God’s presence, oftentimes our thoughts excusing us and at other times our thoughts vindicating us, etc.  He truly is the silent, unseen guest at our tables & the listener to all our secret conversations!

Steve Layfield – October 2018

Westminster’s Confession – Gary North

I’m part way through this wonderful book

Image result for Gary North Westminster's Confession

& finding it utterly enthralling reading.  Gary North writes particularly well but to boot, he understands the key underlying issues which represent the proverbial ‘elephant in the sitting room’ within the contemporary evangelical sub-culture.

I’m writing this piece with a view to encouraging my friends & acquaintances to read what North has to say.  The book is freely available here as a pdf download.

  • Do you want to know why the modern evangelical Church is fast asleep and culturally irrelevant?
  • Do you want to know what crucial compromise our forbears made with the original Westminster Confession & how it led to a paradigm shift in evangelical thought?
  • Do you you want to know what the key theological and historical developments were in the 20th century?
  • Do you want to know how to remedy our present plight into cultural oblivion?

 

Then read this book.  North will delight you with wonderful quips & memorable analogies.  Trust me, you will not be disappointed!!

Corporate Readings Through Van Til

Notwithstanding the opening introductory comment, these four audio lectures

First 

Second

Third

Fourth

provide an excellent introduction and general summary to Van Til’s distinctive Apologetic procedure.  Anyone taking the time to listen to these, if God’s Spirit is active within them, will find his appetite whetted to learn more.  That was me 10 years ago.  In 2009 I purchased this book,

Image result for Van Til Apologetic Greg Bahnsen

and over subsequent months & years read it through a few times.  It was hard-going but hugely rewarding.  I likened the experience to walking through dense fog in the foot-hills before climbing up the hills onto higher ground where, from above the clouds, the panorama of God’s truth became greatly more accessible & comprehensible.

Alas, the journey has been lonely.  I have persuaded very few fellow travellers (evangelical Christians) to pursue a similar objective.  Most now regard me as a sort of maverick, out of step with the mainstream perspective, etc.  But that’s OK.

How delightful then this past summer to discover two other fellow pilgrims anxious to wrestle with Van Til’s revolutionary insights.  Our schedule for future meetings is here

Corporate Reading through The Van Til Apologetic by Greg Bahnsen,

taking us through 2018-19 DV.  I’ll update the document in due course as we get further through with it.  Care to join us on a bi-monthly internet ‘Hang-out’?  Let me know!

The questions we’ll be discussing are drawn from each of the 9 chapters.  As I prepare for each meeting I plan to post my own answers to the questions here on my blog.  Others making the same journey may find what I write helpful.  I sincerely & prayerfully hope so.

God Bless,

Steve Layfield (October 2018)

Van Til Apologetic Chapter 4A – The Epistemological Side of Apologetics

4.1 Bahnsen tells us, ‘a person’s epistemological behaviour and commitments are ethical in character’.  Give an example.

The first example we encounter in the chapter – from the pen of VT – contrasts the way (ancient) Greeks tended to reason, beginning with Physics (their immediate environment) and moving outwards to Metaphysics (their more remote environment).  The Greeks, argues VT, thus exhibited a philosophical bias in favour of naturalism & evolution, believing that natural entities emerged from primordial slime before their supernatural counterparts.  Such a worldview takes for granted that humanity (Greek) culture didn’t fall from an Edenic paradise where man, as God’s preeminent creature was endowed with knowledge and commissioned to subdue the earth, etc.  Other examples cited include: (i) Christian thought = an attempt to integrate the various aspects of Biblical teaching VERSUS non-Christian (antitheistic) thought = an attempt to integrate the various aspects of autonomous human experience (p151) (ii) Unfallen Adam’s reasoning VERSUS Eve’s reasoning, having capitulated to Satan’s temptation (p152). (iii) Metaphysical constraints of time and temporality VERSUS the (Christian) theist’s recognition of God’s eternal decree (p153).  NB.  Thus, right-reasoning ultimately depends on regeneration; hence repentance = a change of mind! (p155)

4.2a Differentiate BRIEFLY between belief, knowledge and truth

Not all our beliefs are true, rather knowledge is ‘true’ belief.  Philosophers tend to agree that knowledge = ‘justified true belief’.  Justification is a further crucial part which we’ll end up covering below (see 4.3).  But for the time being, it’s helpful to appreciate that knowledge = true belief.

Incidentally, it needs highlighting & stressing at this point that the wide variety of opinions out there on a host of disparate topics warrant proper intellectual SIFTING.  We must never settle for laziness in our pursuit of knowledge. Alas, hoards of Christians do!!  Bahnsen tells us that VT was “resolute in teaching that (philosophical) opinions that stand opposed to each other ought to be refuted by a reasoned argument, instead of by ridicule and assumption”.  Accordingly, writes GB, “the conflicting claims about what is known or not known about Christianity call for analysis and cogent reasoning”.  (page 158)  Given the antithetical nature of truth we must, as honourable citizens of heaven seek it.

4.2b What is the Christian conception of ‘truth’?

Truth is fundamentally ‘whatever conforms to the mind of God’ [p163].  GB cites (i) The works of His hands are verity and justice; all His precepts are sure.  They stand fast forever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness. [Ps 111:7&8]; (ii) “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. [Jn 14:6]; (iii)   However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth [Jn 16:13a].

4.2c Is it possible to know ANY fact truly apart from God?  Explain!

No it isn’t! (see p171-2).  Van Tillians are apt to say, ‘there is no BRUTE factuality’.  Let’s briefly consider why.  It is only as the fact exists in the context of ALL factuality that true meaning and significance can be allocated to the fact under consideration.  But only God perceives the totality of His created universe & the true meaning/significance of each fact contained in it.  As a covenant keeper, the Christian necessarily recognises this & seeks to comprehend each fact in accordance with Scripture – the light by which God illumines our understanding of all created factuality.  VT called such a method of knowing ‘the method of implication’ – i.e. “what we seek to do in our search for understanding the universe is to work ourselves ever more deeply into the relations that the facts of the universe sustain to God”.  [p173]

4.3a Why MUST it be the case that the ‘unbeliever’ actually does believe in God?

This is because knowing is a PERSONAL enterprise.  Inanimate objects (e.g. lamp-posts & kettles) don’t know.  Only persons know.  This realisation inevitably drives us back to the contemplation of who/what we are.  According to Scripture, we are persons made in the image of God.  We know because God is a ‘knower’.  We are moral because God is moral; we appreciate goodness, beauty & truth because God Himself does & has filled His universe with them!  Thus, when all is said & done, we can only make sense (i.e. ACCOUNT FOR) our knowing of anything insofar as we acknowledge our relationship, as creatures, to God our Creator.  Therefore, St Paul writes,

“…. because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts…” (Rom 1:19-21)

4.3b What KIND of knowledge of God does the ‘unbeliever’ possess? 

Following on from what we have said above, it follows that the kind of knowledge possessed by EVERY man is ‘constitutional’ (p184).  We are, as it were, hard-wired with the knowledge of God.  It is not knowledge derived from deduction or inference or any similar sort of mental procedure; rather it is IMMEDIATE and INSTINCTIVE, like when Grandma, unseen, addresses us & we instantly & intuitively recognise her voice.  VT rehearsed what John Calvin had said about it centuries before, identifying such innate knowledge of God as man’s ‘sensus deitatis’ (sense of God’s being).  (see p186)

VT thus urges ‘the Reformed apologist must seek his point of contact with the natural man in that which is beneath the threshold of his working consciousness, in the sense of deity which he seeks to suppress’.  (p189)

Again, ‘God made man a rational-moral creature.  He will always be that.  AS such, he is confronted with God.  He is addressed by God.  He is a covenant being… The very activity of his consciousness is a daily reminder to him of the will of God.  Though he has tried over and over again to choke the voice of God he has not been able to do so.  Involuntarily, men think back, with the Prodigal, to the father’s home.’ (p190/192)

4.3c What are the some of the practical implications of this?

First, it is apparent that there really aren’t any true atheists.  Rather, the unbeliever is involved in a sort of subtle self-deception.  He kids himself that he can get along just fine without God.  We need to explain, gently yet forcibly, to him that his problem is not so much disbelief as ‘dislike’ of God.

Conscience would appear to be very closely bound up with what we’re here saying.  Conscience appears then to function as, the voice of God, sometimes approving, sometimes disapproving our words & actions.

VT draws our attention (see p187) to man’s inherent dissatisfaction with life lived apart from God.  We may well meet occasionally one who seems ostensibly content & at peace within himself, etc.  But by and large, the generality of ordinary folk, if pressed & if honest, would agree with Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones), “I can’t get no satisfaction”.

We shall, in due course, come to see that authentic patterns of thought follow immaterial, universal laws – the Laws of Logic – which are simply the way God thinks & the way He expects us to think.  In so far as we are mindful of what we’re doing when we think we are mindful of our close relationship to God. We want to ‘think God’s thoughts after Him’ (J. Kepler).

Finally, this realisation ought to make us yet more kind & respectful of our fellow men. When they stand before us, they represent their/our Maker.  They possess infinite worth & dignity by virtue of the ‘imago Dei’ (image of God) in which they are created.  They instinctively & intuitively recognise this themselves!

Steve Layfield

 

 

 

Van Til Apologetic Chapter 3 – A Simple Summary & Illustration

3.1a What was the point of Bahnsen’s illustration re the Statue of Eros in London? 

The purpose of the illustration was to show how two different individuals with different ‘ultimate authorities’ might treat the same literary statement. In exactly the same way, covenant keepers reference the Bible (as a whole!) as their final authority whilst covenant breakers regiment their own independent thought (autonomous reasoning) as their final authority.  Whether we’re conscious of doing so or not, we all (ALL persons) do the same!  We each have a fundamental religious commitment to a final authority.  Recognising this is revolutionary, for in an instant we recognise, contrary to BBC political correctness, that we are all FUNDAMENTALISTS!!  Alas, only the covenant keeper is branded with the title pejoratively, the autonomous man slips neatly under the radar!

3.1b May we ‘address the epistemological question apart from the ontological question’ as Dr Singer suggests?  If not, why not? [page 96]

No we may not, for ‘knowing’ is a human activity and therefore it is something we do by virtue of the fact that we are CREATURES made in the image of God.  We KNOW because God, our Creator is a KNOWING being.  Therefore, the exercise of KNOWING must properly be undertaken in self-aware subjection to this realisation of WHO we are – i.e. ontology (the study of being).  We ought not to be surprised that God has constructed us as beings hard-wired to be dependent upon His revelation for comprehending any aspect of His creation.  VT examines closely the incident of Eve taking the forbidden fruit & shows compellingly that she sinned intellectually long before she ever reached out her hand.

3.1c What is monism?  Why is it pertinent to this discussion? 

Monism is that philosophical conviction that looks outward from itself and sees only ONE sort of stuff. More common in the ancient world has been ‘dualism’ – the differentiation of all entities into one of two categories: mind & matter.  But monism denies such a plurality.  Inevitably, what is lost in such an outlook is any distinction between CREATURE and CREATOR. Instantly, the playing field is levelled and man’s thought has assumed equality with anything God may have allegedly spoken.  We must beware of this as an underlying assumption in what we hear from the mouths of covenant breakers.  See below!

3.2 How does St Paul (Rom 1:25) summarily teach that there are essentially just TWO warring worldviews out there? Briefly unpack each.

St Paul affirms in what is surely a centrally important biblical passage relevant to VT, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who ….changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things… and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” Here, we see that there are just TWO ALTERNATIVE ultimate commitments: ONE that duly honours God as Creator & therefore makes His revelation the final reference point of all authentic predication (i.e. all affirmation); the OTHER that makes man (the creature) the principal reference point.  Thus, HUMANISM is the natural outworking of this religious commitment.  We will learn later that reasoning & thinking that occur without reference to God, VT describes as UNIVOCAL – i.e. unilaterally!  By contrast, reasoning & thinking that duly honours God & recognises that in Him alone lie all the treasures of wisdom, knowledge & understanding, VT describes as ANALOGICAL.  “…all the facts of nature and of history are what they are in accord with the comprehensive counsel of God.  All that may be known by man is already known by God.  And it is already known by God because it is controlled by God.” [VT p106]

3.3a How is ‘monism’ incompatible with proper reasoning? [p112/3]

According to monism, the “knower” is no different to anything else in his environment; he is not distinguished by a “mind” that has the self-consciousness and freedom to search for truth, evaluate options, and make intellectual commitments, for man has nothing more than a physical brain , which – like every other natural object – is subject to chemistry, biology & physics.  The “thinking” of this product of chance cannot warrant the notion of …causal connections or moral prescriptions.  Moreover, “facts” that man encounters are random & unconnected in any way that would justify categorization, laws, or predictability…. etc,.  [VT p112]

3.3b Which sort of reasoning (believer’s or unbeliever’s) involves the exercise of FAITH?

This is a trick question!  BOTH sorts of reasoning involve an exercise of faith.  However, the believer’s faith is explicitly or implicitly in God His Creator who has endowed him with the apparatus to make intellectual inferences within the strict limits of His authoritative Word – Scripture.  The unbeliever’s faith is implicitly (or explicitly!) in himself or some other creaturely authority.  Thus, humanism is, when all is said and done’ every bit as RELIGIOUS as Christianity. Van Tillian scholars aren’t afraid to identify as ‘religious’ but they are shrewd enough to point out that they are no more ‘religious’ than every other human being on the face of the planet!  Dawkins’ jibe that ‘scientists pursue evidence & reason in contrast to creationists who pursue (blind) faith is puerile in the extreme. Even his own followers who sit in ivory towers but who have some rudimentary understanding of philosophy acknowledge this fact!

3.4 Why is Ps 36:9 the quintessential proof text of VT’s distinctive apologetic?

Psalm 36:9 states that, “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”  This text identifies the being of God with the source & substance of creaturely life.  It is echoed by St John in his prologue: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”  Covenant keepers – Christians!! – rejoice in this discovery. Repentance is the adjustment of our thinking from being autonomous & univocal to it becoming analogical – i.e. like God’s!  The only sure-fire way we can think aright is as we reference God’s word in all predication.  As Jesus (& Moses!) taught, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.  Amen!

Steve Layfield – September 2018

Van Til Apologetic Chapter 2 – The Task of Apologetics

2.1a According to VT, apologetics involves a ‘clash of worldviews’.  Why is this preferable to piece-meal discussion of isolated facts?

One of the distinctive insights that Van Til has given to presuppositional apologetics is that every line of reasoning that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and every kind of objection or challenge to the faith that is raised by unbelievers, arises from an attitude of the heart and within the intellectual context of a world-and-life view. Everybody thinks and reasons in terms of a broad and fundamental understanding of the nature of reality, of how we know what we know, of how we should live our lives. This philosophy or outlook is “presupposed” by everything the unbeliever (or believer) says; it is the implicit background that gives meaning to the claims and inferences drawn by people. For this reason, every apologetic encounter is ultimately a conflict of worldviews or fundamental perspectives (whether this is explicitly mentioned or not). The Christian must not only recognize this for the purpose of developing and responding to arguments with an unbeliever, but also be aware that the particular claims which the apologist defends are understood within the context of the entire system of the doctrine revealed by God in the Scriptures. It is this entire underlying worldview that is being defended, even when we answer a more narrow, particular attack. We cannot talk about everything at once, of course, but the specific matters about which we argue with the unbeliever are always understood and defined within the broader framework of God’s full revelation [VT p30]

2.1b Is argumentation necessarily contentious?

Reasoning is not an unspiritual activity, and argument does not mean personal contentiousness. There is a use of the mind and scholarly procedures which is indeed proud and ungodly – “walking in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart” (Ephesians 4:17-18). Nevertheless, Paul just as clearly affirms “you did not so learn Jesus” (vs. 20). Christians have been renewed in the spirit of their minds (vs. 23; cf. Colossians 3:10) and granted repentance “unto the knowledge of the truth” 1 Corinthians 2:25). “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), in light of which we seek to develop a philosophy that is not patterned after worldly thinking and human traditions, but rather after Christ, “in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited” (Colossians 2:3, 8). Reasoning in this manner is an expression of true spirituality and godliness, and obedient response to God’s requirement that in “whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) and that we “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). God does not want our minds eradicated but transformed (Romans 12:2). [VT p31]

2.2a What caution does Bahnsen (& VT) draw our attention to on p46?  What’s the danger?

We are to be cautious of compartmentalising our thinking.  There is ever a danger IN EVERY ACADEMIC ENDEAVOUR that our thinking is not SYSTEMATIC.  We ought properly to see that apologetics represents a particular practical application of Scripture to the claims & discourse of the unbeliever.  However, what is said in response may well touch on other aspects of God’s truth & be pertinent to related endeavours.

2.2b Van Til commends a ‘holistic’ approach to evangelism, philosophy, theology & apologetics. What subtle but serious flaws marked Warfield & Dooyeweerd & Schaeffer’s teachings in relation to apologetics?

Thus we must be wary of not driving a wedge too deeply between say, apologetics & philosophy (as did Dooyeweerd), apologetics & evangelism (as did Schaeffer & Kuyper), apologetics & theology (as did Warfield).

2.3 Many academic theologians decry Van Til’s presuppositionalism as ‘Fideism’.  Why is this not so?

Fideism asserts that religious truth is not amenable to reason or that it is supra-reasonable.  This is NOT what Van Til taught.  On the contrary, Van Til affirmed the certainty of Biblical truth & the confident assurance of the believer.  We are promised by Christ, ‘You shall know the Truth & the Truth shall set you free’ (Jn 8:32).  Rather, Van Til affirmed that ALL men inherently know but SUPPRESS the truth.  Absolute proof of the truthfulness of Scripture/Christianity is therefore INDIRECT, i.e. it follows from the impossibility of the contrary!  Van Til wrote, “Christianity is the only reasonable position to hold. It is not merely as reasonable as other positions, or a bit more reasonable than other positions; it alone is the natural and reasonable position for man to take.” [VT p 74]

Steve Layfield – September 2018


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