Monday, April 13, 2009

Van Til - Scripture and Knowledge

Scripture and Knowledge comes from God
Van Til sees Scripture as reliable because it comes from God. Yesterday I showed how Van Til posits God as the primary presupposition, the first starting point. "The search for a final ultimate must end in God." (Van Til, 75) Truth and knowledge are therefore personal categories, not impersonal ones, because their starting point is in the person of God. It's important to note that Van Til doesn't regard Scripture as containing all creation but speaks to all creation. (Van Til was a big fan of all creation being an expression of God but also maintaining the distinction between natural and special revelation.) Van Til also then argues that all knowledge is built on presuppositions, starting points that either assume God or are against God. Positively this means from Scripture, we can build a philosophy of knowledge! (1 Cor 10:31, 2 Cor 10:5)

The nature of Scripture
The classical doctrine of the infallible inspiration of Scripture was involved in the doctrine of divine sovereignty. God could not be sovereign in his disposition of rational human beings if he were not also sovereign in his revelation of himself to them. If God is sovereign in the realm of being, he is surely also sovereign in the realm of knowledge. (Van Til, 124)
Van Til then goes on to argue that if God is sovereign, clear and coherent then so must Scripture be, the mode of his special revelation to us. Van also argues that the four fold nature of Scriptures (authoritative, necessary, perspicacity, sufficiency) is both a claim about its nature and a challenge to our sinful selves.

Will the real Bible please stand up!
The question then becomes if God is reliable, how do determine if the Scripture we have is part of his communication with us? Van Til argues we can trust the original inspirationa and inerracy of the original autographs as we would cross a partially flooded bridge. Our footing is sure even if water is flowing across the bridge as we wade across. In other words; "There would be no reasonably reliable method of identifying the word of God in human history unless human history itself is controlled by God." (p 128) Furthermore says Van Til our access to the pure word of God has to have a degree of certainty or out knowledge of salvation is compromised.

Interesting Aside
The need for special revelation given man's finitude and sinfulness and so an organic relationship between:
theophany = saving presence
prophecy = saving words
miracles = saving deeds

[Free Stock Photos for websites - FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

4 comments:

Andrew Bowles said...

I haven't read Van Til, but if your summary is accurate I would have a few questions/observations.

'Van Til then goes on to argue that if God is sovereign, clear and coherent then so must Scripture be, the mode of his special revelation to us.'

- This seems to put the cart before the horse. God's sovereignty is being used to prove the clarity of revelation. But how do we know that he is sovereign without a clear revelation?

- The practice of using philosophical/theological presuppositions and deductions to start his theory of knowledge seems to undercut the claim that knowledge is ultimately personal. Your summary moves from talking about the person of God as the ultimate foundation to then saying that 'all knowledge is built on presuppositions'. It seems that he doesn't have a clear idea about what the term 'personal' means. Is that a fair criticism?

Luke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke said...

[Let's try again with better formatting!]

Hi Andrew,

Good critiques as usual!

God's sovereignty is being used to prove the clarity of revelation. But how do we know that he is sovereign without a clear revelation?Van Til would argue you always start with the assumption God exists and then you learn more about him through his communication. It's circular* but that's the nature of an absolute starting point. (The only alternatives I can see are other absolute starting points such as rationality or experience or multiple equal starting points.)

How would you determine the ultimate reliability of Scripture?

The practice of using philosophical/theological presuppositions and deductions to start his theory of knowledge seems to undercut the claim that knowledge is ultimately personal. Your summary moves from talking about the person of God as the ultimate foundation to then saying that 'all knowledge is built on presuppositions'. It seems that he doesn't have a clear idea about what the term 'personal' means. Is that a fair criticism? "Because God is an absolute person, he can also serve as the ultimate standard, the final criterion for truth of creaturely thought." (Van Til, 75.) This is in the context of explaining the Trinity as a solution to the non-Christian search to find an ultimate criterion. "Another way to look at it is this: the unbeliever's search for unity is essentially the search for a criterion of truth, a norm or standard. But in any non-Christian worldview, the criterion of truth must be impersonal, rather than personal." (Van Til, 75)

Andrew Bowles said...

I think the ultimate reliability of Scripture is determined eschatologically - 'For if there is not resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either' (1 Cor 15:13). Also faith is the substance of things hoped for and not seen (Heb 11:1). You can't demonstrate that God is sovereign until the final judgment and new creation proves that he is, so I don't think that you can argue for the ultimate reliability of the Scriptural narrative and promises until this happens either. Of course the life/death/resurrection of Christ makes this a certainty grasped by faith and good enough to be going on with!

With regards to the 'personal' issue, I'm more happy with where he goes with the other quotes you gave.