Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Robert Reymond vs. Cornelius Van Til on Paradox

I've recently been reading through Van Til's "Common Grace and Witness Bearing" (from Common Grace and the Gospel) - and the material in this chapter is really, really good. If you are looking for a relatively readable gateway into VT's way of thinking, this is a great place to start.

In the context of this reading, VT make this statement:
"How can God have an attitude of favor unto those men whom He so obviously has not included in the number that could possibly be saved through the gospel of the blood of Jesus Christ. Well, the answer is that we cannot comprehend how it is possible, but the Scriptures reveal it to be true." (p134)
VT continues:
"How absurd, says the objector. How contradictory! Your witness for Christianity makes no sense to a self-respecting intelligent person. ... The objector has the same objection all the time. It is to the effect that we are insulting the dignity of human personality. We are running roughshod over his moral sensibilities and the legitimate claims to his power of reason." (p132)
VT's point is that there is a fundamental rub to the gospel - it makes claims that cannot be verified independently of God. This is not a deficiency. Rather, it continually challenges the unbeliever in his presupposition that he should be able to make sense of things on his own - it questions his assumption of rational intellectual autonomy.

God's revelation calls us to faith in his Word, rather than faith in our own reason. VT goes so far as to conclude (rightly, I think): "All teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory" (142). And if you are an unbeliever, that will probably chap your hide. Interestingly, however, that statement chaps the hides of many Christians as well.

As I read these pages, I am reminded of Robert Reymond's criticisms of Van Til in his A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. In that work, Reymond has a short little section where he rejects the idea of paradox - calling instead for a robust "Christian rationalism."

I first read Reymond's work back in 2000, before I even was thinking about coming to seminary or entering the pastorate. I knew very little about Reymond, and even less about Van Til, but as I read Reymond's comments in this particular area, something really rubbed me the wrong way. I found myself thinking, "I actually seem to resonate w/ a lot of what this Van Til guy is saying... I'm not sure Reymond is actually giving him a fair shake."

Since I didn't know any better, I wrote a short paper critiquing Reymond's position, and then sent it off to a college prof named Robert Yarbrough whom I had stayed in contact with over the years. I was looking for feedback on whether I was reading Reymond right (and I was more than a little nervous to be disagreeing with a major Reformed thinker, because I knew I fit in the Reformed camp in most areas). Needless to say, I was extremely surprised when he emailed me back with a couple of suggestions for improvement and a simple question - would I mind if he published my paper in the Trinity Journal? (Would I mind??? Ha!).

At any rate, then, here's a link to that critique of Reymond's Rejection of Paradox (Trinity Journal, Spring 2001). This basically challenges Reymond's suggestion that God's truth must be rationally comprehensible to the mind of man. It's interesting to see how my thinking then was already very pre-Van-Tillian back then - I think I was moving in a direction which would make VT's way of thinking very appealing to me (even though I still only understand about 30% of the VT that I read).

Alright, back to the books. If anyone has any feedback on this paper, I'd LOVE to hear it.


At 5:40 PM, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

Couple 'o comments:

1) reminds me of the debates between Luther and Erasmus.

2) A good, concise summary of the differences between Greek and Hebrew logic patterns.

3) Rationalism cannot be the basis of our faith, but faith has to be the basis of rationalism.

4) Man is not the the measure of all things, ergo, neither are his logic patterns.

5) If I served a "rational" God, I could not be saved.

6) Comments are supposed to concise and brief, so I better stop.

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Charlie J. Ray said...

If God does not communicate rationally, all you have left is is skepticism, irrationalism, and existentialism.

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Charlie, perhaps you misheard me. Neither I nor Van Til ever suggested God doesn't communicate rationally (or that he's irrational). Rather, we're just suggesting that that's not his ONLY way of communicating. Many people these days conclude that self-rationality is the only way of determining truth - if I can't prove something rationally, it must not be true. And Van Til is simply saying there's a huge presumption there, and that God is not limited by our rationality (he's big enough to get through in many ways).

Kind of funny to see people still reading this blog! :-)


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