Man’s Response to Revelation

6618151Calvin makes a sharp distinction between the revelation of God to man and man’s response to that revelation. This implies the rejection of a natural theology such as Aquinas taught.

He makes a sharp distinction between the responses to God’s revelation made by:

(a) man in his original condition, i.e., Adam before the Fall;
(b) mankind, whose “understanding is subjected to blindness and the heart to depravity” (Inst. II.i.9)
(c) those that are “taught of Christ” through Scripture and whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and the Defense of Christianity & My Credo p.24

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The God of the Philosophers

Men in general are, therefore, truth suppressors. They are not those who are first of all without knowledge of the truth. They are indeed such, if one thinks of the knowledge that must come from Scripture. But they are first of all truth possessors, or truth-knowers, who have, by sinning, become truth suppressors. Having taken to themselves the right to define the nature of God and of themselves, they have mingled the idea of their new god with that of the God they know by virtue of their creation. In their natural theology, that is, in what, as sinful men, they set forth as their view about God, they never state the truth without adulteration. They do not completely succeed in suppressing the truth, but they never assert the truth without an overwhelming admixture of error. The god of the philosophers is never their Creator and the Creator of the universe. He is always of necessity bound up with his creation. Hence sinful unregenerate men never worship the true God as they ought. In practice they do not know him because when they think of him they, of necessity, think falsely of him; they always degrade him to the level of the creature.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought. 

All light derives from the sun

In short, our pastor noted that Calvin, with Augustine, would think of God as one thinks of the sun. All other lights in this world are derived from the sun. One does not first think of other lights as though they shone in their own power, in order after that to investigate open-mindedly whether the sun exists. So one cannot first think of the facts of the universe, and especially of the mind of man, as though they were possibly not God-dependent but self-sufficient as so many self-powered light bulbs, in order then to inquire whether God exists. One just does not look at light bulbs to find the sun. Knowledge of the sun must precede, and be the foundation of, light bulbs. So one does not look at creation to find a Creator, but rather the latter is the foundation of the former. Therefore true knowledge of creation demands a true knowledge of the Creator.

All the facts of the universe are of necessity God-created, God-dependent facts. Therefore men ought to see that God is man’s Creator and his Judge. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought

Christian and Non-Christian Views: Evil

Christian and Non-Christian Views:
1. Reality
2. Epistemology
3. Facts
4. Logic
5. Evil

Each claims that with respect to the problem of evil his position is in accord with conscience.

a. The Christian claims this because he interprets his moral consciousness, an aspect of his total experience, in terms of his presupposition. He knows that the judge of the whole earth must do right. All the facts and problems of evil and sin take their meaning from, and find their solution in, terms of the plan of God according to Scripture. The approvals and disapprovals of his conscience take their meaning from the Word of God and from it alone.

b. The non-Christian claims this because he takes his conscience to be its own ultimate point of reference. Evil has not come into the world because of man’s disobedience; it is metaphysically ultimate, i.e., it just is! Evil cannot, ultimately, be distinguished from good; what is, ought to be. Even assuming that good could be distinguished from evil, there is no right to expect that the one will ever be victorious over the other. If those who think they are good succeed in making what they think is “good” prevail upon earth, it can be only by the suppression of the “good” of others who also think they are “good.” Thus power politics will forever replace all ethical distinctions.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought
   (Variation in The Defense of the Faith p.305)

Christian and Non-Christian Views: Logic

Christian and Non-Christian Views:
1. Reality
2. Epistemology
3. Facts
4. Logic

Each claims that his position is “in accord with the demands of logic.”

a. The Christian claims this because he interprets the reach of logic as manipulated by man, in terms of God’s revelation of the relation of man to the world and therefore in terms of his presupposition of God. Genesis tells him that nature is made subject to man, and both are subject to God and his purpose. Thus his logic is in gear with reality, but it does not claim to control God himself and therewith all possibility.

b. The non-Christian claims that his position is logical but cannot put any intelligible meaning into the claim. If he works according to his presupposition about the ultimate non-rationality of facts, then all logic operates in a void. It has no contact with the world. If he works according to his presupposition of the ultimacy of all facts, then all facts are reduced to logic and thereby destroyed because they lose their individuality; logic has a validity that is, therefore, purely formal. It could only be a logic of identity, merely saying A is A, for all would be one.

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– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought.
   (Variations in The Defense of the Faith p.305, and Jerusalem and Athens p.20)

Christian and Non-Christian Views: Facts

Christian and Non-Christian Views:
1. Reality
2. Epistemology
3. Facts
4. Logic

Both Christian and non-Christian claim that their position is “in accord with the facts of experience.”

a. The Christian claims this because he interprets the facts and his experience of them in terms of his presupposition. The “uniformity of nature” and his knowledge of that uniformity both rest for him upon the plan of God. The coherence which he sees in his experience he takes to be analogical to, and indeed, the result of, the absolute coherence of God.

b. The non-Christian also interprets the facts in terms of his presuppositions. On the one hand is the presupposition of ultimate non-rationality. On such a basis, any fact would be different in all respects from all other facts. There could be no “uniformity,” the foundation of all science. Here is “Chaos and Old Night” with a vengeance. On the other hand is the presupposition that all reality is rational in terms of the reach of logic as manipulated by man. On such a basis the nature of any fact would be identical with the nature of every other fact, or, in short, only one big universal fact. There then could be no experience, because there could be no change. All would be a static unity. The non-Christian tries somehow to balance these contradictions. While in the first place he tells us he can never as much as discover any fact, or know anything of its nature, he in the second place after he has discovered what he cannot discover, turns around and tells us everything about it. On his principles he knows everything if he knows anything, though at the same time he cannot know anything; but he does know something, which means he knows everything.

 

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought
   (Variations in The Defense of the Faith p.304-305, and Jerusalem and Athens p.20)

 

Nature through the lens of Scripture

Natural revelation is perfectly clear. Men ought from it to know God and ought through it to see all other things as dependent on God. But only he who looks at nature through the mirror of Scripture does understand natural revelation for what it is. Furthermore, no one can see Scripture for what it is unless he is given the ability to do so by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Only those who are taught of God see the Scriptures for what they are and therefore see the revelation of God in nature for what it is. To be taught of God is a “singular privilege” which God bestows only on his “elect whom he distinguishes from the human race as a whole.” As taught of God, the elect both understand the Bible as the Word of God, and interpret natural revelation through the Bible. The rest of mankind, not taking Scripture as the Word of God, in consequence also misinterpret the natural revelation of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought.

Christian and Non-Christian Views: Epistemology

Christian and Non-Christian Views:
1. Reality
2. Epistemology
3. Facts
4. Logic

Neither Christian nor non-Christian can, as finite beings, by means of logic, legislate what reality should be.

a. Knowing this, the Christian observes facts and arranges them logically in self-conscious subjection to the plan of God revealed in Scripture, i.e., he listens to God’s explanation of his relation to the world and man, both in Adam and in Christ, before he “listens” to, and during his observation of, the “facts.” He knows that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Assuming the plan of God, the Christian knows that the facts have a divine order. The Christian’s task in science is to uncover the God-ordained structure of the world. For the Christian, man and the world are made for one another so that the rational abilities of man are applicable to the world as man seeks to “subdue the earth.”

b. Knowing this, the non-Christian, nonetheless, constantly attempts the impossible by demanding a coherence that originates with himself.

(1) Negatively, he must assume that reality is not divinely created and controlled in accordance with God’s plan at all, and that the Christian story therefore cannot be true. The world of “facts” springs from “Chaos and Old Night”—ultimate Chance.

(2) Positively, he must assume that reality is after all rationally constituted and answers exhaustively to his logical manipulations. If the world were not rational or “uniform,” then there could be no science. Any “cosmic mind,” or God, must therefore be able to be manipulated by man-made categories. Any God not reducible to logical or empirical categories, and therefore completely understandable, is a false God.

 

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought.
   (Variations in The Defense of the Faith p.304, and Jerusalem and Athens p.19-20)

 

Christian and Non-Christian Views: Reality

Christian and Non-Christian Views:
1. Reality
2. Epistemology
3. Facts
4. Logic

Both Christians and non-Christians make presuppositions about the nature of reality.

a. The Christian presupposes the self-contained God and his plan for the universe as back of all things and therewith the absolute distinction between Creator and creation.

b. The non-Christian presupposes “Chaos and Old Night,” or the self-existence of matter in some sense.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought.
   (Variations in The Defense of the Faith p.304, and Jerusalem and Athens p.19)