Common Grace and the Gospel (Van Til)

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Puritanboard Clerk
Gary North said this is one of Van Til's worst books. I think it is one of his best--and largely for the same reason North thinks it is bad.

While much of the book has common Van Tilism's, he does break new ground. The larger context is the Dutch-American debate on common grace. I will list some of the high points:

Metaphysically, we have all things in common with the unregenerate. Epistemologically, we do not.

With Klaas Schilder we see the importance of thinking historically and concretely. Common grace shows us the importance of seeing historical development and progression (31).

Danger of Abstract Thinking
Kuyper: all creation-ordinances are subject to the will of God (35). Kuyper was unclear on the relation between universal/particular.
1. universals themselves exist as a system. They are organically related to one another. But how can they be related to one another and still remain universals? Whenever universals “overlap,” they begin to admit of “change,” which seems to deny what a universal is. This was Plato’s problem.

2. Plato ascribes the transition between universals as “chance.”
The Christian can begin to allow for transitions between universals because the universals are ascribed to the counsel of God. No abstract staticism and no abstract change.

3. Therefore, the Christian reasons analogically with respect to these relations between facts. Facts never exist as facts; they always exist as facts-in-relation (and this is where Hegel did have correct insight). Reasoning analogically, if the being and self-consciousness of the ontological Trinity are coterminous, may we not also say that facts and universals are correlative in the counsel of God (40).

Positive Line of Concrete Thinking

Even prelapsarian man was confronted with positive revelation. God walked and talked with him.
1. Natural revelation is a limiting concept. It has never existed by itself as far as man is concerned.
2. To insist that man’s relation with God is covenantal is to say that man deals with the personal God everywhere.
3. After the common comes the conditional; history is the process of differentiation. It is a common-ness for the time being (74).
3a. The offer comes generally so that history may have differentiation.
3b. Per Platonism, the conditional can have no real meaning.

Interestingly, Van TIl says he does not reject Old Princeton’s epistemology; simply it’s apologetics (155).

Summary of Van Til’s Position contra critics (158-159):
1. all facts in the unvierse are exhaustively revelational of God.
2. This is true of the environment, nature, and history.
3. This is true of man’s constitution (perhaps there is a correlation with Reid’s belief-creating mechanism).
4. All men unavoidably know God.
4a. natural knowledge and sense of morality are not common grace. They are the presupposition of Common grace
4b. The “starting point” is not the absolute ethical antithesis, but rather the imago dei.
4.b.1. This image contains actual knowledge-content.
4.b.2 Protestantism is a matter of restoring man to his true ethical relation.

5. The immediate testimony of the spirit has to terminate on man. It has to be mediated to man through man’s own consciousness (178).
6. The Antithesis is ethical, not metaphysical.
6a. The Romanist (and others) cannot really grasp this point because on the chain of being there are only gradations, not separations.

The Image of God in Man
Kuyper: image in wider sense is the essence of man, which remains unfallen. The image in the narrower sense consists of true righteousness, knowledge, and holiness. It can be lost/marred/defaced.
Does this distinction really work? Is the “narrower” sense so loosely/accidentally related to man that it can be lost without effecting that image at all? This looks a lot like donum superadditum.
This is what happens when we use concepts like “essence” and “Nature” loosely.

The image must be used in an analogical sense (205).
each concept must be subject to the whole of the revelation of God.


The book's background is the 1920s common grace debate in the CRC. By the end of the book I don't think Van Til is dealing with the primary discussion.
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Puritan Board Doctor
Speaking of Schilder, I think Lexham Press will be publishing a Klaas Schilder reader sometime next year. Could be interesting.
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