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Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by greenbaggins, May 31, 2019.
This is very well worth the listen.
I just listened to it today, as well. I was astounded at the number of Van Til quotes taken so egregiously out of context. I hope Dr. Fesko honors their request to appear on their podcast.
Maybe Fesko should be given the Oliphint treatment? Yes accountability, I think revisions of his work should be mandatory. An OPC minister, an educated professor/teacher, misrepresenting Van Til in a published work....is sad, moreso than from laymen in the OPC, and moreso than from those outside of the OPC. How much time and effort could be redeemed, if only by halting misrepresentation before she goes out the back door to talk to her friends.
You mean let off on a dubious technicality? As if the two situations are even remotely similar. One person was accused of setting forth heterodox theology proper; the other is being accused of misrepresenting a dead theologian. The two things are not even in the same ballpark.
Before he has been given the opportunity to defend himself? From what I have noticed, Barthians, Van Tillians, Reconstructionist Theonomists, advocates of the New Perspective on Paul, and the Federal Visionists always claim to have been misrepresented and that none of their critics has ever understood them. Is a fair critique of such opinions even possible without someone shouting "misrepresentation"? Also, I am not sure that you can ever take anything written by a believer in Paradox Theology at face-value.
I bought the book on Thursday and have neither had the chance to read the book nor listen to this review. However, demanding that someone be forced to retract and rewrite a book because he apparently misunderstood Cornelius Van Til seems a little draconian. Church discipline is not a tool for coercing everyone with whom we have a disagreement.
In which case everyone who is associated with the Trinity Foundation should be brought under church discipline!
My thoughts on the Trinity Foundation are echoed in the criticisms of TF found in this old PB thread: John Robbins and the Trinity Foundation.
By "let off" and "dubious" you mean Oliphint intended to teach heterodoxy? I do not believe Dr. Oliphint would ever intentionally teach heterdoxy, that he might err or misspeak etc. is common to all men. As to the commonalities, both are recognized teachers, both have written published works with controversy. It is a similar situation. The subject of controversy is different, but the situation is nearly identical. The question here is whether Fesko intentionally misrepresented or if he is mistaken and will retract or revise accordingly.
It seems rather obvious though grouping Karl Barth and Cornelius Van Til into the same category the pejorative nature of it so as to be purposely offensive.
Apparently you spent no time with the content posted by the OP from the Reformed Forum, otherwise you would have read quotations from sources and or listened to them along with discussion.
I hope you share your thoughts when you finish the book. I may pick it up soon myself. It's hard to evaluate the podcast without having read the book yet yet--I suspect in many of the points addressed, such as common notions, where the RF guys take issue with the representation of Van Til, Dr. Fesko is not claiming that no semblance of the concept is acknowledged by Van Til, but rather that the concept is vitiated and rendered hollow, in Dr. Fesko's judgment, by Van Til's other teachings. Jeff Waddington does allude to this at one point, to his credit, to suggest that Dr. Fesko is not simply pretending Van Til didn't say things he said but rather that they are using the terms in different manners. Indeed, one of the difficulties with Van Til was that he was not a very systematic writer and it's sometimes difficult to tell how various teachings of his fit together or modify each other to create a cohesive whole.
So often the RF guys seem to present Van Til (and not just here) as being thoroughly orthodox and merely recontextualizing the preceding teachings of Reformed divines, while also at the same time representing a great step forward and correction of previous deficiencies in the Reformed tradition. I've always felt that if Van Til was primarily the former, then there are far clearer and more consistent writers for us to have recourse to, but if he's primarily the latter then we need to come to terms with and acknowledge the ways in which he did materially diverge from historical Reformed teaching (for right or wrong). I do hope that Dr. Fesko does take the RF guys up on their offer to continue the dialogue.
I have made it clear that I have not done that because I wanted to read the book for myself first.
Whether he meant to teach heterodoxy or not is beside the point. The ground for dropping the case against him was a technicality.
The two situations are nowhere near the same. Advocating heterodox theology proper is a much, much more serious situation than being mistaken about what a dead theologian might have said.
I have noticed that Barthians and Van Tillians have certain similarities in how they defend Karl Barth and Cornelius Van Til. And, as it happens, I think that there are certain similarities in theological method between the two groupings - such as the undermining of natural theology and appeal to paradox. Recognising that point does not mean that the two groups are theologically identical anymore than recognising certain similarities between how Reconstructionists and NPP advocates defend their peculiar tenets.
No one is saying Dr Oliphint sought to promote heterodoxy. And if he was misinterpreted, that's entirely on him, since he used untested language from one category and applied it to another. This led him open to the charge of teaching mutability in God.
At worst, Fesko misinterpreted Van Til, which is understandable since it first requires a grasp of 19th Century Idealism.
The two situations are nowhere the same.
Here is a challenge to Van Tillians: name me a critic who you believe has accurately understood and fairly represented your opinions?
With theonomy, I believe that John Frame and Vern Poythress both understood and fairly represented the opinions of the theonomists whom they critiqued. Recognising that point does not mean that I agree (at least not entirely) with their critiques, but is a simple acknowledgement that they did not misrepresent those whom they criticised.
Also, if you are going to call for church discipline (even if it falls short of actual censure) against someone every time they have allegedly misunderstood or misrepresented someone in print, then where would it stop? Many Thomists believe that Scott Oliphint misrepresented Thomas Aquinas in his recent book on that subject. Others believe that Van Tillians misrepresent the Reformed tradition when they claim that their system is the Reformed approach to apologetics and epistemology.
Are you seriously going to call for ecclesiastical investigations into these alleged misunderstandings? I think the church has more pressing things to occupy its time with in the current climate. Moreover, such a draconian approach would virtually render any scholarly inquiry and disagreement impossible for fear of one being brought up on charges for having misunderstood someone else.
I can only imagine. How bad was it?
Well, I would need to start it first. In fact, I have not even removed it and John Calvin's Sermons on 2 Timothy from the wrapping since I bought them on Thursday afternoon.
“...when your principles are so vague and are used so dialectically that you can prove anything by means of them (depending upon your predilection), then those principles are as good as ‘proving’ nothing.” Bahnsen on Poythress’ Theonomy
And for that matter, “On page XV of the Introduction Poythress warns his readers that technical terms he uses ‘have a good deal of vagueness and imprecision about them;’ and that ‘my *definitions* should be read sympathetically and not pressed for mathematical precision.’” Gordon Clark on Poythress’ Clarkianism
I’m merely pointing out that Poythress is not always recognized as accurately representing positions with which he disagrees - if, indeed, using unambiguous language is a necessary condition for fair and accurate critique.
Van Til is often misunderstood. In a conversation I had with Alvin Plantinga, he told me that Van Til believed that unbelievers can’t know anything. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Where does Greg Bahnsen say that Vern Poythress misrepresented him? That is not what the above quotation says. Is GLB not critiquing the hermeneutical method of VSP? Also, note that in my earlier post I stated that *I* believed that both he and John Frame fairly represented theonomy even though *I* would not agree with all of their critiques. For one thing, I disagree with Vern Poythress on the penalties pertaining to the first table of the law. Others may disagree, which they are free to do if they think the evidence is to the contrary.
Going back to the point about church discipline, in another thread recently some of us were of different minds concerning precisely what John Calvin taught concerning the Sabbath. I do not think there is a huge difference in substance between Calvin and the Westminster Assembly, others take a different view and think Calvin's position was significantly different. May we not just ascribe that divergence to an honest disagreement about what Calvin taught without resorting to draconian methods in order to get those with whom we differ to retract?
Richard Muller (although he is not a Thomist) believes this. He also believes that Oliphint misrepresents Aquinas because his mentor, Van Til, also misrepresented him.
I was thinking of Richard Muller when I wrote the above comment, as he wrote several reviews of Scott Oliphint's book.
While I am someone who would fall into the "Reformed Thomist" camp (though it would be more accurate to call it a Reformed appropriation of aspects of Thomism), many of the Reformed scholastics were highly critical of Thomas Aquinas on specific points as well. Nonetheless, the very first sentence of the Westminster Confession is enough to establish the place of natural theology within Reformed orthodoxy: "Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and His will, which is necessary unto salvation." (1.1)
The quote I provided is from No Other Standard - Theonomy and Its Critics. Bahnsen dedicates Appendix B to “Poythress As A Theonomist.”
And although Bahnsen expressed passing gratitude for Poythress’ efforts in comparison to others and, also, for Poythress’ theonomic sympathies - Bahnsen spent most of the time critiquing Poythress for “unreliable reasoning,” “lack of adequate logical, textual controls,” “arbitrariness and inaccuracy,” and “capricious use of principles.”
So, I think it’s fair to say that since Bahnsen thought that Poythress approached the theonomic thesis with (a) unreliable reasoning, (b) logical lapses, (c) arbitrariness, (d) inaccuracy and (e) capriciously, then it would stand to reason that Bahnsen also believed that Poythress “misrepresented” the theonomic thesis. After all, how could Bahnsen think Poythress represented Theonomy fairly given such severe objections?
Now I suppose it’s theoretically possible that Bahnsen thought Poythress mispresented theonomy but not Bahnsen’s theonomy, but then we’d be left to ask, who’s theonomy was Poythress aiming to criticize if not Bahnsen’s?
I believe Poythress has showed great promise and did not make the outlandish remarks and reckless criticisms as some of his contemporaries. But in the end, I agree with Bahnsen. Poythress employed flawed reasoning throughout his critique. In doing so, he necessarily misrepresented theonomy. That said, I have no problem extending that misrepresentation to a misrepresentation of Bahnsen. How couldn’t it be?
Ron, thanks for providing the fuller context of the remarks. Even if we grant that Greg Bahnsen thought Vern Poythress misrepresented him, the rest of us may be forgiven for not taking Dr Bahnsen's response to a critic at face-value. From what I have read of Dr Poythress and John Frame on the subject, they were fair, thoughtful, and generally irenic critics whose criticisms were not wrong in every particular.
For my part, I agree more with Dr Bahnsen than Vern Poythress on the subject in question, but I am not convinced that the latter misrepresented the former. While it is a long time since I read No Other Standard, I do think it is fair to say that Dr Bahnsen was too quick to dismiss Dr Poythress' concerns about his understanding of πληρῶσαι in Matthew 5:17.
I think we all think GLB placed too much emphasis on Matthew 5. And, I’d like to reaffirm that GLB was seemingly quite grateful for Poythress’s sincerity. Poythress by GLB’s standards did quite an about-face on the matter. I agree. Most of GLB’s opponents, even today, come across as disingenuous. Either they’re utterly misinformed or else they prefer to engage caricatures. Their abuse of 19.4 is deplorable.
Who’s abuse? The critics or theonomists? And why?
The desperate critics (as opposed to the more sincere ones). Those who’d interpret “general equity” as applying to ecclesiastical censures.
So which non-Van Tillian represented Van Til correctly?
I'll grant that point. When I was a theonomist at seminary, an adjunct prof come in and while he was supposed to be teaching on the person of Christ, he started yelling at how theonomists wanted to stone the Virgin Mary. I'll leave it at that.
I don't know what it's like now but there was a time one couldn't be in the same room with a Theonomist and not be held suspect. My old church was not theonomic but did hold to the orig unAmericanized WCF, and it was fear of theonomy that was one fact that kept the church out of the Presbyterian Reformed Church. I'll edit to say that we did have a thonomist leaning deacon at the time who was one of the Tyler ARC excommunicants and had all the papers and documents of that controversy (often thought someone needs to get to him and perserve those or do a thesis at least on it before its all lost; maybe something positive could come out of it; OTOH, fading into the dustbin of history might not be bad either). But the church's position was not theonomic. One thing positive from Bahnsen's TICE is that it did lead to an interest in the views at the time of the Westminster Assembly (Bahnsen was unaware of key pieces if I recall rightly), witness in 1990 the appearance of Ferguson's Assembly of Theonomists and I also published the first new edition since the assembly of Gillespie's Wholesome Severity (Naphtali Press Anthology vol. 4).
All very true. Most of the theonomists really weren't familiar with Puritan and Reformed scholastic sources. Neither were many of their critics. I quoted WCF 19.4 one time and someone said that was theonomy. In any case....
I never wanted to stone the Virgin Mary, though.
I sort of lean towards Poythress's view at this point, but it isn't an issue I fight over.