Van Til - Father of the Federal Vision

Discussion in 'Federal Vision/New Perspectives' started by Magma2, Jul 12, 2006.

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  1. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    Here's a selection from the piece "Within The Bounds of Orthodoxy?:An Examination of Both the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul" by Joseph Minich (
    This is a piece that is strongly endorsed, not surprisingly, by both Steve Wilkins and John Frame, so you can probably guess how the above question is answered, but I post the section below mainly to illustrate how Van Til´s "paradoxical" view of God and Scripture has contributed to the current controversy over justification. Something a few here (Paul Manata among others) still don´t get, not to mention the folks over at The Council of Chalcedon.

    It should be clear from even this short selection that Minich is no defender of Gordon Clark and is clearly biased in favor of Van Til in his understanding of the current controversy (not to mention the Clark/Van Til controversy of the 40's). However, he does a decent job drawing a connection between Van Tilianism and the Federal Vision "“ particularly the role Van Til's heretical and irrational view of the Trinity plays in the heresies of the FV. Of course, for Minich neither Van Til´s view of Scripture and the Trinity, not to mention the teachings of the Fed Visionsists, constitute anything as extreme as heresy, but just another justifiable perspective in God´s "œmultifaceted" and "paradoxical" self-revelation. As Minich says in defense of Wilkins, Shepherd, Wilson and the like; "œThere is nothing in Federal Vision theology which cannot be reproduced in scholars who seem to be immune from charges of heresy."


  2. VanVos

    VanVos Puritan Board Sophomore

    Okay I think the western christian world needs a new term, it's called hyper-vantilianism (i.e Lusk). FVist people have taken Vantil at his most sloppy and used it as a springboard to promote their heretical views. But honestly, I think Vantil gets a bad rap, especially when it comes to his view of the qualatative difference between men's knowledge and God's knowledge. Have you listened to Bahnsen's teachings on this, he really does bring clarity to Vantil's position. I be happy expound if you like.

  3. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    If Van Til's doctrine of justification is evaluated on the basis of his published works and syllabi I cannot see how he can be associated with the FV.

    He was a strong critic of Schilder's doctrine of common grace and he was a minister in good standing in the OPC.

    He accepted and taught the basic distinction between internal/external membership.

    He taught justification sola gratia, sola fide.

    He affirmed and taught WCF 11 and HC 21 and 60.

    He affirmed and taught the moral and consequent necessity of sanctity as the fruit of justification.

    He never, to my knowledge, taught a temporary, covenenantal, conditional election, union with Christ, justification or adoption.

    How exactly then was Van Til related to the FV? Because, in his dotage Norm Shepherd convinced him that "antinomians" (i.e., Ed Clowney) were "out to get him" and that he was only standing up for "Dutch theology." If I had a nickle for every time some idiosyncratic weirdo in the Reformed movement claimed Van Til's (including Steve Schlissel) approval for their oddball views I could retire.

    So the evidence for Van Til's connection to the FV, based on published or public writings and decades of preaching and teaching is what exactly?


  4. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    I agree Van Til was a sloppy thinker, but the question is whether or not the idea of the "œapparently" contradictory nature of Scripture "“ and especially the Trinity "“ was the result of sloppiness or is central to Van Til´s thought? I take the position along with Minich above that it is the latter. For Minich this was to Van Til´s credit and a means to salvage those who promote and defend the FV, while for me it is to Van Til´s detriment and the detriment of those who follow him.

    Van Til was asserting an antinomy at the very heart of the Christian faith per his formulation of the Trinity. Once you accept an insoluble paradox at the root this same principle applies to all the branches; i.e., every other biblical doctrine and to all knowledge in general. Consequently, the paradoxical language of the heretics of the Federal Vision, where they affirm and deny biblical justification, is just one more "apparent contradiction" or "mystery" which men trained in Van Tilian epistemology and apologetics will generally either accept or excuse (as Minich does) all in the name of Christian "charity" (which, in any other area of life would just be called "compromise"). Some might even reject and oppose the FV as the folks at the Council of Chalcedon have done, but they fail to recognize that the root of the problem can be traced to Van Til´s epistemic and Trinitarian framework. Basically, they oppose the FV in spite of and not because of their Van Tilianism.

    Further, I don´t think it can be attributed to sloppiness that virtually every major friend or critic of Van Til recognized that he was asserting an insoluble paradox "“ an antinomy "“ per his formulation of
    the doctrine of the Trinity. Why do you think when it's objected that the Scriptures can contain no unresolvable paradoxes and that any apparent contradictions are in the eye of the sinner and not an attribute of the Scriptures themselves, Van Tilians will invariably bring up the doctrine of the Trinity to prove their point? That's because they view the Trinity, per Van Til, as an insoluble and impenetrable paradox wrapped in a mystery. In plain English - an antinomy.

    For example, Dr. Henry Krabbendam writing on Van Til's doctrine of the Trinity in his piece, "Cornelius Van Til: The Methodological Objective of a Biblical Apologetics," says; "the `contradictory,' the `paradoxical,' and the `antinomous' [are] unavoidable from the human perspective, pertaining not only to the being of God, but also to all of reality. . . [emphasis mine]." Read that sentence again. Then he adds; "In short . . . the human intellect and human logic by virtue of their finiteness eventually bump into contradiction, paradox, and antinomy (everywhere). This is inevitable." This is incredible! How does it follow from "finiteness" that one must "bump into contradiction, paradox, and antinomy" anywhere not to mention everywhere? Regardless, it should be clear, at least it's clear to Dr. Krabbendam, that Van Til was expressing the very idea of antinomy right at the heart of the Christian faith and is what you attribute to his sloppiness. Would that make Dr. Krabbendam a "œhyper-Van Tilian"? And, if Krabbendam, how about John Frame?

    I´ve read Bahnsen´s book on Van Til´s apologetic and have listened to a number of his lectures. While you´re certainly free to expound Bahnsen´s view of Van Til´s view of knowledge, I don´t think this changes Bahnsen´s defense of Shepherd while he was alive and during the height of the Shepherd controversy as it raged at Westminister. Are you suggesting that Bahnsen rejected Van Til´s paradoxical (or, better, contradictory) doctrine of the Trinity? As I recall, he didn´t evidence any such defection in his book.

    While I´m always up to discuss the defects in Van Til´s epistemology, I was just trying to make the point that there is an undeniable connection between the FV and Van Tilianism. Whether this is attributed to Van Til´s "œsloppiness" or not seem to me to be immaterial.

    Of course there will always be ideologues (many who are professors and pastors) who will continue to keep their heads deeply planted in the sand and try and deflect attention from Van Til´s central role in the rise of the FV. I just thought it was interesting that here was someone from the other side of the FV debate who recognizes Van Til´s central contribution to the current situation.
  5. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks for the post Sean. I had started to read through the article by Joseph Minich and hadn't gotten that far. I had no idea that he made such a good argument showing the connection between Van Til's antinomy doctrine and the Federal Vision. I suppose some Vantillians will now argue that the neutral Minich is completely wrong. Should be interesting to see. ;)

    P.S. Here's a link that takes goes directly to the section of Minch's article Sean quoted:

    [Edited on 7-12-2006 by Civbert]
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Sure, a FV guy wants to be known as "being in the stream of orthodoxy." That's why they quote Calvin & Luther as well. And they can quote Scripture with the best of them. The best of the unorthodox, I mean. So what? Some "professor with his head planted in the sand" said: "ALL heretics quote Scripture."

    Name me one orthodox pastor, theologian, Prof, or blogger who hasn't said or printed something in error, whether or not he acknowledged it or recognized it during his lifetime. Can't be done. Because we're all error prone.

    Things I have yet to see:
    1) Show me a church (denomination) that has been flattened by Van Til's termites, er, seminary students-cum pastors. We are approaching 80 years of his influence-infestation. The OPC would be the best candidate for seeing this fruit, and its demise has been confidently predicted for--about 60 years now. Still waiting. Whether it happens in a year, or in 180 years, I'm sure we can blame CVT. Somehow.

    2) How apologetics came to "trump" systematics.

    3) Someone committed to Van Til's apologetic method get their clock cleaned--instead of mopping the floor with the atheist/ Mormon/ Muslim/ etc. Like some other professor once said: "Even [formally] false systems can be incredibly useful in the real world."

    We can talk about implications of some man's thinking until the sun goes down, or the cows come home. Here's one undeniable implication of CVT: in the church where he arguably had the most influence, the officers in that church have produced and approved (no matter how either OPC haters or FV lovers try to spin it) the most thorough, ecclesiastical evaluation of this movement to date, which repudiates it without any reservation.

    THAT implication really sticks in some people's craw.
  7. VanVos

    VanVos Puritan Board Sophomore


    When I speak of HyperVantilianism I'm speaking of those who have gone beyond what Vantil essential taught and believed i.e. FV

    I don't think it's accurate, after a full survey of Vantils works, to conclude he taught that there exists at the very heart of the christian faith complete antinomic truths . I do believe that some of statements about the trinity are problematic and have become a source of great confusion, but to conclude that Vantil *himself* has been the father of the FV is akin to saying Calvin was the father of hyper-calvinism, a jump I can not make.

  8. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    You don't see many FV-ers quoting Gordon Clark.

    Van Til may have not taught FV, but FV is justified by Van Til's philosophy. Van Til's teachings were not merely problematic - but are used with complete validity (ironically) to justify the teachings of FV. I think Van Til was clear about his "paradoxical" view of reality and scripture and God - and FV is one of the logical results. Van Til's paradox and contradictions justify FV's contradictions. Joseph Minich's article shows how.

    We can whitewash Van Til's teaching unless we allow the FV-ers to do the same with their teachings. They always come back with quotes that contradict the implications of their own teachings. The implication of FV is a contradiction the imputation of Christ's righteousness and thus justification by faith alone - so FV fixes this by asserting "justification by faith alone". It's all good because Van Til said man's knowledge of God and scripture and reality is paradoxical. Either we repudiate the paradox philosophy of Van Til, or we must accept the FV as orthodox. We can't have our cake and eat it too.

    Rational or paradoxical - it's the "law of excluded middle".
  9. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    in my opinion this is a case where perhaps simply because you don´t see something doesn´t mean that there is nothing to see. I suggest you read "œChristianity and Neo-Liberalism" by Paul Elliot in which he documents "“ in great detail "“ the death rattles of the OPC.

    Never said it did, but you might want to take a look a biblical theology´s trump of systematics in many P&R circles.

    This is certainly not proof that Van Til´s apologetic, much less his epistemology, is either biblical or sound. Of course, regardless of any apologetic method epistemology comes first.

    I´m sure John Kinnaird is shaking in his boots. Let´s not forget that the OPC failed to discipline Norm Shepherd "“ after his case was debated for SEVEN years at Westminister "“ and he left that denomination in good standing. But, perhaps you have a point. Maybe the PCA´s study will have Steve Wilkins, Peter Leithart and others running for the hills too. :lol:
  10. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    I strongly disagree . . . and so does Van Til; "We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person." But why limit such antinomic truths to the Trinity, Van Til said "all teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory" (i.e., logically paradoxical).

    Van Til denied the systematic coherence of Scripture and John Frame said that the doctrine of justification is just as paradoxical and resistant to logical harmonization as any other doctrine preciesly when we attempt to understand justification in light of the rest of Scripture.

    If you don´t see this as the recipe for the type of duplicity we see coming from the FV camp, I´m at a loss to think of anything that will convince you.
  11. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Clark - Father of Van Tillian Whiners

    Welcome back Sean. Figured out how to improve Chalcedon yet and rescue Christendom from its "nonsense"?

    Question: Does Clarkanianism serve any postive purpose in this world other than whining about Van Til?

    Seriously, the only time I see you interacting on this board is to whine about his teachings. I think the charge that Clarkians obsess far more about Apologetics than Systematics is a valid one given my experience.

    If I catalogued your posts they'd easily predominate with caustic and uncharitable comments.

    You're a clanging gong.
  12. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    One, and only one and final, surrejoinder

    I have no interest in multiple, nested, and repetitious back-and-forth.

    Proof is in the pudding. We're still waiting for a taste. Elliot, et. al., can claim to read all the tea-leaves in China. The difference between his efforts, and those of men like MHSmith or JGMachen, is that in those former instances there was not only interpretation of bits of evidence, but discernable doctrinal drift, clear-cut divisions within the denomination between the faithful and the remainder, and most importantly actually seeing the implications, as we are speaking of such, borne out in rotten fruit. In other words, theoretical implications verified in concrete implications.

    I can point to scabs on my skin and say "Look there! Evidence that my body is wasting away, and I will die." You can try to tell me, thousands of others, that such evidence as Elliot (or others) have scraped together amounts to so much more than a scab--but until the patient starts to fail, or actually give-out an audible "death rattle," that contention is still only so much theoretical static. So many have been trying to do a post-mortem on the OPC for almost its entire 70 year life, its almost "miraculous" she's survived the scapels long enough to endure a human life-span.
    My point is that the claim that apologetics comes first is untrue. Not only is it untrue, its not even Van Tillian! CVT put apologetics after ST and BT. It was one of the ways he broke with the past. He put the Scripture in the fore. He believed in the (not "a") system of doctrine taught in Scripture, and summarized in the WCF. Apologetics then defended it.

    And as for BT, it had its heyday. It was the "next new thing," and now its not anymore. But what happened to the radical BTs? They lost. And so they went and started their own seminary. NS, the ST prof, he lost too. CVT was professor of Apologetics, not ST. Confessional Theology is seeing a necessary (if belated) resurgence to its proper place. Not even every Biblical Theolophile is going to be a radical anyway. Enough said.
    Of course, it isn't irrefragible proof of its soundness. However, it is irrefragible proof of its effectiveness, which is indirect evidence of its soundness. How much stock you choose to put in it is up to you. I would hope you could find it in your heart to congratulate PM on delivering a competent thrashing to DB. Where are the foundationalist-presuppositionalists engaging in their confrontations with the atheists, so that we can admire their efficiency, and compare?
    Well, just keep searching for that error-free church, Sean. But don't join it when you find it, OK? Wouldn't want to spoil a good thing. Me? I'll have to wait for heaven just to get away from my own weakness and infirmity and sins. In the meantime, I will soldier on for the gospel in my own church and denomination-church.
  13. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Quite so. We have an expression in the Marine Corps for things that seem to exist for their own sake - we call it a self-licking ice cream cone.

    So far, from what I can tell, Clarkianism is a self-licking ice cream cone. The only "unbelievers" that I ever see Clarkians engage are fellow Christians.
  14. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    This paper by Minich is quite informative, and well worth a read from the anti-FV side. It is always intriguing to discover how combatants become disputants, and vice verse. Like the English, French and American patriots in the 18th cent.

    I would be interested to see what a response would look like from an anti-FV, Vantillian. Is a Vantillian bound to accept the paradoxical statements of the FV proponents?

    I have received criticism in the past for my "rationalism" with regard to my review of John Murray's Free Offer of the Gospel. How do Vantillian opponents of the FV free themselves from the same charge?
  15. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    With all due respect, John Frame disagrees. In his piece, Van Til the Theologian, he writes:

    "œOne might conclude"¦that Van Til regards Christianity as a deductive system in which each doctrine, taken by itself, logically implies all the others. Van Til, however, explicitly denies this notion. There is no "master concept" from which the whole of Christian doctrine may be logically deduced."

    Yet, the Confession asserts a deducible system of doctrines "“ exactly what Van Til rejects. Further, nowhere does the Confession teach that the Scriptures are "œapparently contradictory," nor that we should "œembrace with passion the idea of the apparently contradictory." Rather, the Confession teaches that the Scriptures present to the mind a consent of the parts, not apparent contradictions.

    Of course no one has argued for an error free church, and, as nice as that would be, it would exclude me as well. However, not all errors carry the same weight. The doctrine of justification has a unique place and it is, as Luther rightly said, the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls. The destruction and systematic redefinition of the doctrine of justification in P&R churches didn´t happen in a vacuum. Anthony was spot on when he said; "œVan Til may have not taught FV, but FV is justified by Van Til's philosophy."
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