Van Til's Theory of Paradox

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by TylerRay, Mar 26, 2019.

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  1. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    In which of Van Til's works does he develop his theory of paradox? I know that he understood his theory of paradox to be essential to his system, and that it cannot be understood apart from his system; but where does he treat the subject of paradox specifically?
  2. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    To quote Gary North, "Everything Van Til taught, he taught in every book. Each book has 34 main points."

    But to your question, I think it is in Intro to Systematic Theology.
  3. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I don't think CVT is truly understandable--I mean in the fullest sense, not "you can't understand him, period"--unless one recognizes

    1) what theological instruction/basics is his bedrock; and it might be safe to point here to Bavinck (in the Dutch original). Now that we have HB's Dogmatics in English, generally we're better able (who don't do Dutch) to study this foundation, though it was probably always detectable in L.Berkhof.

    2) the specific opponents and ideologies that were the targets of his polemics. He, himself, might be subject to some criticism for writing that lacked constant notices respecting his wide-ranging target array; and for grabbing his opponent's language in order to whack them with it, often without explanation.

    I suspect this is what is happening with the language of "paradox," and CVT's rather sweeping assertions respecting its presence and utility. KarlBarth was a true "paradoxical" theologian. It was neo-orthodoxy that alleged contraries were really simultaneous, and that this was certain over against the certainties of the older Reformed (and other kinds of) orthodoxy. The former conviction was that truth-seeking sought to have one complete set of facts (the fullness of truth); and aimed to deny that any other set was legitimate, being wrong and/or incomplete.

    When CVT snatched "paradox" language from the neo-orthodox, I don't think he had any purpose to relativize the truth claims of his bedrock commitment to Reformed theology. He was challenging the very basis of the neo-orthodox claim, by relativizing their "radical" assertion. In other words, "You N-O folk, with your uber-modern criticism of the old paths aren't radical enough." This is a reflection of his presuppositional method: taking the opponent's position and exposing the inconsistency of its assertions.

    If he employed the same language of paradox against hyper-rationalism, it was to portray such as the bona fide targets of the neo-orthodox, i.e. identifying the precise target for which those N-O folk claimed to offer their modern correction. And this is why CVT could have enemies on both sides, as it were. It is not possible (he would say) to have a pure Christian theology of the ectype that has eliminated--even theoretically--the category of mystery and "paradox" (in the true sense of that word). If your theology does not forever have some or certain unanswered questions, then he'd say there's something suspect about it.

    CVT did not do his work in an ivory tower, but in the trenches; and that's where he should be evaluated. I believe it is fair to criticize CVT, but not to do so without recognizing how significant he was to the defense of the faith in the 20th century for Reformed and Presbyterian churches. There's been too much hero-worship, too much just treating his as if his work was a "theory" of apologetics.

    And there's been too much criticism that has not recognized both his bedrock, or his polemical targets and methods fit for his day. His fights are also not the 21st century's; so the tactics and approaches must be tweaked in our generation. While we accept (in my view) that there IS a basic stance on apologetics that is the most Reformed and uncompromising, one that he attempted to describe and employ in Christ's service.
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  4. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    This is perfect. Haha! But it's true. I tell people all the time that if they've read one of Van Til's major works, they've kind of read them all, because he beats the same drum everywhere he marches.
  5. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    He would have gone down well in Ulster. :stirpot:
  6. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I am not a Van Tillian, but I think he is unfairly criticized on paradox. It's just analogical language. I don't think CVT helped himself when he said the whole Bible is "apparently contradictory." That's factually false. The proposition "David killed Goliath" is not apparently contradictory. But I know what he is getting at.
  7. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Graduate

    Would you say you are in the Reformed Epistomology camp?
  8. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Mostly, yes. I don't line up with everything they say, but Plantinga has had a huge impact on me. I think the Van Tillians are onto something with "covenantal knowledge," but most lay Van Tillians dont' do more than simply repeat, "Yeah, well how do you know that?"
  9. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

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  10. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    Yeah, we’ll how do you know that?

    Seriously though, I would agree that this sort of apologetic method isn’t nearly as effective as its proponents seem to believe it is.
  11. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't hold to CVT's methodology. However, Van Til drew heavily from Vos, and I think Vos's two-age paradigm has some interesting suggestions on epistemology. I haven't worked it out in detail, but the ages in 1 Cor. 2 have a noetic function.
  12. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Graduate

    Thanks for answering twice. :)
  13. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    Regarding Van Til as an apologist, J. V. Fesko has just published a new book, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019). I've just barely started reading it, so I can't comment on any specifics. But here's part of Richard A. Muller's back cover comments: "Fesko carefully examines the nineteenth-century idealist backgrounds of the Van Tilian and Dooyeweerdian approaches and demonstrates their flawed epistemology. He outlines the enduring strength of the genuine tradition of the Reformation. . .".

    Speaking of Muller, he has an article in the latest issue of Calvin Theological Journal: "Reading Aquinas from a Reformed Perspective: A Review Essay" (CTJ 53.2 (2018), pp. 255-288. He spends 34 pages reviewing and heavily criticizing a recent book by K. Scott Oliphant - Thomas Aquinas (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2017). Briefly, Muller takes Oliphant to task for misunderstanding Aquinas, and he says that Oliphant does so because his mentor, CVT, also misunderstood Aquinas. In fact, Muller states that CVT is one "who, by no stretch of the imagination, can be viewed as a competent analyst of the thought of Aquinas" (p. 288).

    As Bruce said above, it is fair to criticize CVT and it's looking like there are parts of the scholarly world that have decided that the time has come.

    Like all scholars, praise CVT where he deserves it, and criticize him where he deserves it. That's what scholarship is all about.
  14. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Oliphint shouldn't have tackled Aquinas. Mind you, I am violently anti-Thomist, but he's too powerful a thinker to be dismissed in a 200 page book.

    I think Van Tillians are on better ground when they stick to image of God type deals. And Vosian two-age ontology. If 1 Cor 2 has a noetic function, then there is something going for that.
  15. BottleOfTears

    BottleOfTears Puritan Board Freshman

    I suppose you could say one can't have univocal knowledge of Van Til.:vantil:
  16. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    He saw that on our end we can't know what God knows. We know as creatures, not creator. Therefore we know something's as paradox because we are creatures. But a paradox is not a contradiction, it may be "apparent".
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