Archive for November 2010

Putting Words In His Mouth?

November 29, 2010

Somebody please contact Reformed Theological Seminary Assistant Professor, James Anderson, and tell him to please  remove his book, Paradox in Christian Theology, from bookstores and to stop using it in his classroom immediately.

According to Vantilian Lane Keister over at the Greenbaggins blog, when speaking of the Trinity Cornelius Van Til didn’t really mean it when he said that God is both one person and three persons after all.  Van Til was not asserting anything like the strict numerical identity between the unity and plurality of the Godhead that  is so critical to the central thesis of his book and Christian orthodoxy in general.  After all, and according to Anderson, Van Til’s well known assertion that “the whole Godhead, is one person” is not only permissible, it is the sine qua non of Trinitarian orthodoxy and is, at least in Anderson’s mind, positively “Augustinian.”  Now it appears that both Van Til’s critics and supporters have been wrong all along.  It has all been one great big misunderstanding.

Consider the following from Van Til’s  “Introduction to Systematic Theology”:

Unity and plurality are equally ultimate in the Godhead. The persons of the Godhead are mutually exhaustive of one another, and therefore of the essence of the Godhead. God is a one-conscious being, and yet he is also a tri-conscious being.

As a unitary conscious being and a tri-conscious being God is both one and three in the same sense.  But that’s not all . . .

It is sometimes asserted that we can prove to men that we are not asserting anything that they ought to consider irrational, inasmuch as we say that God is one in essence and three in person. We therefore claim that we have not asserted unity and trinity of exactly the same thing.

Yet this is not the whole truth of the matter. We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person . . .We need both the absolute cotermineity of each attribute and each person with the whole being of God, and the genuine significance of the distinctions of the attributes and the persons. “Each person,” says Bavinck,  “is equal to the whole essence of God and coterminous with both other persons and with all three”. . . Over against all other beings, that is, over against created beings, we must therefore hold that God’s being presents an absolute numerical identity. And even within the ontological Trinity we must maintain that God is numerically one. He is one person.

Notice, God is not one in any generic sense.  God is numerically one.  And, if there can be any doubt what he means Van Til asserts; “He is one person.”

Now, pay close attention, Van Til continues:

When we say that we believe in a personal God, we do not merely mean that we believe in a God to whom the adjective “personality” may be attached. God is not an essence that has personality; He is absolute personality. Yet, within the being of the one person we are permitted and compelled by Scripture to make the distinction between a specific or generic type of being, and three personal subsistences.

Did you catch that?  The reason Van Til cannot be charged with teaching heterodoxy or anything so crass as God is both one person and three persons is because Van Til draws a distinction between God as a person in the generic sense as opposed to God consisting of “three personal subsistences.”  Keister writes:

I believe that what Van Til means here is that the “specific or generic type of being” corresponds to the phrase “God is one person,” and that the phrase “three personal subsistences” refers to the tri-personality of the three persons. In other words, the distinction between “God is a person” and “God is three persons” is a distinction between a generic type of being (and therefore personality) as contrasted with the three relational persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Consequently, when Van Til said God is one person he really means a “specific or generic type of being.”  Van Til, along with Gordon Clark, Richard Swineburn, Thomas Morris and others, really holds to a form of generic unity sometimes associated with social trinitarianism.  According to Keister, this is the only conclusion we can reach if we are to read him “charitably.”  However, as a viable solution to the problem of the one and the many and one that solves the apparent contradiction inherent in the Trinity, Anderson rejects the idea of a generic unity as heterodox in toto and is a solution that he believes necessitates tritheism:

Indeed, I suggest…the essential inadequacy of *all* social trinitarian interpretations, that is, all trinitarian models in which the divine persons are numerically distinct from the divine substance (however that latter is construed).  Such interpretations weaken the ontological unity within the Godhead to the point where a collapse into tritheism is unavoidable.   Paradox in Christian Theology, 45-46.

And, on Anderson’s website, Van Til FEM (or Frequently Encountered Misconceptions, ya think), he writes:

Van Til’s concern was that we should avoid any implication that the unity of the Godhead is an impersonal unity, that the Being who is the ground of all being is ultimately impersonal in nature…This, then, was Van Til’s basic motivation for stating that God must be one person as well as three persons…What exactly are these different senses? Where or how is the distinction to be made? Van Til, of course, didn’t specify; his point was that we cannot specify the distinction, as finite creatures, and thus we must rest content with an apparent contradiction (at least for now). Although we can rationally infer that there is a distinction to be made, we are not in a position to specify what that distinction is.

Now, no one that I know of who holds to a generic form of unity believes that God is “ultimately impersonal in nature.” But then, as Gordon Clark notes in his treatise on the Trinity “a genus is not one of its included individuals” and therefore God is not one person.  In fact, Daniel Chew, who has recently interacted on his blog with a couple of Vantilians on this very question (including a recent exchange with the Vantilian pit-bull, Paul Manata) observes:

… one truly wonders who among the orthodox ever thought of the Godhead as being “an impersonal abstraction”. If the Godhead is made of up three persons, does not the presence of three persons in the Godhead make the Godhead even more personal, without having the need to adopt a non-confessional and idiosyncratic at best definition of the Trinity?

…The Godhead IS the presence of God in three persons, not some impersonal entity of “god-ness”. When we speak of God as being one essence (substantia, hypostatis), we are saying that God is one and works in unity, not that three separate “gods” partake of one divine essence of “God-ness” — which is practically tritheism. How we are to comprehend it fully is none of our business. The three persons of God are distinct but not separate from each other. They have their own “centers of consciousness” (ie what make persons persons) which are however not operating independently of the other two persons (cf perichoresis).

However, all this is moot if Keister is correct and to read Van Til “charitably” is to read the idea of a generic unity into his assertion that  “God is one person.”  Of course, Keister being a uniter not a divider previously claimed that on matters of epistemology Clark and Van Til were in fact in total agreement and that the Clark/Van Til controversy was really the Clark/John Murray controversy and that Clark and Van Til had enormous respect for each other, heck, they even recommended each other’s books and used them in the classroom.  Van Til’s only crime, according to Keister, is that he should have “phrased himself more felicitously.”  More felicitously?  How about more clearly so that he wouldn’t have been so broadly and universally misunderstood as he butchered the doctrine of the Trinity rendering it not just incomprehensible and in the sense of being unintelligible (something I believe he intended to do), but positively irrational.

So, before Anderson returns all the proceeds from his book to his publisher, and before we conclude that Van Til has been seriously misunderstood by all of his supporters and critics alike prior to Keister, I hope there is one thing we all can agree on: Van Til had a penchant for making difficult ideas and doctrines positively obscure.  Clark never needed a cadre of apologists and revisionists throughout the years trying desperately to make him appear to say what he apparently did not say or do what he did not do.  Thankfully the records of some men can stand on their own.

The Trinity Foundation’s Seventh Annual Christian Worldview Essay Contest

November 22, 2010

Know any Christians between the ages of 17 and 23?

The Trinity Foundation has recently launched their 2011 Worldview Essay Contest.   While this is a great opportunity for budding Christian scholars to win upward of $3,000, the most valuable benefit is that through the efforts of the Trinity Foundation more young minds will be exposed to some of the most important Christian books ever written.  This year’s essay contest is no exception and focuses on Gordon Clark’s seminal masterpiece, An Introduction to Christian Philosophy (now found in the indispensable volume that should be on the shelf of every thinking Christian, Clark and His Critics under the heading of Christian Philosophy and “The Wheaton Lectures”) .

Clark’s Intro to Christian Phil is without question one of the most important books written in the last 100 years.  Probably longer. I only wish I had read this book when I was in college.  I remember as a freshman sitting in an Intro to Phil course and my professor, Dr. Schutts, stressing that the most important branch of philosophy is not metaphysics, not ethics, not politics, and certainly not esthetics.  The most important branch of philosophy is epistemology or the study of knowledge.   Schutts would say, “Unless you can explain how you know you can’t really say that you know anything at all.”  Since then I’ve realized that the vast majority of people, including most of my professors, really didn’t know anything at all.  Clark in his Wheaton Lectures sought to rectify this deplorable situation by offering Christians a biblically defensible epistemology.

The Apostle Peter said that Scripture is a “light that shineth in a dark place.” By applying the Reformed principle of sola scriptura to the problem of epistemology, Clark succeeded in providing an unshakeable foundation for knowledge that can be found nowhere else.

For those who might not know, the Trinity Foundation’s Worldview Contest was started in response to the annual Worldview Student Conference that was held by Calvary Reformed Church in Hampton, Va.   The Calvary Reformed student conference was notorious for having a rotating roster of Federal Visionists like Doug Wilson, Steve Wilkins, Andrew Sandlin, Peter Leithart, Steve Schlissel and others.  You can read about just one of these Conference’s here.    As a small aside, I attended one of these conferences in 2004 where I heard Steve Wilkins tell a packed room of young minds that the forced baptisms of Anglo-Saxons was a good thing because “that’s how Christians are made.”  Then in between speakers I overheard him telling a group of students that he had come under attack by some who have accused him of denying justification by faith.  He assured them “I have never denied justification by faith, ever!”  I was tempted to stick my nose into the conversation and let these kids know that no one had ever accused Wilkins of denying justification by faith, just justification by faith alone.

Instead, a couple of friends and I stood outside the conference hall handing out fliers offering books Dr. Robbins and the Trinity Foundation were providing free of charge to conference attendees.  The books included Not Reformed At All, The Current Justification Controversy , A Companion to The Current Justification Controversy, What Is Saving Faith, and Christ and Civilization all in the hope of immunizing some of these poor young souls being  subjected to this FV swill.  I recall Calvary’s Associate Pastor, Byron Snapp, was furious when he saw what we were doing and accused us all of trespassing.  I reminded Pastor Snapp that their conference was being held on the public property of Christopher Newport University and that standing outside handing out fliers was hardly trespassing.  I then asked him if he’d be interested in a free book.  Needless to say he was not interested or amused, but, no bother, I had previously sent Pastor’s Snapp and Hurst a copy of Not Reformed At All, with this accompanying letter: (more…)

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (via Contrast)

November 5, 2010

Brandon Adams has done a terrific job exposing the sinful support of the current state of Israel by Christians. You’ll notice he doesn’t even name “Dispensationalism” once in his piece.   Does that mean there will be a part two?

Highly recommended.

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews I was reading the article in Christianity Today about Al Mohler tonight and saw an advertisement that kept popping up on the right side: It’s from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. IFCJ was founded by a Rabbi in 1983 who makes roughly $1/2 million a year running the organization. My interest here is to briefly look at the claims in the ads. The ads are found in Christianity Today, and they obviously work, otherwise IFCJ wouldn’ … Read More

via Contrast

A Standing Judicial Setback

November 3, 2010

While the verdict is still out on the question can the Presbyterian Church in America be saved, there was a recent setback in the attempt to require TE Joshua Moon account for his thorough defense of the Federal Vision being advanced by TE Greg Lawrence in the Siouxlands Presbytery(SLP).  The Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) denied a complaint charging that the SLP erred in not finding a “strong presumption of guilt” in their cursory and superficial examination of Moon.   This decision was a surprising reversal of the decision made by a preliminary panel of the SJC earlier this year that found that the Siouxlands Presbytery did err in “finding no strong presumption of guilt”  in the case of Moon.  It would seem that the dissenting arguments raised by David Coffin were enough to convince the entire SJC to reverse the panel’s decision.

I confess, when I first read Coffin’s dissent I can’t say I completely disagreed with his reasoning.  It seemed to me that Coffin’s argument was essentially that the investigative process was not necessary since the basis for the complaint against Moon was already part of the public record, and, as such, there was nothing to investigate. Rather than an investigation, which the SLP did conduct, albeit not to the satisfaction of the complaining party, charges should have been filed against Moon instead.  Again, and assuming I understood Coffin correctly, I can’t completely disagree with his reasoning.

Where I do find myself in disagreement with the SJC’s decision is their argument that Moon’s presumed guilt in his defense of Lawrence rests on a non sequitur.  They argued:

Complainants hold that TE Moon’s defense of certain views of TE Lawrence, as views within the permissible latitude afforded by the PCA’s standard for subscription, implies that TE Moon shares in the alleged errors of TE Lawrence. But this is a non sequitur. It may be illustrated as follows: it is widely held that paedo-communion is a permissible minority view within the PCA, but it does not follow that all who consider it permissible, hold to the position of paedocommunion.

First, I confess I did not know that paedocommunion was permissible within the PCA, which is troubling in itself seeing that WLC 177 states: “the Lord’s Supper is to be administered often . . . and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.” However, even if paedocommunion is acceptable in the PCA, the situation with Moon is more akin to someone defending paedocommunion because he agrees that shoving bread and pouring wine into the mouths of unthinking children and infants is a good and God honoring thing to do.  After all, Moon said he agrees with the views advanced by Lawrence:

The fact is, what TE Lawrence says on baptism is held in various ways and with various nuances by a lot of people in our PCA: from ministers and elders here in this Presbytery, myself included, to professors at our (emphasis in original) theological seminary, and even almost entire Presbyteries.

Tellingly and subsequent to making the above admission as part of his floor speech in defense of Lawrence, Moon asked that the paragraph be removed from the Presbytery’s minutes arguing: “I had made these changes prior to submitting the paper to Mr. Golly [SLP’s stated clerk] in good faith, prior to any complaints or actions being taken against me.”  Clearly Moon was just trying to cover his backside.  But the above confession alone should have been enough for the SJC, at the very least, to require the SLP conduct a more thorough investigation of Moon.  Besides, there were  many other things Moon did say that weren’t  later expunged from the public record that should have been more than enough for any sound presbytery to find a “strong presumption of guilt” (see below). (more…)

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