In my last post, and with help from Dr. Robbins, I tried to again flesh out the connection between the philosophy of Van Til and Federal Vision. Van Til’s denial of any point of contact between the system of theology taught in Scripture and theology as it exists in God’s mind, completely undermines the authority of Scripture and robs Christians of any “objective and absolute word from God.” What this mean is that when elders steeped in Van Til’s philosophy vow to “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” it must be remembered that they are not claiming that the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures and outlined in the Confession is the one that exists in God’s mind. For the Vantillian, the latter is unknowable.
In recent years some of Van Til’s defenders, perhaps realizing that Van Til’s insistence on a complete break between God’s knowledge and knowledge possible for man ends in skepticism, have tried to blunt the force of Van Til’s analogical doctrine of Scripture by suggesting that man can indeed know the truth as God knows it, only that how God knows some particular truth and how man knows the same truth is different. For example, John Frame claims that Van Til “wanted to insist that our way of knowing is different form God’s. On these matters, the most heatedly debated of the controversy, Van Til and Clark actually agreed.” Of course, if all that Van Til wanted to do was to insist that God’s way of knowing is different from ours, then his point is trivial and his attack against Clark and his supporters was even more reprehensible. Unfortunately, and as anyone who has read the Complaint filed against Clark’s ordination along with Clark’s Answer already knows, this was never a point of contention concerning the doctrine of incomprehensibility. It wasn’t “the most heatedly debated” point of the controversy, as it wasn’t even debated at all. Both sides understood each other completely and accurately. Consider this from the Answer:
The complainants in attacking Dr. Clark’s position are not concerned with knowledge in the sense of the manner of knowing. They distinguish and they admit Dr. Clark distinguishes between intuition and discursion, but they claim that the manner of God’s knowing is no part of the doctrine of incomprehensibility. The proposition, Two times two are four, apart from anything it implies, means just what it says. It is difficult, in fact it is impossible to express the meaning of this proposition in any terms simpler than the words, Two times two are four. It is in this sense that the Compliant asserts that such a proposition has two different meanings . . . .
What Dr. Clark said was that though God’s knowledge of a truth is different from man’s knowledge of the same truth, it is none the less the same truth they both know, if indeed man knows anything. The Complaint avers that it is a prerequisite of ministerial good standing to believe that God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge do not “coincide at any single point” (P.5, 3; O. 21). It tries to set up as a test of orthodoxy the denial that man knows even one truth God knows . . . Far from being a test of orthodoxy, this test imposed by the Complaint is nothing else than skepticism and irrationalism. [The Answer, 20,21].
To confirm Clark’s conclusion and that for Van Til “the manner of God’s knowing is no part of the doctrine of incomprehensibility,” and to confirm that men like Frame are being disingenuous, if not flatly dishonest, one only has to look to Van Til’s Introduction to Systematic Theology, which is material taken directly from what Van Til taught his students for 45 years at WTS. The following quotes are from the digital version of Van Til’s complete works and are referenced by John Robbins in his lecture,“The Theology of Richard Gaffin and Norman Shepherd”:
The “system” thus produced as, e.g., it finds expression in the Reformed confessions of faith, pretends to be an analogical system. At no point does such a system pretend to state, point for point, the identical content of the original system of the mind of God. If there were any point at which such a Christian system would claim to be exhaustively reproductive of the mind of God it would have to claim to be reproductive of the whole mind of God. To claim for the Christian system identity with the divine system at any point is to break the relationship of dependence of human knowledge on the divine will.
Notice the force of this. According to Van Til the Reformed system of doctrine is “at no point” identical to the system of theology as it exists in the mind of God. But that is exactly what the confessions do claim. Consider WCF 1.4: “The authority of the holy scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, (who is truth itself,) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.” The Confession doesn’t “pretend” to state the system of doctrine as it exists in the mind of God, it states the system of doctrine as it exists in God’s mind and as God, “who is truth itself,” knows it and has revealed it to us in the propositions of Scripture; “the word of God.” The Confession makes no distinction whatsoever between what is in God’s mind and what is taught in Scripture. They are one and the same. To say otherwise is pure fiction manufactured in the mind of Van Til.
Here are some more:
But even this enrichment does not imply that there is any coincidence, that is, identity of content between what God has in his mind and what man has in his mind. If there is no identity of content in the first proposition that God gives to man there can be no identity of content attained by means of any number of additional propositions of revelation that God gives to man.
I try to make a “system” of my own, my system will be at no point a direct replica of the divine system, but will at every point be analogical of the system of God. It can at no point be a direct replica….He [man] never has and never can expect to have in his mind exactly the same thought content that God has in his mind.
Affirming the primacy of the Creator-creature relationship, the Christian position, consistently expressed in the Reformed faith, maintains that man does not at any point have in his mind exactly the same thought content that God has in his mind… If God had made all the revelations propositions that he will ever make to man about himself, even then man could not have the same thought content in his mind that God has in his mind unless he were himself divine. Man can never experience the experience of God. An endless number of added propositions does not change the matter in the least.
Concerning Van Til’s construction (or, better, deconstruction) of the Creator/creature distinction, Dr. Robbins said:
Somehow [Van Til] thinks that if God knows a truth and man knows the same truth that destroys the Creator/creature distinction. That’s nonsense. The whole point of revelation is for God to communicate truth to men. That’s the whole purpose of revelation. If revelation doesn’t achieve that, it’s not revelation. The purpose of revelation is that there be the same content in the mind of men as there is in the mind of God. To be sure, we will never know everything God knows. We’ll only know what God reveals. But, what He reveals we do know.
Van Til’s Creator/creature distinction is a bastardization, a weak caricature, of the Creator/creature distinction taught in Scripture and affirmed in the Reformed confessions. His theory of Scripture and truth has done irreparable damage to the Reformed faith and has allowed distortions and deadly novelties from biblical theology to theonomy to the Federal Vision to the New Perspectives on Paul (Gaffin’s or Wright’s or someone else’s altogether, take your pick) to take root simply because Christians are left with competing systems all lacking any direct, unambiguous, or univocal relationship to the truth as God knows it. By denying that the Reformed confessions mirror the system of doctrine as God knows it “at any point,” any seemingly coherent system of doctrine is as valid and as acceptable as any other. Anyone can claim to defend “the true Reformed faith” simply because the true Reformed faith has no direct relationship to the truth as God knows it and has revealed it to man.