Van Til — The Federal Vision Connection

portalesWhile driving from Portales to Amarillo this past week for meetings, and with a little over two hours to kill, I had forgotten that I had put a John Robbins lecture on my Sansa Clip (the anti-iPod) dealing with the justification controversy.  This particular lecture, and one I hadn’t heard before, zeroes in on the aberrant and deadly theologies of Richard Gaffin and Norman Shepherd.  Of particular interest was John’s discussion of Gaffin’s, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology. John admits having to reread particularly difficult passages four or five times in order to understand exactly what the Gaffin is saying. More than anyone I’ve known, John had a habit, to the chagrin of many, of doggedly sticking with an oblique and difficult passage until he can distill the author’s meaning clearly and unambiguously.  Robbins exemplified the old Puritan ideal of making difficult ideas “plain.”  So while Shepherd’s heresy is easy to see, Gaffin’s is much more difficult to uncover, but Robbins exposes Gaffin completely.

Interesting too, Robbins has some very nice things to say about Westminster West, even referring to Scott Clark as “one their best theologians.” He also speaks glowingly about WSC president, Robert Godfrey.  He recounts a story seeing Godfrey perform “admirably” when he was forced to defend justification by faith alone against J.I. Packer and some unnamed papal representative at a national gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society in Florida.  Robbins said it was a “set up” and that the way supposedly “Reformed” men in the audience attacked Godfrey over the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “horrible.”

However, the overarching message of Dr. Robbins’ lecture is the influence the philosophy of Cornelius Van Til has had on Gaffin and Shepherd and how it has contributed directly to the current justification crisis in Presbyterian and Reformed churches.  Failure to understand the relationship between Van Til and the Federal Vision is the failure to understand that fruit trees need good soil in order to produce good fruit.  Interesting too, while Robbins places the justification controversy squarely at Van Til’s feet, he does see the rise of Biblical Theology (which is anything but biblical) as a contributing factor that has lead to this perfect theological storm.

By denying any point of identity between God’s thoughts and man’s thoughts, even in the propositional revelation of Scripture, Van Til has robbed Christians of any authoritative word from God.  While Van Til was fond of saying that the Christian is to “think God’s thoughts after him,” the irony lost on Vantillians like Scott Clark, Lane Keister, Gary Johnson and others, is that according to Van Til, the Christian possesses none of God’s thoughts to think. Now, while the connection between Van Til and the FV should be perfectly obvious, there are still those who still can’t see the connection, including at least one of those in attendance at John’s lecture.  Here’s that exchange:

Question: Dr. Robbins, with reference to what you’ve just said, I’m unable, or I guess I just didn’t pick it up, the connection between Van Til and his thought and these errors directly.  Could you make that a little more clear for me or restate what you already said?

Robbins: Well, I can try to briefly, but I urge you to read some of the books as well. The connection is in Van Til’s thought we cannot know what God knows. There can be no identity of content. All the Reformed confessions are the Christian system, but they’re not the divine system of theology. And, if that’s the case, that leaves theologians, or whoever, open to interpreting Scripture in various ways. If we have no objective and absolute word from God, then theologians can run off in all directions, and they have run off in all directions from Westminster.  You find some sound men who have graduated from the seminary, and you find people who have run off in various directions.  And, it’s all because we have no clear word from God.  Once you’ve undermined the doctrine of propositional revelation by saying there is no identity of content between the Reformed confessions and the divine system of theology . . . then you have open season on the Reformed confessions.

If any of this is still unclear in anyone’s mind, then I strongly urge you to listen to the entirety of Dr. Robbins’ lecture where he completely fleshes out the connection between Van Til and current justification controversy. You can access the lecture here. Maybe even put it on your Sansa Clip for your next long drive.

* To download the mp3, just RIGHT CLICK over the above link and choose SAVE LINK AS from the drop down menu.

Explore posts in the same categories: Gordon Clark, Heresies, Theology, Van Til

17 Comments on “Van Til — The Federal Vision Connection”

  1. Hugh McCann Says:

    More than a “connection” ‘twixt CVT & FV, is it not a root & fruit relationship?

    Boy! If they didn’t hate you before today, Sean, the Van Til Society is DEFINITELY gonna cancel your gold club card membership now! 😉

  2. Sean Gerety Says:

    I’m not that big on analogies or wanting to stretch them too far, but I think soil is better than root. I don’t think VT denied the Gospel, although in his defense of Shepherd he came close. Per John, I think VT is the reason why there are some sound men coming out of Westminster and others that are anything but. I know, paradoxical, but should anyone be surprised?

    FWIW, I’m still waiting for my gold card so I can send it back.

  3. Hugh McCann Says:

    Fair enough, Sean.

    A more charitable read is your Van Til soil / Shepherd Oleander metaphor.

    Are you writing The Dirt on Van Til?

  4. Michael Says:

    What? So now you are too good for apple?

  5. Sean Gerety Says:

    I loath the iPod (and Apple in general). My Sansa Clip + is tiny and has no glass to break. With a microSD I have 40gbs of space (and more if I went with a bigger card). But most important, I don’t have to use all those proprietary Apple formats and accessories. I can charge my non-Apple phone and my clip with the same plug. Plus, I can put any format on my clip from Apple’s to FLAC to WMA and anything in between. Plus, I Roxbox’ed it so I’m not forced to use Sansa’s firmware (which is not particularly good). Plus, I think it sounds better than the iPod.

  6. Pht Says:

    I find it still a bit amazing that people don’t realize how introducing confusion into christian doctrine can be the basis for all sorts of crazy results.

    It’s as if people somehow also were confused on how liberal’s making the bible confusing and self contradictory sets the state for liberal non-belief.


    If/when your clip+ finally breaks or loses it’s mind, the clip zip is not too bad.

    Having cracked my clip open a few times, I can tell you … COVER THE MICRO SD PORT WITH tape to keep the crud OUT. Mine were FULL of junk until I did that.

    The biggest annoying change is that there is no longer a time readout on anything you put into the “music” directory on it.

    Anything put into the podcast or audiobook directories will still have the time readouts.

    I also have found that doing the scandisk/fix errors function on the clip can REALLY help in the uber-long run to keep the thing working cleanly (of course, I’ve done obscene things with/to mine).

    On the microSD slot – I saw someone over at anythingbutipod’s forums get an adapter and hooked up a 1TB card to it and it actually … worked. Took … FOREVER … to refresh though.

    Never did the rockbox firmware myself.

    Now, if you REALLY want to have NO life and learn a LOT quickly for NO dough… (with the alt-search extension) and (with all of the extensions added) used to clean up text for and convert it into .txt input for (if you want to get it to read really REALLY long files, unwrap the text)… than use to convert the .wav file format that espeak outputs into mp3 or whatever you like (I set up a “chain” that does it automatically for me).

    I recently got done listening to ALL of J. A. Wylie’s …. man, what a “read” that book is/was.


    Yech. Apple. Just watching one of their ads is enough to make me not like them. Mindless and sensate, not to mention they have a habit of never releasing what they swear they will in their hardware updates

  7. Pht Says:

    I almost forgot: stir in a heaping helping of or and for other stuff,….

    and you, too, can suddenly find that you NEVER pull your earphones out.

  8. Sean Gerety Says:

    IMO Rockbox will solve all your problems. For example, when I would add new music at 40gbs it would take forever to update. Now, it’s just a matter of seconds. I’m not sure what time readout your talking about, but with Rockbox skins, at least the one I use, I can see how long a song is and how much time is remaining. I also have the actual time displayed in the rt hand corner. Thanks for the microsd tip…and the links!

  9. Sean Gerety Says:

    dbpoweramp is good for converting wavs to other formats too.

  10. Lauren Says:

    You could never really pin the FV folks down on Scripture because they could always hide behind the Westminster. The church courts would only go by adherence to the Standards instead of appealing directly to Scripture. Presbyteries would only test candidates on their correct recitation of answers from the Confession and the BOC. So an FV false teacher could claim he agrees with the entire Standard and quote the answers verbatim for the candidate and credentials committee, pass and get approval by his presbytery, and then get into the pulpit to interpret Scripture any way he wanted. Voila!

    I have been totally out of the loop for the last several years with the Federal Vision. It has been rather refreshing to have moved on. Is this battle still being waged in the PCA or has the Federal Vision settled into a comfortable home in the denomination? The churches here are barely surviving; like all parasites, they eventually eat up and destroy the host.

  11. Sean Gerety Says:

    You know Lauren, you make a great point and one that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Ironically, my former pastor, Joe Mullen (New Covenant, VA Beach), called for the GA to go back and redo their entire FV report, but this time examining the FV from Scripture. If you watched the recording of that GA he immediately preceded Sproul’s memorable performance. Needless to say, his pleas were ignored.

    Frankly, and at the time, I thought he was just trying to provide cover for FV pastor Wally Sherbon (New Life, Va Beach) who was, and maybe still is, Joe’s friend. Sherbon is on the GA video decrying the FV report imply the GA was slandering the FV men because they didn’t ask any of the FV men if the “agreed with the report.” However, I now think Joe Mullen may have been right. The FV report should not have been based on the WCF, but on Scripture. Then again, I’m not sure even that would have made a difference, since for most of these men the Scriptures are not the literal word of God, but only the analog of God’s word. Regardless, the PCA is lost.

  12. Lauren Kuo Says:

    One of the main reasons the Christian church broke away from the mainline denominations, the Presbyterians in particular, was because of the removal of Scripture as the primary and only authority for faith and practice and putting in its place secondary sources such as creeds and catechisms. Granted, the Christian church has some issues with interpretation of Scripture that could benefit from referring to secondary doctrinal sources such as the Heidelberg and Westminster. But they seem to have avoided the gross error of replacing Scriptural authority with man’s interpretations of Scripture.

    The FV pastor here was drilled on the answers to the Standards by the session in order to get approved for his transfer into the presbytery. Add a few personal political agendas, and he sailed right through. The FV folks know how to work the system and results have shown that they have gained a lot of ground and are intent on staying around as long as the leadership in the PCA lacks a backbone and continues to play its political games.

  13. Lauren Kuo Says:

    Regarding the FV report, it ended with some wimpy recommendations instead of requirements. It was completely toothless. It was what the Chinese might call a worthless paper tiger.

  14. Lauren Kuo Says:

    I guess the demise of the PCA is all water under the bridge so I need to quit digging up old ground. Our family is so thankful for the years we had with the seminary and serving in ministry in the denomination. They gave us a very rich reformed heritage and gave our children a solid biblical foundation for their faith. It is such a tragedy and disappointment to see the denomination’s strong biblical foundation crumble into dust so that only small pockets of true churches are left standing.

  15. Matt Anderson Says:

    I’m a little late to this discussion, but I have to ask, Sean, did you you have any business in Amarillo or were you using the airport? It’s, of course, none of my business, I was just curious because I am an Amarillo resident AND a reader of your blog.

  16. Sean Gerety Says:

    I was in Amarillo on business. I love Texas. Some of the nicest people I’ve met anywhere. They must have sent their grouches to Portales. 😉

  17. Matt Anderson Says:

    Hehe, yeah people here, especially West Texas, are really nice. It’s just a shame we lack sound churches here. I assume you were driving a rental car with Texas plates-that’s probably why people in Portales were grumpy. New Mexicans don’t like Texans. There is a running joke here that it’s because Texas basically single-handedly keeps NM’s economy afloat and they’ve got a chip on their shoulder about it.

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