Survey of Christian Epistemology (Full)

Typical van Til book.  Numerous interesting insights on Greek philosophy.  Sort of spirals out of control on Idealism as he (likely) tried to fit his dissertation into three chapters.

Medieval Epistemology

CvT is friendlier to Augustine in this volume than he was in A Christian Theory of Knowledge.   Here he emphasizes the differences between Augustine and Plato and focuses the discussion on the problem of knowledge that Plato raised in the previous chapter: what is the principle of Unity (One) and Diversity (Many)?

For CvT this solution lies in the doctrine of the Trinity.

Without a doctrine of creation, the sense world is seen as an “ultimate” (48).  And if we start with an ultimate plurality, how will we get to unity?  Plato never found unity in the Ideal world, for the Idea of the Good never acquired supremacy over the other ideas, and there remained the problem of the Idea of mud, hair, and filth.

The scholastics accepted the Greek idea of the soul, which parallels the chain of being.   At the lowest level is the vegetative part, then the appetitive, then the cognitive (this also parallels comments made by John of Damascus).

Universals and Paganism

The problem of universals is simply a restatement of the problem of the One and the Many.

Donum Superadditum

Something (image of God) received with man’s being.  The origin of this thought lies in the pagan idea of a material universe with an evil inherent in it existing independently of God (62).  It’s hard to see on this gloss how God could have created man “good” apart from endowing him with a little something extra.

Modern Epistemology: Lutheranism

Luther thought of the image of God in purely moral categories, neglecting such as the will and intellect.

Van Til analyzes the Lutheran view of the sacrament as it relates to the person of Christ, and as such to epistemology:  the human can become divine.  It is an intermingling of temporal and eternal (70).  As such, Lutheranism also finds itself facing the same difficulties that Platonism faced.

Original Sin and Representation (78)

Van Til has an illuminating discussion on original sin.  He addresses the common challenge to it:  it is illogical because we can’t be tried for someone else’s actions.   But he points out that this only works if we reject the category of representation.

He says that the principle of representation holds because the members of the Trinity are mutually representational.  That is an interesting suggestion, but I am not sure what he really means by that.  He goes on to say that God creates in representational categories (78-79).  Again, very intriguing but not really that clear.

Modern Epistemology: Arminianism

For Watson finitude involves evil (82).  “No creature can be entirely perfect because he is finite” (Watson, Theological Institutesvol 1, p. 33).  This mutes the distinction between general and special revelation. But as Van Til points out, this is paganism.  It posits a world independent of God.  If God created the world there is no reason why it can’t be perfectly good (Van Til, 82).  Van Til asks the question, “Why [on the Arminian gloss]could not God create a perfect though finite being?”   The only real answer for the Arminian is that there must be laws and conditions above God to which he must answer (90).

Van Til then employs the standard (and in my opinion, devastating) objection to Arminianism:  was it in God’s plan that man should fall into evil?  If he says yes, then he is a Calvinist.  If he says no, then he posits a Platonic man outside the plan and power of God (83).  Like Plato, this posits a world independent (to some degree, anyway) of God.

Van Til then goes on to discuss the Arminian contention that for an ethical act to be truly free, it must occur in an impersonal vacuum (Miley, Systematic Theology, I: 409, quoted in Van Til, 87).  The problem with this is given what we confess about God, and that all facts are in a God-vacuum, then on Miley’s gloss it’s hard to see how any action could occur. Van Til points out this is an anti-theistical position.  He writes, “[this] act could not occur except in the Void” (88).

Modern Epistemology: Calvinism

Van Til links Calvin’s project under the “Covenant” (96).  He notes that we see his “representation” in the Trinity as well.   The persons of the Trinity are exhaustive of one another.  This allows man to find the principles of unity and diversity within the Trinity (and hence, within eternal categories).

If the Trinity is representational, then man, too, thinks in representational categories (97).

A simple definition of the Federal Vision

I just received Richard A. Muller’s God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius today.   I read several of Muller’s articles on Arminius earlier this spring and I couldn’t help noticing parallels between Arminius and the Federal Vision.  I’ve just realized what the Federal Vision is in a nutshell:   It is Arminianism minus all of the former’s strengths in scholastic theology.  This brings to mind Barth’s famous (and true, if not always lived out) dictum, “The fear of scholasticism is the mark of a false prophet.”   When you read the Federal Vision and Biblical Horizon guys, you will get the impression (if usually not stated so openly) that they are not chained by old Reformed categories and just do the bible (I actually remember hearing James B. Jordan preach a sermon to that effect at Auburn Avenue.  Don’t ask me what I was doing there). 

In other words, on their gloss scholasticism is a bad thing.   It is simply another version of the neo-Orthodox Calvin vs. the Calvinists narrative.  One finds this particularly among post-van tillians (though Van Til was too smart to say this.  He had read the earlier Berkhof on these points).

An Arminian Theodicy

Arminianism:  divine election is based on foreknowledge of human choices. (this does touch on the Middle Knowledge debate, which will be discussed below).  Rutherford responds that this denies God as the author of second causes.  Arminians deny that grace determines the decision of free agency; claiming that both act together, this makes both “joint causes, the one not depending on the other…because second causes were denied, God was no longer master of events and altogether sufficient” (Coffey, 119-120). Even worse, Arminianism (and I will put all forms of full-syngerism and semi-Pelagianism under this umbrella for the moment) does not escape the problem of theodicy.  True, the Calvinist may have trouble explaining why God predestined some but not others, but the Arminian must explain why God created people whom he knew would reject him and burn forever (120).

Summary of Edwards on Free Will

This is taken from Perry Miller’s exposition.  I will place letters (a, b…z) throughout the paragraph to better order the argument.  They are not original to Miller.

If the will determines its own act [per Arminianism], there must always be a will before the act.  Each act must be preceded by an act of the will, and that by another, and so on, ad infinitum, until we come to the theoretical first act; if this is determined by a still previous act of the will, we take up the march again, but if we call a halt, (a) and this act is first, we have an act that flows from no volition, which is just simply an act, (b) arbitrarily given, which cannot be the selection of a free will (p. 259).

Edwards’/Miller’s argument is interesting on several levels.  He highlights that a rejection of Calvinism actually brings the denier to the very stereotype of Calvinism that he so strenuously avoided.  If we accept the premise that every act flows from a will, then we are either left with an infinite series, which does us no good because we are not infinite and can never get to the beginning, or (a), which appears to be the stereotype of Calvinism.   However, (a), divorced from a Calvinist system, leads to chaos, given (b).  At this point, man is both chaoticallly free and a robot.   Edwards neatly anticipated existentialism and reduced his opponents to this absurdity.