My non-existent neo-Plantingian Interview

This interview never happened.  It is between me and myself.  On a more serious note, I have noticed that my philosophical readings do not fit into any specific category.  That is good, I suppose, since “joining a school” is not the best start.

Question: You read Van Til, doesn’t that make you a Van Tillian?

Answer:  Not really.  I don’t find all of his apologetics convincing, but I do appreciate his reading of Greek and medieval theology.  I think he has a lot of promise in that area.  More importantly, Van Til, better than anyone else at his time, showed the importance of God as a Covenantal, Personal God.

Q.  But didn’t you used to promote Thomas Reid’s Scottish philosophy?  All the Van Tillians I know reject it.

A. There are two different “Van Tillian” answers to that question, and his reconstructionist disciples only knew one of them.  In Survey of Christian Epistemology (p. 132-134) he notes that if the Scottish school takes man’s cognitive faculties as a proximate starting point and not an ultimate one, then there is no real problem.  Further, we see Thomas Reid and Alvin Plantinga saying exactly that.   Elsewhere, however, Van Til was not as careful in his reading of Reid, and the reconstructionists read him as condemning Common Sense Realism.

Q.  So, is there a contradiction between the two schools?

A.  If the above distinction is made, I am not convinced there is.

Q. You keep mentioning Alvin Plantinga.  Are you a Reformed Epistemology guy?

A. I’ve read quite a bit of Wolterstorff and Kelly James Clark.  I like what they have to say.  I am not an expert on Plantinga so I have to demur at that point.  I do think there is a dovetailing between Thomas Reid and Plantinga, and if that convergence holds there is an exciting opportunity to unite Reformed guys along different epistemological and even geographical lines.

Q. What do you mean?

A. The guys in Westminster (either school) claim Van Til.  There is a debate on how well they understand him, but that’s beside the point. I think I have demonstrated above that there is no real contradiction between the two at least on the starting point.  This means that guys who hold to some variant of Common Sense epistemology and/or Van Tillian presuppositionalism do not have to be at loggerheads.

Q.  There is still one other Dutch giant you haven’t mentioned.

A.  You mean Herman Dooyeweerd, right?

Q. Correct.

A.  If you trace the development of the Reformed Epistemology school, you can find something like Dooyeweerd at the very beginning.  When Wolterstorff and Plantinga edited Faith and Rationality, they were at that time strongly influenced by Dooyeweerd. I am not saying that’s where they are today.   However, I do believe that Dooyeweerd’s contention that all men have a pre-theoretical “faith commitment” from the heart is in line with what Kelly James Clark and Van Til say about pretended neutrality.

Reformation and Ratio Legis

I’ll open comments in a few weeks.  Right now it seems to simply serve the opportunity to repeat old arguments from Energetic Procession, not really bothering to really get to the heart of the issue.

George Gillespie made an interesting argument in English Popish Ceremonies.  The question, raised and practiced by his adversaries, is who (and by what rule) gets to bind the conscience concerning a ceremony in the church?  Phrased another way: what makes a ceremony/act (lighting a candle, bowing, crossing, kissing the relic of St Agnes’ toeknuckle) intrinsically holy? (and by that last phrase it really depends on the tradition.  For the Romanist it could mean conveying the material substance known as grace.  For the Anchorite it could be transmitting God’s own energies.  For the Episcopalian it could mean whatever fluffy thought she saw on Oprah that morning).

Ponder that question for a moment:  what makes an act holy in church worship?  I might be missing some categories, but I think it reduces to two options:  an act is holy because the Church says so, or an act is holy in and of itself.   Taking the first option, we have something close to nominalisim–things become what they are because someone says so (I realize this isn’t the specific definition of philosophical nominalism, but it is a practical application of it).  Other problems are concurrent with it:  tracing the practice of this act in earlier times of the church (which is, quite frankly, impossible; Tertullian admits that the earliest use of the sign of is in the mid 2nd century.  This is hard to square with Jesus’ promise that he lays no further burden on you.  If something as innocent and innocuous as the sign of the cross is missing from this list Jesus gives us, what do we say about the more elaborate rituals? )

The other way a practice can be morally binding is that if it corresponds to the “ratio legis,” law or principle of reason.   Far from being a blanket statement of rationalism, one must keep in mind the cornerstone of Reformed epistemology:  concerning theological matters Scripture is the principium cognoscendi et obiectum formale fideo ac theologiae revelatae.  If Scripture is our principium, and our worship is to correspond to the ratio legis, then our worship corresponds to Scripture.

I realize that may not convinced the Anchorite Apologist, but I do not think it has the same flaws that his position has.

The Anchorite will quickly respond, “Oh yeah, if you want to appeal to the Bible, then you need to explain how you got the Bible except through the Church.”  The implication in this argument, such that it is, is that if the Church created the canon, then it has the right to say how it is to be read.    How do we respond to this?

  1. If we say that the Church created the canon, then we have to admit something like the Church determines God’s word. If the Church determines God’s word, then the church is claiming to determine God’s Word.   This is blasphemy.  It is placing fallible man above God.
  2. God’s word, since it comes from God’s Word, has authority independent of the Church’s recognizing it’s limits in time and space (e.g., the Canon).   If God’s Word has authority vis-a-vis God, and God is eternal, then God’s Word has eternal authority.
  3. I know traditionalists do not like the Protestant argument that the church merely recognizes the canon, but I don’t see a way around it.   Given who the speaking-God is, the church merely recognizes where he has spoken.   However, even this recognition is fallible and human.  If the  perfect Incarnate Logos did not have infinite knowledge according to his human nature, then how can the church claim such knowledge vis-a-vis the Canon?

Theologia Unionis as Epistemological Model

The Christological problem follows the [epistemological issue]:  if the human nature of Jesus, as finite, is in capable in itself of comprehending the infinite knowledge of the theologia archetypa[think of the simple divine mind, admitting no real distinctions], then any equation of the theologia unionis [for our present purpose, think the communication of attributes; BH] with archetypal theology must involve some alteration of the human nature of Jesus.  For Jesus to be possessed of an infinite divine wisdom according to his humanity, there would have to be either a communication of divinity to humanity or a transference of divine attributes to Jesus’ humanity within the hypostatic union (Muller, PRRD I: 250]

The point is this:  If Christ in his incarnation didn’t exhaustive knowledge, then how can  we expect fallen sinful man to have it?   If you do not accept this point, then you will doom yourself to deadly spiritual models that can only cause theological insanity.  You will end up asking questions like,

  1. If there is no infallible speaking church/pope, then how can I have certainty about anything?
  2. How do I know which books are in the canon?
  3. How do I know I am elect?

All of these questions, pursued in a false context of Illegitimate Religious Certainty, are spiritual death.