Van Til Tool

Using the Van Til Perspective as the tool to discover what life means and how it ought to be lived.

Saturday, April 11, 2009



By Forrest W. Schultz

I have been wanting to read up on the so-called "Emerging" church for a LONG time. I finally got the opportunity via reading the book below. My critique is in the form of a review of this book. Reading about this stuff is sad, but, as always, it is loads of fun to critique when you are a Van Tillian. I can do this not because I am brilliant, because I got the right tool from the thinking of Cornelius Van Til. And, of course, it is God Himself Who deserves to be praised, because without His providence, I would not have encountered the Van Til Perspective and without His providence Van Til would not have seen the principles of the VTP.





A Review of G.L.W. Johnson & R.N. Gleason, eds. Reforming or Conforming?: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and
the Emerging Church ((Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008)
ISBN-13: 978-1-4335-0118-0 300 pp $20.00

Reviewer: Forrest W. Schultz

When I became a christian (in 1960) the term "Evangelical" had a positive meaning among most of my christian friends although there were a few who warned me that the word no longer had that good meaning but now meant christians who were compromisers, both in belief and in practice, and that these were now being called "new evangelicals" or "neo-evangelicals". Soon thereafter, when I became a creationist (1963), I learned that compromising by evangelicals was NOT a new thing -- it was not something that began with Billy Graham -- but had been going on since the 19th century in regard to compromises with evolutionary theory. Still later, when I became Reformed (1969), I learned of the decadence in evangelicalism produced by such influences as pietism and Arminianism, which also had been going on for a very long time, at least since the early part of the 19th century. Also, during the early 1960s, I learned that there were even some men who referred to themselves as "liberal evangelicals", which was the reason why Christianity Today, under Carl Henry's editorship, used the term "conservative evangelicalism" to distinguish what his magazine promoted. Although this "conservative evangelicalism" was compromising in the sense meant by the derogatory term "neo-evangelicalism", it was not nearly as bad as the decadence that followed it, which the book under review here aptly designates as "post-conservative evangelicalism". I believe that the critiques of this decadence, found in this book, would be enhanced if they paid greater attention to this historical background. Some attention is paid to it, but not enough.

Although there are now a lot of books and articles being written promoting this "post-conservative evangelicalism", which is generally regarded as something new and "emerging", almost all of it, except for some of the terminology, is really not new. I remember, again from all the way back in the early 1960s, when I was a new christian, being shocked at hearing people who supposedly were christians having a lackadaisical (or even hostile) attitude toward doctrine, and that a lot of group Bible studies were conducted in such a way that everybody's ideas were supposed to be accepted, a notion that a friend of mine with some sense scoffed at as "pooling our mutual ignorance". There were also a lot of evangelicals who had the notion that in personal evangelism you were not supposed to "preach" to people but just "share" with them "what Jesus means to you". Also all the way back in the 1960s Francis Schaeffer was warning about subjectivistic conceptions of truth, which were influencing many christians. Now, we hear the same subjectivistic notions promoted using fancy, but not always clearly understood, terms such as "post-modernism" and "anti-foundationalism". The best term, though, for this long practiced but now "emerging" (into prominence) false epistemology is "theological incognoscibilism" which says EXACTLY what it is these men believe, which, in plain English, is that nobody really knows what is true in theology. (The prefix "in" means "not"; and "cognoscible" means "knowable".)
Reforming or Conforming? is a collection of twelve essays plus an Introduction plus a Foreward, each by a different scholar, examining and refuting the "post-conservative evangelicalism" and warning of its dangers. Some of these essays also repudiate the allegations made against orthodoxy by some of these postmodern compromisers. Such a book is clearly needed to refute the very widespread and very outrageous and heretical notions now being propounded under the banner of evangelicalism. It also needs to be stressed that these notions are not limited to those claiming to be evangelicals but is also found among those claiming to be Reformed. Dooyweerd's preposterous notion that theology is a study of the faith-function is but one example we can cite, and the neo-Dooyeweerdians are very similar to the post-conservative evangelicals although they are more influenced by existentialists than by postmodernists, which actually are quite similar with respect to incognoscibilism, which is the main and underlying fallacy of both. (One similar influence upon the Reformed which is discussed in one of the essays is the Federal Vision notion.) Although most of the emphasis in the book is on what is being said now, there is one treatment of a man who started down this road a long time ago -- back in the sixties -- and that is Clark Pinnock: I remember when I first heard about what he was saying and how shocked I was because prior to that he was a good man and a good thinker. I guess the point I am trying to make, which is not emphasized sufficiently by the writers of this book, is that what is happening now is really just an old idea made worse and believed in by more people now. It is also coming more out into the open now. This is noted in this book, but not stressed enough.

Lack of space here forbids any detailed critiques of the individual essays, but there is one essay I do need to note, namely the one claiming that Cornelius Van Til was not a foundationalist (pp.154-165). If one defines "foundationalism" to mean the sorts of foundations that humanistic thinkers use, then, of course Van Til is not a foundationalist. But he is a foundationalist in the sense that he builds his philosophy upon God, Who is the (one and only) self-verifying principle of verification, and therefore the only sure epistemological foundation! Jesus Christ is the solid rock foundation; the humanistic foundations are sinking sands.

This leads me to note a very important weakness in the polemics against the "emerging" church fellows found in all the essays here. What is needed, which they do not supply, is a polemic against the whole idea of foundationalism versus contextualism. This is a false antithesis. God is not only the ultimate foundation, He is also the ultimate context. The so-called contextualizers are not to be criticized for being contextual but for not being contextual enough. They fail to see that the immediate context in which a person lives is part of a broader context, which in turn is part of a still broader context until finally we reach the ultimate context, God, who is self-contextualizing. First of all, since God is intra-harmonius there is no conflict between His being the ultimate fondation and His being the ultimate context, which means that the there is no inherent conflict between foundation per se and context per se. There are possible conflicts between humanistic concepts of foundations and humanistic concepts of context, but there is no conflict between the true meaning of foundation and the true meaning of context because God is the definer of both and because God is both the self-foundationalizing ultimate foundation as well as the self-contextualizing ultimate context. The point here is that an individual does not just happen to be in a particular context but he is in that context because God put him there and, furthermore, God is this man's ultimate context. Since all men have the same ultimate context and since all their immediate contexts are controlled by God, people need to see contextuality in this way instead of the myopic view of context held by the "emerging" fellows. We MUST not say they put too much emphasis on context or that they should stop being contextualists and start being foundationalists. We need to get them to understand the real meaning of context and foundation! This meaning or perspective, which is the Van Til Pespective on this, needs to to shown to be the true perspective they need and in terms of which they need to repudiate the false perspective of foundation and context they have thus far held.

There are other false antitheses held by the emergers that need to be rejected and replaced with the truth. Perhaps the next most important false antithesis is that between God as Lawgiver and God as Dramatist. God is both and there is no disharmony between them because God is intraharmonious. These emergers do not like laws but they do like stories. Well, if they like stories they need to realize that God is not only the supreme author, He is also the supreme lawgiver, and there is in no way a conflict between those two because God is intraharmnious. The reason for this is that God's Laws are the Manufacturer's Instructions which we need to live in all aspects of life, so they are helpful for us to know; God does not tell them to us to "boss us around". When God establishes boundaries, it is to keep us from harming ourselves. God also is the supreme teacher, who sometimes uses stories to teach us and who sometimes uses propositions, and there is no conflict here either. The Bible is not all propositions nor is it devoid of propositions. The emergers also need to be shown this all important principle. Because they have acquired a distorted concept of God from the defective churches in which they were raised, they end up rebelling against things that are good because they see them as bad. God's laws and God's proposition are desperately needed for our very lives! They are not bad things to shun!
This leads me to my final point. Several of the article writers note emerger Brian McLaren's rebellion against his theologically conservative upbringing. There was little discussion of this, which is unfortunate because this is crucial. It is not just that the emergers have all kinds of bad ideas, but that a lot of doctrinally sound churches have also left a lot to be desired! One thing that has been going on for a LONG time is young men and women growing up in these churches rebelling against the bad features in these churches but, instead of doing something to correct these deficiencies, they end up doing something even worse. All kinds of examples come to mind: Chuck Templeton rebelling by becoming a humanist; Tom Howard rebelling by becoming a Roman Catholic; and on and on. To be really effective in dealing with the emergers requires us not only to attack their deficiencies but to straighten out the allegedly evangelical and Reformed churches to get them to be what they should! One thing I learned a LONG time ago is this: the problem with dead orthodoxy is not the orthodoxy but the deadness!! In rebelling against dead orthodoxy, rebel against the deadness, not against the orthodoxy!! The orthodoxy does not need to be jettisoned; it needs to be lived! And we need to know that the term was originally defined by Irenaeus to mean "straight thinking", which is desperately needed in the crooked and confused age in which we live! Orthodoxy does NOT mean what is customary, conventional or traditional. It means straight thinking, i.e thinking aligned with the truth, thinking which propounds the truth, which is needed for life. (If you know Greek, this is clear: orthos means "straight" and doxa means "thinking".)

In conclusion, there is a wealth of information in this book about the emerging church and some good criticisms of some things, but the critiques offered here suffer from the lack of depth indicated by their failures to see the points I noted above due to a failure to examine these matters from the Van Til Perspective.


  • At Saturday, May 23, 2009, Anonymous gary wearne said…

    Thanks Forrest,
    Very perceptive.
    I liked your point about not being contextual enough etc.

    I know you didn't mention postmodernism but it seems to be the underlying philosophy or worldview behind the emergent church.

    I went to a day conference about 5 years ago - at Moore Theological College on postmodernism, which in my mind was 10 years too late! However the thing that stuck me was that Van Til had laid the ground for showing what a nonsense it was, years before. Being internally incoherent and unable itself to account for meaning and value and truth etc.

    In their rejection of a "straw church" that supposedly adhered to a worldview built upon modernism they took up "postmodernism", failing to see that any worldview that has modernism central to it is not the Biblical wordlview that Christians are called to follow. A Wordlview where God is Creator, Sovereign, personal, ultimate, self-legislating and the only authority. And God is not Silent - as Shaeffer decalred.

    If todays postmoderns really understood secular philosophy they would "know" that enlightenment philosophy [ and not just enlightenment but all the way back to Greek Philosophy ] was a house of cards. Unable to support any of it's major tenets - as we see from the continual debate and disagreement among philosophers themselves.

    Let's continue to challenge and teach our people that we must not merely acquesse or accept the worlds view of things, but rather have our minds transformed by God. Rom 12.

    God Bless

  • At Saturday, May 23, 2009, Blogger Forrest Schultz said…

    The very title of the book I reviewed identified the "Emerging Church" with the "Post-Conservative Evangelical Compromise With Postmodernism". So, Postmodernism is clearly indicated as the source of the ideas of the emerging church.

    Schaeffer combatted essentially the same thing as postmodernism in the form of existentialism, which was the "in" thing back then. The older modernism agreed with us that there is such a thing as truth. They disagreed with us as to what that truth was. The neomodernists or postmodernists say there is no such thing as truth at all. All there is is different interpretations, and no way of telling which is true and whihc false, if there is even such a thing as true and false. Fighting that horrid idea was one of Schaeffer's greatest passions. As I noted, one big problem today is that so many people do not even know about Schaeffer, nor that what postmodernism says is really nothing new.



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