Van Til Tool

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I was asked yesterday in an email discussion group what the best book was on logic and on hermeneutics. Here is the reply I gave:

In my own experience, both in re hermeneutics and re logic, there is in each case, no one book I read that I can point to as the one book to read which has all the answers. In each case what I now believe and do is the result of a lifetime of thinking and of reading many, many books -- I have literally reads thousands of books in my life (I am now 70 years old).

In re logic, I remember when I was in college -- I was a chemical engineering major -- that one day a bunch of us students were having what we then called a bull session and someone expressed surprise that there was no course in logic in our curriculum, and, in fact, there was no course in logic at all at our college, even as an elective!! Finally, someone said, "Well, I guess, they must suppose that we already know how to think -- so we don't need a logic course!". This is indeed surprising in a way, especially if you are aware of the fact that science and engineering students and scientists and engineers themselves love to do puzzles in logic and math. In fact, the magazine of the Engineering Honor Society (Tau Beta Pi) has in each issue a Brain Tickers section consisting of several pages of such puzzles in each issue. I submitted one myself which was published there. OK, I think the lesson here is that you have to be able to think logically if you are going to pass the math and science and engineering courses! Or at least you need to know the kinds of logic involved in the principles you learn in those courses.

One principle which was not sufficiently noted there (if at all) was the matter of presuppositions of the most fundamental sort. This I did not learn until I became a Vantillian 40 years ago. Shortly before that and right after that I read many of Van Til's books and I took courses taught by John Frame at WTS in which I got well grounded in the Van Til Perspective. Later, beginning in 1977, when I became a Christian Reconstructionist, I began reading many of R.J. Rushdoony's books which consisted of his own restatement of the VTP along with its application to all kinds of things; and this seeing of the VTP in action is what really nails it down. With the Vantillians who are not reconstructionists the VTP sometimes can sound ethereal; with its application by Reconstructionists you really see the rubber meeting the road! Frame saw this point very clearly -- he said the CRs are the ones doing the most in actually using the VTP, which is why he later became, in his words "Almost a Reconstructionist" or "Not Quite a Reconstructionist" .

OK, that was rather long. The moral of the tale is that you really learn what logic is by using it. If you can plow thru CVT and RJR and Frame and understand them, then you know what logic is!! I do not want to belabor this point, but perhaps I should point out that there are some men calling themselves Reformed whose thinking involves illogic although they like to think of themselves as being very logical and looking down on all others. I had an interesting tangle with them several years ago and they really used dirty tactics, such as changing the meaning of terms and introducing their own terms, which are not found in any logic book! One of them kept referring to something he called "Jacobi's Fallacy", which I had never heard of and which I could not find in the logic encyclopedia I consulted. When I asked him for a reference, he admitted he had made it up himself!! Also he and some of the other guys in this group, which they had the gall to call Reformed Epistemology, actually redefined the meaning of "question begging" so that the kind of question begging they were doing would no longer be question begging!! I could not believe it! I finally got out of there!

In re hermeneutics the same has held true for me. I have learned it here and there from lots of books and articles plus doing some of it myself. Here is one important thing I learned. It is not very often that you need to do "exegesis", as this term is usually meant, i.e. taking each verb in the verse and telling you its mood, voice, tense, person and number. Telling you the gender, number and case of each noun, etc etc. Once in a while you do need to do that but not that often. Let me illustrate from my Th.M. thesis. The verb which translated as "put" in the verse in Genesis which says that God "put" Adam in the Garden of Eden, literally means"caused to abide". You need to know the Hebrew to see that and I am astounded that no one ever noticed that and translated it properly. This is extremely important, esp. for the subject of ecology, which is the topic of my thesis. "Caused to abide" means caused to be at home in, i.e. Adam was adapted to his environment; the Earth is the home God gave him to live in. Ecology comes from the Greek word oikos, which means house or home or habitat or habitation. So there is ecology right there in the Bible from the get-go!

Another principle is that you do not have the proper doctrine taught in Scripture unless you take all the relevant verses into account. Here is another e.g. from my thesis. 1. God gives man dominion over the lower creatures. 2. God cares about these lower creatures who have value in His sight. CONCLUSION: man is to rule over the lower creatures treating them with the value they have in God's sight. That is the sophisticated Biblical view. The simplistic humanistic views are either that man can do as he pleases with nature; or man is only a part of nature and has no right to rule over it.

I could go on and on but let us just consider one more -- God as creative artist and God as author. The only proper way to interpret an art work is from the vantage point of the artist -- what is He doing?? And the only way to interpret a book is to find the author's meaning. The application to theology is clear: things have the meaning given them by God for His purposes. That is the ultimate principle in hermeneutics. There is no one KEY to Scripture -- no one central theme to which it can be reduced. The reason is that God is the Author and He cares about everything. Now in one particular chapter or book this or that may be prominent but in Scripture as a whole everything is important. Different things are in the limelight at different places.

Oh, by the way, in re logic, logic is in God and is part and parcel of His very being. It is not in some Platonic realm of ideas or ideals. Prior to His creation of the world, God was the SOLE being and realm; NOTHING ELSE whatever was then in existence and everything that later came into existence was created by God. Conclusion: Logic means God's logic. There is no other. Ditto with His other attributes: Love means God's Love; Righteousness means God's Righteousness; Beauty means God's beauty, etc etc

This also means that God cares about everything, ,not just about "spiritual" things! And that God is the Ultimate Standard for everything.

If forced to choose two books to recommend, I would select Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law and Frame's Van Til The Theologian.



Friday, December 11, 2009


Marriage 101


How To Prevent Divorce

A Review of

Martha Peace & John Crotts Tying the Knot Tighter: Because Marriage Lasts a Lifetime (P&R Pub, 2007) 117 pp $9.99 ISBN-10: 1596380748 ISBN-13: 978-1596380745

Reviewer: Forrest W. Schultz

Christian leaders are recognizing the all-important fact that the divorce crisis must be confronted not only by ministering to those suffering from divorce, but also by producing healthy marriages which will prevent divorce from occurring. There are some pastors and churches now who will not perform a wedding ceremony until the couple has demonstrated their clear understanding of and commitment to the Biblical principles of marriage -- a wise policy which should have been instituted long ago by all churches!

The book under review here is a good primer on these principles -- a sort of textbook for a Marriage 101 course. Any couple who commits themselves to following these principles will have a strong healthy marriage in which the partners will not need to worry about divorce -- they will want to stay married. Since the principles taught in this book are essentials, they need to be known by all couples contemplating marriage, and, from time time it would be a good idea for already married couples to be reminded of them, as the note on the rear jacket of the book suggests.

The book is short, easy to read, and well-written. At the end of each chapter is a series of questions for husbands and wives to ask themselves about their attitudes and actions regarding the particular principle discussed in that chapter, and there is list of several recommended books which delve deeper into the topic of that chapter, and, finally, a prayer.

The co-authors are experienced book writers and christian leaders, and both minister in the Faith Bible Church, which is located in Coweta County near the border with Fayette County. John Crotts is the Pastor; Martha Peace is a teacher and counselor. John lives in Coweta County and is a member of the Coweta Writers Group. Martha lives in Peachtree City in Fayette County. Both counties are located on the Southside of Atlanta and are strongly involved in the current burgeoning Southside literary arts scene.

There is only one error in the book I could find, but it is not really the authors' fault because it is an error almost all christians today are committing, and an error that is being taught in our seminaries. That error is the notion that the Greek noun agape means sacrificial love. (See Page 52) The error is easily refuted by spending an hour with a concordance and noting (with astonishment!!) that agape is used in the New Testament to refer to many different kinds of love, not just sacrificial love!! (This fact was pointed out by the noted theologian B. B. Warfield almost a century ago [1918] in the Princeton Theological Review Vol. 16 on pp 182f.) What the book says about sacrificial love, however, is true, and that, of course, is what is most important.

For the reasons noted here, I highly recommend Tying The Knot Tighter. If everyone were to follow the principles in this book all marriages would be healthy and there would be no more divorces!


A Serious Call To An Examination Of

The Complexity Of God and Of Language

Vern Poythress In The Beginning Was The Word: Language -- A God-Centered Approach
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009)
415 pp $25.00 ISBN-13: 978-1-4335-0179-1 ISBN-10: 1-4335-0179-1

Reviewer: Forrest W. Schultz

What impresses me most about the book under review here is its demonstration of the great complexity of language, and how that complexity is due to the infinite complexity of God, Who uses language Himself and Who has designed man with a creaturely lingual ability which is an finite ectypal reflection of His own infinite archtypal lingual prowess. In this book the complexity of human language in all of its facets is repeatedly contrasted to the simplistic notions of language formulated by the various humanistic scholars. Although we can learn some things from these scholars, they all have failed to formulate a system which is able to account for the great complexity that is human language! Poythress shows how this failure is due to their refusal to base their theories upon God, the only solid Rock for linguistics and all other fields as well.

Poythress repeatedly shows -- in topic after topic -- that a key feature of God's language is the all-important principle of the equal ultimacy of the personal unity and personal diversity in God which is due to His Trinitarian nature. This very important but very much neglected principle of God's co-ultimate personal unity/diversity Poythress learned from the philosophy of Cornelius Van Til, one of the twentieth century's most brilliant thinkers. Poythress had the great privilege of studying at Westminster Seminary under John Frame, who had shortly before that time assumed the mantle of the leading exponent of Vantillian thought and was an excellent teacher -- better than Van Til himself, who did not always communicate clearly. Frame is also passionate about applying the principles of the Van Til Perspective to all aspects of life. Poythress shares this passion: the book under review here is the latest indication.

Of the many examples in this book of his dissertation on the Trinitarian view of language, I would like to select for discussion here the one he learned from Dorothy Sayers in her great work The Mind Of The Maker. The relationship of God to the drama of history is analogous to that of an author to his story. This is because artistic creation imitates the creative activity of God. The author takes the idea of the story he has in his mind and communicates it to the reader by means of the verbal expression of it in his book. This is analogous to the Three Persons of the Trinity working together to create the world and its history: the idea of the world and its history is composed by the Father, expressed by the Son, and communicated to us by the Holy Spirit, as He proceeds from the Father through the Son. This discussion and the other many discussions by Poythress of the Trinitarian dynamics in language need to be carefully read and studied to gain the great insight into language which they involve.

There is one discussion, however, which is omitted -- namely a discussion of humor. This is not surprising since none of the major systematic theology books -- Gill, Hodge, Shedd, Berkhof, etc. -- mention that God has a sense of humor. That is a shame because there is so much fun you can have with language. I would like to see an English teacher use it to teach about the diffferent kinds of sentences, doing it like this: 1.This is a declarative sentence. 2. Is this an interrogatory sentence? 3. Read this imperative sentence now. 4. I wish I knew what was meant by the Subjunctive Mood. And just think of the fun it would be to look at baseball's really wild terminology -- balls, strikes, hits, runs. And there is all kinds of fun to be had with self-reference and with palindromes.

As Poythress deals with various topics he interacts with various forms of humanistic thought, tracing their deficiencies to their failure to base their language theory upon God and His Word. At the back of the book are several appendices which provide more detailed discussions of these, including postmodernism, platonism, structural linguistics, logical positivism, speech act theory, and deconstructionism.

Returning to the subject of complexity, I realized after reading the discussion of Deconstruction provided by Poythress in Appendix I that the matter was more complex that I had hitherto supposed. Now it is crystal clear that the philosophy of deconstruction is radically unbiblical -- but that had been all I had done in my own research and thinking prior to reading this Appendix by Poythress. Poythress focusses on the practice and methodology of deconstruction thereby showing that some features of that are similar to certain of our own principles.

To conclude, this book is a "must read" for anyone concerned about the philosophy of language. Frame is probably right that this is the best book so far written on the subject. There is a lot in here you will rarely or never find anywhere else.

I shall conclude by noting my own fun with language I had in devising the title of this review. The phrase "A Serious Call" is the beginning of a title of a famous book in church history. Do you know the complete title of that book and its author? I recently read a statement in a sermon delivered by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones that that book along with another book were the two main books which led to the Great Awakening. I put that phrase in the title of this review to indicate my hope that the books by Poythress and Frame and the other Reconstructionists and Not-Quite-Reconstructionists may help promote a Great Awakening in the Twenty-First Century.