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.




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