Van Til Tool

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

Monday, February 15, 2010


By Forrest W. Schultz
I read The Wizard of Oz when I was a boy and did not like it. Later, as a young man, I heard a lecture by Westminster Theological Seminary Professor C. John Miller which provided the theological reason of why it was so bad. The most succinct way of putting it would be to use C. S. Lewis's terminology: the traditional fairy tales are good because they were written by authors who were "Old Western" men, but that L. Frank Baum was a "Modern Western" man.
Last year I learned about a highly-touted play called Wicked, which was based on a book with that same title written by Gregory Maguire. This book is a very much revised and improved version of Oz -- so much so, in fact, that it is worth reading. It is well written with interesting characters and events.
There also is a lot of discussion of very important matters, such as the nature of evil and the purpose of life. Although some of this discussion is helpful in learning of the questions, it does NOT provide any answers. Also it is disconcerting that the character that is closest to anything resembling christianity, a "mininster" named Frex, is portrayed in a very unfavorable light while he is going about his "ministerial" work throughout most of the story, and he only becomes human and decent toward the end of his life after he retires.
Also the land of Oz is mostly dreary, especially when compared to a land like Narnia. And Narnia has heroes, a real right and wrong, a sense of purpose, and real accomplishments. Also the talking animals in Oz are ludicrous and bear no comparison to the talking animals of Narnia.
The moral of this tale is that Oz can not really be improved. It needs to be scrapped and replaced with a land like Lewis's Narnia or Tolkien's Middle Earth.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


A Compilation Of Compromises By "Evangelicals"

A Review of

John MacArthur Ashamed Of The Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010) [3rd ed.]
$22.99 304 pp ISBN-13: 978-1-4335-0929-2 ISBN-10: 1-4335-0929-6

Reviewer: Forrest W. Schultz

If you are looking for a discussion and documentation of the various kinds of compromises by evangelicals, especially those going on now, this is a good source. This book also provides a list (and discussions) of the various Scriptures which exhort the man of God to remain faithful and to continue to proclaim the Gospel and not to follow those who have strayed from the faith.

MacArthur also shows how the main villain leading today's evangelicals astray is the desire to make the Gospel more palatable to modern man in order to gain more converts. He provides this helpful quote from J. I. Packer "If we forget that it is God's prerogative to give resutls when the gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way we evangelize. And this line of thought, consistently followed through, will lead us far astray." (p. 167) This is the heart of the matter and until this fallacious Arminian notion is repudiated, the evangelistic pragmatism which now abounds will probably continue. It is interesting to observe how discerning Packer was in this warning-- it was uttered all the way back in 1961 in his classic work Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God long before the compromises were as bad as they are now.

I put the term "evangelicals" in quotes in the title of my review because as the apostasy continues to deepen more and more of those bearing this once noble term are less and less entitled to it. Even refering to them as Arminian is way too mild now. Here is what Os Guinness said of them back in 1992: "Evangelicals are now outdoing liberals as the supreme religious modernizers -- and compromisers -- of today." (p. 199) If you want to know why Guinness and I are saying this, read this book by MacArthur and then weep.

One word of caution, though. This study, helpful as it is, should not be regarded as the whole picture. It must not be supposed that everything was fine before the compromisers came along. Or that things are OK in the churches which have not gone down the compromising road. Many of these churches are not guilty of evangelistic pragmatism because they are not doing any evangelism at all! And, although many evangelicals and fundamentalists and Calvinists remain orthodox in doctrine (officially), this is in so many cases not a vital orthodoxy but a dead orthodoxy. This is another whole problem, but it does need to be at least mentioned here because some of the compromise found today is in part a rebellion against this dead orthodoxy by those who seem to forget that the problem with a dead orthodosy is not the orthodoxy but the deadness! MacArthur rightly laments the decline of preaching in the compromising churches, but, to balance out the record, it needs to be said that for a very long time there has been very little good preaching even in the traditional churches. One reason modern churchgoers rebel against preaching is that they have never heard any good preaching!

This book was first published in 1993. There have been a few alterations and some signficant additions but most of the third edition (2010) remains the same. The author is a great fan of C. H. Spurgeon, and he prefaces each chapter with a quote from the Prince of Preachers. There also is a discussion of the Down Grade Controversy in which Spurgeon was heavily involved a century ago. And there are other nineteenth century persons noted, especially Finney, who was a pioneer in evangelical compromising!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Mary DeMuth Writers Her Memoir -- Literary Style

A Review of

Mary DeMuth Thin Places: A Memoir (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)
ISBN: 978-0-310-28418-5 219 pages

Reviewer: Forrest W. Schultz

I entitled my review as I did to stress that this book is very clearly the memoir of a writer -- a very good writer, and, as such, it is written with the same concern for literary artistry she has shown in her novels. If you have never read any of her novels, you will probably feel like doing so after having read this memoir. That is, if you appreciated her concern for reality. Since DeMuth was sexually abused as a child, she has had those horrible memories with which to contend and has had to fight a strenuous battle to gain mastery over her past instead of allowing it to control her. Clearly, then some of this memoir will be tough to read.

But the overall picture is that of triumph through the resurrection life of Jesus of Christ. And her testimony is that the very struggle to overcome the pernicious effects of the sordid events of the past has brought her closer to God and developed in her a maturing of her understanding of what authentic christian piety means. Although some of this struggle is horrifying, such as having to endure horrendous nightmares, there are also many humorous anecdotes of her portrayals of some of the silly things she used to do and believe when she was a new christian. In that regard I especially enjoyed the chapter on Jim Elliott, which was very signficant for me because Jim and Betty Elliot have been very important to me.

The title of her memoir refers to a Celtic mythological belief that the wall which separates our world from God is thin at certain places, thereby bringing God close and allowing Him to get through to us. DeMuth has found in her experience that the "thin places" have been the very struggles to overcome the devastating effects wrought in her life by the abusers in her past. This is the principle that has usually been stated in this way: "God shouts during affliction".

However, the book is not only about these struggles. There is plenty of "ordinary" stuff here too. In this way her memoir is like her novel about Maranatha entitled Wishing On Dandelions. We are told many other things about Natha in addition to her abuse. In fact, we not only read of her struggle against the effects of abuse, we also read of her efforts to help someone else. This is wise because one of the effects of sin we need to overcome is to stop being self-centered and to be caring about other people and how we can help them.

But the abuse factor does loom large here, and is something that needs addressing because it is becoming a national plague. DeMuth claims (p. 205) that from 25% - 30% of all women have been violated in one way or other. And DeMuth's motto for her ministry is that of "Turning Trials Into Triumphs". And she states on the mailing which accompanied my review copy of her book that this is the reason for writing the book: "I knew that by telling my story others wouldn't feel alone. And I have the feeling my own journey will help others heal."

The release date for Thin Places is February 5. I strongly suggest that on or shortly after that date that you buy and read this book.


The Real Calvin Stands Up !!

A Review of:

John Calvin The Secret Providence of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2010)

Reviewer: Forrest Wayne Schultz

Calvin's theology is not easy for the modern man to understand. The task is made especially difficult by the obfuscation produced by the widespread fallacious notions about Calvinism. To succeed in task of undestanding the real Calvinism, one needs to carefully distinguish it from these false notions of what Calvinism is.

In the nineteenth century Henry Cole assisted us in making this distinction by means of a book he published entitled Calvin's Calvinism, which consisted of a collection of three of Calvin's writings. One of these -- the book under review here -- is especially appropriate for our purpose because it contains Calvin's own answers to the various attacks against his thought by his contemporary Sebastian Castellio.

It is interesting to observe, as the Editor of the 2010 edition of the book does in his Introduction, that Castellio's thought prefigures that of Arminius, and that Calvin, in refuting Castellio (and similar thinkers) relies very heavily upon Augustine, who had carefully honed his thinking in his battle against Pelagius. Thus, the book is relevant for anyone wishing a clearer understanding of the contrast between Calvinist theology and its Pelagian and Arminian rivals.

Castellio's starting point, as he himself openly admits, is common sense. From the perspective of common sense, Calvin's teaching that God decrees that evil actions occur and that they be used to fulfill His purposes can make it appear that God Himself is evil; and that the decrees of election and reprobation can appear to be arbitrary or unfair. So, Castellio claims on this basis that Calvin has derogated the character of God.

Calvin answers this calumny not only by means of numerous quotations from Scripture (which show that his theology is derived from Scripture) but also by noting this ultra-important fact about God, namely "that nothing is decreed by him without the best reason" (p. 64) and that "his will is the rule of the highest uprightness" (p. 78).

The point noted by Calvin here, which Cornelius Van Til developed further in the twentieth century, is that since God's very nature is rational and wise and righteous and is the very standard and ultimate reference point for defining logic and wisdom and righteousness, that it is impossible for any of God's decrees and actions to be irrational or unwise or unrighteous.

A second distinction between the two theological perspectives is pointed out in the Editorial Introduction and is seen throughout the book, namely Calvin's recogntion of the mystery in God's ways, and Castellio's intolerance of this mystery. Calvin reminds us of God's exaltation above man; Castellio wants to bring God down to our level and explain everything in simple terms. To use Van Til's terminology, Calvin stresses the Creator/creature distinction; Castellio tends to blur that distinction. Calvin emphasizes the truth of Deut 29:29, viz. that "the secret things belong to God", i.e. there are certain matters God has chosen not to reveal to us. Castellio, on the other hand, is like the reader who resents the novelist for keeping some of the "backstory" to himself instead of telling the reader everything. And, Calvin (contra Castellio) is like the reader who recognizes that it would be absurd to conclude that the writer of a murder mystery must be in favor of murder because he has put a murder into his story!

The format of The Secret Providence of God is very unusual in that Castellio does not identify himself and that he pretends that the calumnies against Calvin were written by someone else and that he is doing Calvin a favor by informing him of them! And the book has a very unusual and surprising ending (p. 122) which I shall allow you to discover for yourself and ponder its significance.

In light of the great importance of this book it is not surprising that a man of the stature of Paul Helm was chosen as Editor: he held the J. I. Packer Chair at Regent College for five years. And it is not suprising that the book has received the endorsement of men like Westminster Seminary's Academic Dean and Vice-President Carl R. Trueman, and the noted church historian Michael A. G. Haykin whose excellent lecture on the life of Calvin was a valuable contribution to the recently concluded Calvin quinquicentennial.