Van Til Tool

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

Friday, August 20, 2010



A Review of

D. A. Carson Collected Writings On Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010)
335 pp $27.99 ISBN-10: 1-4335-1441-9 ISBN-13: 978-1-4335-1441-8

Reviewer: Forrest W. Schultz

Before discussing the book's writings themselves, a caveat is in order concerning the need to read the book's Preface (and Permissions Page [321-322]), which indicates how long ago most of the material in it was written. Chapters 2, 3, 4, & 6 are found in books published all the way back in 1983; Chapter 1 is in a book published in 1994; and Chapter 5 is in a book published in 1997. This needs to be kept in mind, especially when one reads there about such matters as the "New" Hermeneutic, a term which was already out of date back in 1983!

Carson in the essays in the book also notes that many supposedly new ideas are really not new at all. The so-called New Hermeneutic is a case in point. As we read what Carson says about it, it is clear that it is simply subjectivistic relativism epistemology applied to the New Testament writings, i.e. it is claimed that the NT texts have no inherent meaning in themselves, so that the only meanings which can be studied are the different meanings they have for different readers. This and other related ideas in postmodernism are frequently dealt with in Carons's writings, including the ones in this book, which shows how long postmodernism has been around -- it is definitely not something new!

Because there are so many fallacious notions about Scripture in published books in our time, Carson's critiques are, of necessity, filled with refutations of these false views, which need to be exposed and contrasted with the true nature of Scripture, which is the written Word of God. Thus, of necessity, through his many writings on the subject, Carson has become well-known as a defender of the Scripture.

And, because there has been so much compromise and confusion for such a long time in so many individuals and churches in evangelicalism, many of these false views are being propounded by "conservatives". Liberals are not the only ones confused today, which Carson's critiques make quite clear.

The number of topics and the number of writers critqued by Carson in this volume are too great and too various to be summarized in any neat way. Perhaps one of the most important of these should be mentioned, namely confusion about the relationship between unity and diversity, about which Carson makes some helpful remarks, but concerning which he states that more study is needed to deal with the matter adequately. His remarks do not include any mention of the all important principle of the equal ultimacy of the unity and the diversity, which is essential for handling this subject, and which has already been discussed in the writings of Cornelius Van Til. It is unclear from his remarks whether he is unfamiliar with Van Til's study of this or not. It is worth pointing out that the great accomplishments of R. J. Rushdoony are largely attributable to his following this Van Tillian principle.

Regarding the matter of rationality, Carson's treatment is also mixed. He rightly sees the all important point that God is the ultimate standard for rationality, but then he turns around and calls God "supra-rational", (p. 148) thereby regarding man's rationality as the standard! The consistent position is to say that God is the standard for rationality, and if we fall below this standard we are being sub-rational.

There are some helpful remarks by Carson here and there about other topics, such as inerrancy, inspiration, and perspicuity, and some reviews of books on Scripture which we may not have heard about. I found his discussion of Peter Enns to be the most helpful I have ever seen. His discussion of N. T. Wright's ecclesiocentrism with respect to the authority of God to be a very interesting parallel to his better known ecclesiocentrism with respect to justification, which will be of especial interest to those concerned with refuting the Federal Vision notions.

I was very disappointed to see Carson reviewing James Barr's worthless 1980 book instead of his very helpful 1977 book, which provided an excellent analysis of Fundamentalism's view of Scripture, which was immensely helpful and is still relevant today.

I was also disappointed to see Carson taking up a whole chapter of the book on Formgeschichte and redaction criticism, which are totally worthless. The only value this chapter had was in showing these notions have no value. He should have just said that, and then relegated the chapter itself to an Appendix.

Carson receives very high praise from his colleague John Woodbridge and from other prominent scholars and church leaders, some of whom even go so far as to regard him as doing for our day what Warfield did for his.

I concur. BUT, then it needs to be noted that Warfield was good but not good enough. He lacked the knowledge we now have in the Van Til Persective. Thinking and living in our day is tough and we need all the help we can get. It could be argued that Warfield was good enough for the 19th century, I don't know. But I am sure that we will not fare very well in the 21st century without the Van Til tool, which Warfield did not have!


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