Monday, November 19, 2012

Van Til's Fideism and Historical Criticism

In Classical Apologetics, Gerstner, Lindsley, and Sproul do a hatchet job on Cornelius Van Til. One of their criticisms, if I recall correctly is that Van Til was a Fideist whereas the Classical Apologeticists produced effective ontological arguments that are still serviceable today. The implication was that Van Til took a problem-avoiding Fideistic approach to all apologetic problems, but this wasn’t true and those students of Van Til should have known it. One of Van Til’s volumes is The New Hermeneutic in which Van Til critics a number of theologians whom he classifies as “New Hermeneuticists”, i.e, Fuchs, Bultmann, Ebeling, Dillenberger, Buri, Polman, Kuitert, Zuidema, Wiersing, Hartvelt, Koole, Baarda, and Augustijn. In the process he voices opinions on several philosophers including Kant, Ritschl, Collingwood, Gadamer, and Bonhoeffer. This book alone should make it clear that Van Til never refused to address the difficult issues. Van Til addressed them.

I was raised in a true Fundamentalist Fideism, one that didn’t deal with the difficult issues. Thus, when I was in college and encountered those issues I didn’t know how to handle them. If God created the earth in 6,000 years and Moses was writing “the very words of God,” then how does one explain The Epic of Gilgamesh which archeologists argue was written long before Genesis? My Fundamentalist mother believed that Satan planted false information in the earth in order to mislead future generations.

I wonder how many children fall away from Christianity each year because Fundamentalist teaching doesn’t prepare them for the real world. If they are taught that it was created in 6,000 years. When they later learn that isn’t true, what does that new knowledge do to their faith? Facing the evidence of science or the history of the Old Testament texts shouldn’t destroy a Christian’s faith. The facts of science and history pertain to how God operated, not whether he did. Fundamentalists who make it an article of faith that the world was created in something like 6,000 years (or even 60,000 – I don’t recall how far they fudge that number today) do young believers a tragic disservice.

Van Til’s Apologetics were “presuppositional,” meaning that he assumed God rather than needing to prove Him. He had studied all the material and arguments, but assuming God, he argued, was far more rational than assuming “Chance.” In fact it was the only stance that was rational. When one applies the laws of chance to the universe there is not enough time for it to have happened. The atheist can argue that while current laws of chance based on current scientific knowledge may not provide enough time for the creation of the universe, new evidence is sure to be found that will one day validate “chance.” The atheist is thereby expressing his “faith” that science will in the future validate his belief. The Presuppositionalist believes that he can safely “assume” God and that no “evidence” produced by current or future atheists will endanger that assumption.

The Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, also known as “Source Criticism” began what is called the Historico-Critical Method. Does believing in this method require that one become an atheist? Wellhausen himself seemed to think so in later life, but later theologians interested in “Old Testament Introduction” have not found their faith in God or in the creeds of Christendom threatened. What they are finding are the ways in which God created the Old Testament not whether he created it. But just as with the Young Earth thesis, if one is raised with a simplistic view of the creation of the Biblical Text and later encounters some of the difficulties non-Fundamentalist theologians regularly wrestle with, one’s faith is going to be tested.

In philosophy one hears the question “is it better to be a happy fool or an unhappy Socrates?” The young philosophy student will be expected to select the latter, but the Christian ought not to be forced to choose the former. Abraham Kuyper famously wrote that there is nothing in the entire world where Christ cannot lay his hand and pronounce “mine.” Perhaps the lazy or limited can’t wrestle with the difficult problems in science, philosophy and theology, but there are those in the Church world who can and have. It is not necessary to pull a fundamentalist blanket over one’s head to retain one’s faith. I am currently reading Brevard Childs’ Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Would that he were available to read when I was in college reading such books as James Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.

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