Sunday, January 25, 2009

Revelation and Reason

Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics, edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton, is a collection of essays designed to further the understanding and application of many of the apologetic principles outlines by Cornelius Van Til. To be honest, what is presented in this book should not be new to anyone who has done much reading in Reformed apologetics, whether reading Van Til or his followers. That said, this book does still have great value as the authors move discussions further along than many of those other books on apologetics. For example, a number of early articles give detailed expositional and exegetical defense of how Van Tilian apologetics is ultimately Scriptural apologetics. Several other articles interact with more recent attacks on Van Tilian approaches such as Classical Apologetics by Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley. Still others are examples of Reformed apologetics in action as it is applied to more modern philosophical movements.

The following is a brief overview of the essays in the book. This is not a full review of the book by any stretch and will not interact with the essays with any detail but I will simply describe the essays and list which I think are most valuable.

1. Introduction by Scott Oliphint and Lane Tipton – Normally I would not mention the Introduction and Appendix in a review but a reader would be losing a lot if he or she skipped over these sections in this book. The Introduction is not particularly original but it is quite helpful. Oliphint and Tipton introduce the book but emphasizing both the necessity and importance of apologetics. They do this through a focus on 1 Peter 3. However they build up to Peter’s command to always be ready to give a reason for the hope within you by showing the importance and meaning of the section in the whole epistle. Well written and informative.

2. “Epistemological Reflections on 1 Corinthians 2:6-16” by Richard Gaffin – While Dr. Gaffin has written a number of essays and books with great importance and value to the Church, this was one of my favorite things by him to read. This is simply an exposition of 1 Cor. 2:6-16 with a focus on the implications of the passage for a Christian epistemology. This was a fantastic opening essay to the book.

3. “Resurrection, Proof, and Presuppositionalism: Acts 17:30-31” by Lane Tipton – This is also a worthwhile and important essay as Paul’s speech before the Aeropagus is often brought up by non-Van Tilian apologists as counter to Van Til’s understanding of a biblical and Reformed apologetic. Tipton careful exposits the passage to show that Paul is actually working from presuppositions of the Christian faith in his discourse, especially related to the resurrection. This essay was well organized and so very easy to read.

4. “The Irrationality of Unbelief: An Exegetical Study” by Scott Oliphint – Like the first two essays, Oliphint takes a topic that Van Til dealt with regularly (irrationality in non-Christian thought) and goes to demonstrate that rather than being merely a philosophical concept this can be demonstrated from Scripture. He focuses on Rom. 1:18ff in particular to demonstrate that not only is refusing to acknowledge, believe, and worship the true God a covenant breaking sin but that it is ultimately irrational. A good and helpful essay on the noetic effects of sin and the covenantal aspect of epistemology.

5. “The Case for Calvinistic Hermeneutics” by Moises Silva – When I saw the title of this essay I was a little surprised as it seemed out of place in a book on apologetics. When I finished the book it ended up being one of my favorites. A large focus of the essay was on common grace and God’s sovereignty in biblical interpretation. These are two topics of immense importance to apologetics. Silva’s essay does a lot to help the Christian apologist consider what he or she can use from unbelievers when defending the faith, especially given the sin and irrationality in all unbelief as presented by Oliphint. This was a great essay and also very well placed in the book.

6. “Paul’s Christological Interpretation of Creation and Presuppositional Apologetics” by Lane Tipton – This essay largely focuses on Paul’s argument in Colossians 2 telling the church not to seek philosophy but Christ. Tipton exposits this passage in light of the book to show how Christ as the ontological and redemptive-historical firstborn Son rules over all of our thought. Tipton is particularly good on the relationship of Christ’s divine and human natures (see also his articles in Justified in Christ and Resurrection and Eschatology) and I thought he did a good job of applying the exegetical considerations from the passage to apologetics.

7. “Divine Aseity and Apologetics” by John Frame – As always, I have to say that John Frame is an extraordinarily skilled writer and communicator and that shows again in this essay. Frame wants to show how God’s aseity (that he is wholly self-contained) influences and moves apologetic method and goals. Frame himself is very explicit that what he has to say in this essay is not original but instead is at the heart of Van Til’s apologetic. As such, I think that this essay would be very valuable to anyone seeking to start reading Van Til’s work as Frame’s clear manner of presenting his material would help them to grasp the foundation of Van Til’s work before moving into the particulars and applications.

8. “Consistently Reformed: The Inheritance and Legacy of Van Til’s Apologetic” by Michael Horton – This book presents Reformed apologetics from the perspective of a consistent application of Reformed theology. In the context of this essay it is especially theology proper that moves the discussion. Horton shows how the Creator-creature distinction applies to and motivates apologetics in our understanding of God, man, and unbelief. He presents all of this as an application of the covenant relationship between God and man. I think that this essay would be helpful to anyone trying to resolve the differences at the heart of the Van Til-Clark debate and is a helpful introduction to Reformed apologetics.

9. “A Confessional Apologetic” by Thom Notaro – The title really explains this essay. Reformed apologists often maintain (following after Van Til) that their apologetic is not new but is only the consistent application of Reformed theology in the defense of the faith. Notaro shows this but demonstrating the close relationship between Van Til’s apologetic and the Reformed Confessions, particularly the Westminster Standards. Part of the purpose is to show that a rejection of this apologetic method ultimately reveals a misunderstanding of some of the central doctrines in our confessions.

10. “Theologia Naturalis: A Reformed Tradition” by Jeff Jue – In this essay Jue seeks to respond to a premise pushed especially hard by Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley that Van Tilian apologists have departed from the traditional Reformed understanding of natural theology. Jue argues that Van Til even opened himself up to this criticism in several side comments that he made concerned the Post-Reformation scholastics. Jue responds by demonstrating that Reformed theologians have always treated natural theology the same way that Reformed apologists do today. For what it’s worth I’ve found that Jue’s work on the Westminster Divines and the Protestant Scholastics has always been interesting and informative much like most of Richard Muller’s work and that if you have any interest of sympathy for this accusation against Van Tilian apologetics then you will likely find this essay very informative.

11. “The Eschatological Implications of Genesis 2:15 for Apologetics” by William Dennison – For those not familiar with him, Dennison is a Biblical Theologian in the legacy of Meredith Kline. In this essay he shows that Adam’s task in the Garden of Eden was largely a priestly task. He then develops this task through redemptive-history to show that defending the faith is ultimately a task that belongs to all Christians as the church is a kingdom of priests. I thought that this essay was very interesting and appreciated its inclusion in the book. An essay like this helps to show that Reformed apologetics is built upon all theological disciplines and further distances it from accusations of being merely a philosophical fantasy.

12. “The Old-New Reformed Epistemology” by Scott Oliphint – In this essay Oliphint helps to build a consistent epistemology from Scripture and Reformed theology. In doing this he spends a lot of time interacting with Alvin Plantinga’s idea of basic beliefs, which is really a modern presentation of the thought of the Scottish philosopher and theologian Thomas Reid. This is a more explicitly philosophical essay than many in the book but those interested in philosophy, particularly those familiar with Reid and Plantinga, should find it very interesting.

13. “The Fate of Apologetics in an Age of Normal Nihilism” by Michael Payne – This was probably my least favorite essay in the book. It is not because the essay was bad but more because of the limited application. Starting with the essay by Oliphint preceding this one the last four articles all focus on methodology and application. This essay deals particularly with several modern nihilistic philosophers. I think that the major value of this essay is that it provides an example of applying the principles outlined in earlier eassys to an actually apologetic confrontation with a particular movement. For that reason you certainly should not skip it in reading this book but keep in mind that application is Payne’s goal.

14. “Turn! Turn! Turn! Reformed Apologetics and the Cultural Dimension” by William Edgar – Like the preceding essay, Edgar gives an application of Reformed apologetics to a certain movement. In this case it is the new humanism that is articulated by several well-known French philosophers (one would have to be familiar with modern French culture to realize exactly how important these figures are; there really is not an American equivalent). Edgar’s main point is that as apologists we need to be sensitive to cultural changes and movements and be prepared to adopt our application of the principles in the preceding essays to new movements and cultural turns. As an application of that advice I think you’ll find this essay helpful.

15. “Van Til and the Transcendental Argument” by Don Collett – Collett focuses more on the application of Van Til’s method than any of the other writers. In particular he puts forth a presentation of Van Til’s apologetic in terms of formal logic. Those familiar will find this essay quite helpful. In particular Collett shows that Van Til is giving more than merely another version of Anselm’s ontological argument or instructing Christians to merely attack non-Christian philosophies with reduction ad absurdum (reduction to the absurd). I think this is essay is helpful but might have been better placed before the essays by Payne and Edgar and would recommend reading the book that way and seeing how they apply the method that Collett presents.

16. Appendix: “Cornelius Van Til and the Reformation of Christian Apologetics” by Scott Oliphint – Again, I think that the reader would be poorly served by closing the book before reading the appendix. Here Oliphint shows the wholistic application of Van Til’s apologetic. Van Til dealt with people at the deepest and most basic levels of unbelief. Oliphint helps to show that here and in doing so the reader can see how this apologetic method always applies to any conversation with unbelievers. Reformed apologetics ultimately seeks to present the whole of the Christian faith to the unbeliever and then to give them God’s demand that they respond in repentance and faith. Readers should take some time to read this appendix.

On the whole I have to say that this was a very well-written and organized book (the exception being the order of the last three essays). Again, there isn’t a lot in here that is new and it will be most helpful and interesting to those with some training in apologetics. That said, I think that it should be helpful in further grounding Reformed apologetics in Scripture and in the Reformed faith.

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