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Posts Tagged ‘incomprehensibility’


About a year ago I realized I had no books on the subject of our union with Christ. I decided to go on a buying binge. It didn’t last long because there are not many books on that subject. Since then I read Robert Letham’s excellent book on the subject. Since I was on study leave, I decided to take J. Todd Billings’ book Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church.

The phrase reframing theology can often be a bad sign, sort of like ‘repainting the faith”. But here it is not. Billings is a Reformation scholar, with particular emphasis on Calvin. This book oozes Calvin, along with others. He utilizes “retrieval theology”, which was a new term for me. You look to the theology of the past to address problems of the present, and to renew our vision. We tend to be culturally captive, and see theology in light of the problems of our day. This looks to the past to gain a theological foothold to examine the problems of our day, sometimes to even see them. I hope that makes sense, and that I did it justice (I suspect some Ph.D. candidate out there could take me to task). Billings wants to reframe our thinking, so we look at things like salvation, justice, communion and ministry in light of our union with Christ.

When I taught a Sunday School class, one congregant took issue with Packer’s assertion that one only understands Christianity to the degree that they understand adoption. His assertion was that union with Christ as the most important unifying principle or doctrine that we must understand. So, I found it ironic that the first chapter is entitled Salvation as Adopted in Christ. The point is, that they are connected to one another. You can’t have one without the other. But one way we can better understand union is thru understanding adoption. Much of the book keeps our current context in mind, and explores how Christianity really differs from MTD, or moralistic, therapeutic, deism. Odd in that some of the other books I’ve been reading have dealt with that as well. Salvation as adoption is so different than MTD. God, who is transcendent (great & glorious) draws near to us in salvation. He draws near to us to save us.

“The prospect of adoption in this sense is an offense. It is too much closeness– it is the sort of closeness that requires giving up one’s own identity.”

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Some time ago I had told a commenter that I planned on reading Van Til’s chapter in Introduction to Systematic Theology on the Incomprehensibility of God and blog on it.  I never seemed to find the time.

Since my computer was “resting” on Tuesday, I was flipping through my copy of the book.  Lo and behold, I have already read that chapter.  Silly me.   So here I go!

Van Til starts with the problem of knowing the “living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise…” as our Confession summarizes the Scriptures regarding God.  Such a God, according to Kantian epistemology is beyond our experience.  In their view, God is not just incomprehensible, but unknowable.  The theology of Van Til’s day often embraced such views.  God become unknowable, and faith became irrational.  It was no longer a faith seeking understanding since there is nothing we can understand about an absolute God.

Aquinas put forth the “way of negation” by which we know God negatively instead of positively.  We speak about what God is not rather than what He is.  His dependence on Aristotle means he embraces a non-Christian epistemology that descends into a similar irrationalism.

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I took a stab at the Controversy a few years ago after reading (or trying to read) Herman Hoeksema’s book.  That post remains quite popular.  I’ve been meaning to read Van Til on the incomprehensibility of God, but more important matters have hindered me from investing the time necessary.

But I finally began John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.  Early on in the book, he interacts with the Controversy and makes what I think are some helpful comments on it.  I’ve been meaning to blog about this, but have been (yes) busy.  Since today is something of a sick day, I’ve got a bit more time.

“We should be gentle with those who differ from us; they may not be rebellious or sinful in their disagreement, only immature (in other respects they may surpass us).  And, of course, we must always recognize the possibility that we may be wrong, that a brother or sister who disagrees with us may have something to teach us.”

Frame asserts that this controversy was not the highlight of either man’s career, and that they seriously misunderstood one another.  As the first, such controversies tend to bring out the worst in us.  This is why many godly men offered warnings about how to conduct themselves in theological controversy.  It is quite easy for pride to deceive us and distort our thinking, motive and goals.  Part of that deception ties into the misunderstanding of the other person’s actual views that takes place.  As I mentioned in the earlier post, controversy tends to move us to further extremes in the quest to be right (as opposed to understanding truth).

Both, however had valid concerns.  Van Til wished to preserve the Creator-creature distinction in the realm of knowledge, and Clark wished to prevent an skeptical deductions from the doctrine of incomprehensibility, to insist that we really do know God on the basis of revelation.  Van Til, therefore, insisted that even when God and man were thinking of the same thing (a particular rose, for example), their thoughts about it were never identical– God’s were the thoughts of the Creator, man’s of the creature.  Such language made Clark fear skepticism.

Here is how they were talking past each other in some ways (there was a real disagreement, but not as vast as either made it out to be perhaps).  They wanted to protect different ideas in their discussion of the topic.  Different agendas or concerns, which led to different expressions and therefore misunderstanding.

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