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Posts Tagged ‘Van Til’


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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Travers, as our friends call him, is a long-suffering Mets & Knicks fan.  He is able to rejoice that his Giants won the Super Bowl.  We met in the early 90’s at an SBC church with a pastor who espoused Reformed Theology.  We were both transplanted Yankees.  He has had quite the winding pilgrimage, as some of us do.  He was wiser than I, and left that church sooner than I did.  Imagine our surprise when we saw each other again at a local PCA church.  I’ve crashed at his home during week-long classes, and had many a debate with him.  They could get loud, but we remain friends despite our theological differences (I cannot disabuse him of dispensationalism 🙂 ).  He has since moved to Texas, hoping to get a theology degree one of these days.

  1. What was the first book you read that introduced you to Reformed Theology?   Foundations of the Christian Faith by James Montgomery Boice 
  2. Besides the Bible, list the five most influential books in your Reformed theological journey.  Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks, Anyone of the MacArthur Books I own, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought by John Frame 
  3. List three preachers and/or teachers who were most influential in your journey.  Warren Wiresbe, John MacArthur and it’s a tie with Steve Brown & Steve Cavallaro 🙂 
  4. If you could give one book to someone interested in Reformed theology, what book would you give them?  Calvin’s Institutes (Go to the Source first then read the commentators) 
  5. What doctrine would you say distinguishes Reformed Theology?  Soverignty of God, especilly in regards to salvation. 

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Leadership Journal has a new article by Tim Keller called The Gospel in All Its Forms.  In it he is addressing the tension between generations and theological movments about the content of the gospel.

BTW: in a previous post about The Reason for God I mentioned him using a Van Tillian approach.  He does not mention Van Til in The Reason for God.  He does that in his message at the Desiring God Conference in 2006, The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Post-modern World.  Keller uses an eclectic approach- some Van Til, some Lewis etc.  This fits with his notion that you must read widely to become wise.  I think there is some wisdom in that- for no one man-made apologetic style captures all the depth and substance of how the Bible does apologetics.  The Bible uses both general revelation and special revelation.  This is sure to annoy purists from any particular stream of thought.  Oh, well.

Keller has been thinking of a way to pull together both the individual and corporate, human and rest of creation aspects of the gospel.  Each generation will tend to focus on one or 2 aspects at the risk of moving into heretical territory by denying the others.  He pulls together a good quick definition of the gospel, to my thinking anyway.

If I had to put this outline in a single statement, I might do it like this: Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.

Tim Keller than moves ahead to argue that the one gospel is given in different audience appropriate forms.  This is found in Galatians.  There is one gospel, and yet the gospel to the circumcised and the gospel to the uncircumcised.  How you present the gospel will/should matter depending on the person to whom you are offering Christ as He is presented in the gospel.

Since he serves a very diverse group (both religious and non-religious) he finds he has to preach it in various ways so people will overhear him preaching it to others as well as hear him preaching it to them.  In this way, the people to whom he preaches gain a fuller understanding of the gospel as they listen in.  He does not pit these groups against one another, but unites them in a biblical gospel big enough to address both individuals and all of creation, both the kingdom of God and eternal life.

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Occasionally I will hear someone say something fairly misguided about presuppositional apologetics.  Most of us, as Christians, hear the ‘proofs’ for the existence of God (the teleological argument, argument from design, the ontological argument of Anselm, etc.).  They make sense to us and we usually embrace them.

But then people hear the presuppositional apologetics de-emphasizes them and the break-down in communication starts.  Actually, most Classical Apologists act as if Van Til utterly rejected such natural revelation arguments.  I haven’t read everything he’s written, so I won’t speak for him.  But both John Frame and Richard Pratt, in their books on presuppositional apologetics, include and affirm (with disclaimers) the various ‘proofs’ for the existence of God.  So, if anyone tells you that presuppositionalism denies the use of the ‘proofs’ for God’s existence, you can gently tell them, “You are mistaken.”  What are the problems?

1. Most people don’t read proponants of other positions, just critiques of other positions.  Most dispensational premillenial books arguing against Amillenialism do NOT quote amillenial authors, but other dispensational authors.  That seems a tad unethical.  And I suspect most people who take umbrage with presup apologetics haven’t read either Every Thought Captive or Apologetics to the Glory of God.  Obviously some have and you may be one of those people.  btw- as a former student and employee of the senior Sproul, I have read his book on the matter.

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