Friday, February 8, 2013

Common Grace

by Cornelius Van Til

In a number of class syllabi, I worked out the Reformed, in contradistinction from the Romanist and the Arminian, method of apologetics.

Continuing on, I wrote a little book calculated to show that if we are to have a truly biblical method of apologetics we must, with Calvin, Kuyper, and Bavinck, believe in common grace and in a general offer of the gospel to all men.

But we must have a biblically balanced view of common grace. We must not impose a non-Christian type of logical reasoning upon the revelation of God in Scripture. We must not, from the biblical teaching with respect to election, deduce the idea that God cannot have, at any time in history, any attitude of favor to man as man. On the other hand, we must not, from the biblical teaching with respect to the "free offer of the gospel," deduce the idea that there can be no election.

Are we then to say that what Scripture teaches with regard to God’s comprehensive control of all things, including the eternal destiny of man, and what Scripture teaches about man’s freedom and responsibility, is contradictory?

If so, shall we then follow Karl Barth in saying that contradictions in Scripture do not matter in the least because what the gospel is really all about takes place in a realm "above" ordinary history? Or shall we with Gordon Clark say that the "contradiction" that we think we see is no real contradiction at all?

We cannot follow any of these ways. The trouble with all of them is that they do not ask men to subject their every thought, even their method of thinking, to the revelation of God through Christ in Scripture. We must start with the self-attesting Christ of Scripture. We must start with what is presented to us in Scripture with respect to the whole course of God’s dealings with man. We must simply take the biblical story about the whole course of history from its beginning to its end. If we do this we may with all freedom speak of the biblical system of truth. For the biblical system of truth is a different kind of system than is the system of truth of would-be autonomous or self-sufficient man.

This point is of basic importance. It has shown itself to be such with ever increasing clarity through the years. Man thinks God’s thoughts after Him. That is to say, his thought is to be reinterpretative of God’s original thought. As a being made in the image of God, man is like God but he is also unlike God. His being is therefore analogical being and his thinking is, properly conceived, analogical thinking.

The Roman Catholics also speak of analogical knowledge. But their notion of analogy is the exact opposite from that of the Reformed notion of analogy. The Roman Catholic notion of analogy is based on Aristotle’s philosophy of the analogical nature of being as such. And this makes all the world of difference. Aristotle’s notion of the analogy of being assumes that man is not a creature of God nor a sinner against God. The argument between the Reformed and the Aristotelian positions is an argument about the very possibility of human thinking and speaking.

The Romanist and the Arminian do not see this mutually exclusive nature of analogy, and the mutually exclusive nature of what should be meant by a biblical system of truth. Accordingly, Romanism and Arminianism try to show that Christianity can meet the requirements of the natural man with respect to logic and fact. The Romanist and the Arminian insist that fallen man’s idea of a system of truth is not wrong. The only thing that is wrong with fallen man is that he cannot live up to his own requirement with respect to what a system of truth should be, that is, a frank reinterpretation of the teachings of Scripture in the interest of a deeper understanding of the revelation of God present in every fact of the universe.

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