Sunday, September 7, 2008

Cornelius Van Til Confuses over 'Mystery'

Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong identifies himself as a 'Van Tilian', meaning someone who adheres to Cornelius Van Til's work. And here is a critique of Van Til's work which indirectly referring to Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong's theology:

“…our knowledge is rational because God is ultimately rational. At the same time, God is incomprehensible to us because he is ultimately rational. It is not because God is irrational, and in the nature of the case, ultimately rational, that we cannot comprehend him.” (p.33)

“It is exceedingly dangerous to confuse the orthodox concept of the incomprehensibility of God with the ultimate mysteriousness of the universe as held by modern thought… modern thought believes in an ultimate irrationalism [a.k.a mystery], while Christianity believes in an ultimate rationality. It is difficult to think of two types of thought that are more radically opposed to one another. It is the most fundamental antithesis conceivable in the field of knowledge.” (p.35)
(Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 2nd ed. Italics original.)

The idea of using ‘Mystery’ is not to say it is ‘irrational’ but to say that it is something so much more than our notion of rationality to the extend of risking itself to being the unknown.

The ultimate reality is being regarded as mysterious because we recognize our limited and finite rational ability comprehend it in the first place. In Van Til’s own language, this is the absolute rationality that finite creatures cannot comprehend yet have their rationality derived from it.

Van Til is forcing ‘irrationalism’ into the term ‘mystery’. If it is irrational, then ‘Mystery’ wouldn’t has been used. Hence the so-called ‘radical opposition’ between mystery and ultimate rationality is just a corollary of Van Til’s own confusion and eisegesis on the term ‘mystery’.

10 comments:

landau said...

I am affraid you missunderstand what Van Till meant in his argument.

Detached-definition of 'mystery' cannot be used to analyze the argument that are put forth in certain context.

In atheist point of view, there is no God, and there is no absolute rationality. Therefore, things happening in universe is irrational, and that is why it is called 'Mystery'.

To be compared with, Absolute Rationality, even though ultimate comprehensibility of God is impossible (since we are limited creature and God is unlimited). But it is of logical conclusion that everything happening in the universe has reason.

The problem is, atheist deny this fact and forces on the assumption of the order of things, and that reason can exist autonomously. That is why atheism is in self-contradiction.

Hope this clarifies.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi landau,

I don't think I misunderstand Van Til.

I think your disagreement is stemmed from your assumption that Van Til was referring to "atheist point of view" (as you put it). But he was not.

In the section of that book, he was explicitly referring to Donald MacKenzie's work 'Christianity and the Paradox of God'.

He was referring to modern thoughts, and in this case modern theological thoughts, and not "atheist point of view".

Hope this clarifies the reference that Van Til made in that book.

landau said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

I dont think I missunderstand it.

It is clear that the 'modern thought' here means the 'philosophical thought' apart from Christianity.

Cheers,
Landau

Sze Zeng said...

Hi landau,

Van Til's thought is not less philosophical here. Whether it is Christianity or not, I do not have the final word, neither does Van Til.

Hence, in the post, I'm not particularly in giving a critique over whether is Van Til's thought more Christian than his opponents's. I'm solely questioning his understanding of his opponents' thoughts.

Blessings.

The Hedonese said...

With due respect, I think Landau has a much superior understanding and grassp of Van Tillian thought here :)

Sze Zeng said...

Sure, Dave. All readings are respected :)

RazorsKiss said...

Van Til expressly says in that quote that he is NOT endorsing irrationalism, and that "irrationalism" is NOT the problem for "mystery" in Christianity.

It seems as if the author is saying that it is the case that Van Til is conflating the two - irrationalism and mystery. If this is what you're saying, it is entirely wrong.

He says that it is NOT because God is irrational that we cannot comprehend Him. It is because God is ultimately *rational* that we cannot comprehend Him.

He is distinguishing between the "mystery" of modernism and the "mystery" of Christianity. The two are not identical. He makes that plain in the second quote. Mystery, in modern thought, is ultimately irrational, while in Christianity, mystery is ultimately rational.

I don't see how you can get the opposite conclusion from the text provided. This is a common problem with folks who read Van Til. They don't read Van Til :)

Sze Zeng said...

Thank you for your comment RazorsKiss.

Yes, Van Til distinguishes between "mystery" of modernism and the "mystery" of Christianity.

Yes, to Van Til, the "mystery of modernism" is irrational, while the "mystery of Christianity" is rational.

So no disagreement on this.

The point of contention is that I am questioning how valid is Van Til's reading of the "mystery of modernism" as irrational? If he can allow the "mystery of Christianity" as rational, why can't he also see the "mystery of modernism" as rational since the one who judge both and their relation to rationality is one who is limited and finite in rationality?

To put it syllogistically:

P.1) Finite & limited rationality is not capable to decide whether mystery, be it of modernism or Christianity, is rational or not. (I take it as tautology that if finite rationality is capable to decide on whether a mystery is rational or not, then the mystery is not mysterious in the first place.)

P.2) Van Til is finite & limited in his rationality.

C) Therefore Van Til is not capable to decide whether mystery, be it of modernism or Christianity, is rational or not.

So with regard to your last sentence, I read Van Til and I got him right (as seen in our convergence of the two agreements above). My disagreement is not with you, but with Van Til's proposition for a "radically opposed" relationship between the two mysteries. If he can decide which mystery is rational and which is not, then both are not mysterious in the first place.

RazorsKiss said...

Okay, I'm reminded once again of how much I hate blogger comments. Post incoming, since your comments won't allow more than 4,096 characters :P

Muriwali Yanto Matalu said...

Sze Zeng, you do not understand Van Til and try to evaluate his thought, of course your conclusion is misleading. I quote here some of your statements:

"The point of contention is that I am questioning how valid is Van Til's reading of the "mystery of modernism" as irrational? If he can allow the "mystery of Christianity" as rational, why can't he also see the "mystery of modernism" as rational since the one who judge both and their relation to rationality is one who is limited and finite in rationality?"

This is a misleading understanding on Van Til which leads to unnecessary question. Van Til in his statement presupposes the the biblical truth as the only truth, and in the perspective of antithesis, indeed the view of modernism on what is rational and irrational is not true at all. So according to Van Till, unless someone presupposes the biblical truth (the God of the Bible; the Trinity), someone cannot understand what is rational and what is irrational. Therefore, your question is not relevant to Van Til's thought. If you do not agree, I love to debate with you. With love in Christ, Muriwali Yanto Matalu.