Book Review

"Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics" edited by K. Scott Oliphant and Lane G. Tipton

Jeffrey C. Waddington
Kenneth Scott Oliphint
Friday, February 29th 2008
Mar/Apr 2008

In the 1971 festschrift dedicated to Cornelius Van Til, Jerusalem and Athens, G. C. Berkouwer complained that Van Til had supplied little biblical exegesis to establish his apologetic approach. Van Til, granting his point, regretted it and pointed to the excellent endeavors of his colleagues on the faculty of Westminster Theological Sem-inary in Philadelphia as more than balancing out his deficiencies. More than 30 years have passed since Berkouwer leveled his charge against Van Til and in the meantime there have been a number of attempts to step up to the plate, to stand in the gap, and to provide the biblical evidence needed to establish what has been typically called presuppositionalism. The latest, and arguably one of the finest offerings, is K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton's Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics. But to suggest that this volume is only an attempt to shore up the missing exegetical basis for presuppositional apologetics would not do it justice. It is that and so much more.

Arguing that apologetics is primarily a biblical and not a philosophical discipline, the editors and contributors to this volume endeavor to demonstrate that exegetical and theological foundations are necessary for any Reformed defense of the faith; and, they argue, an apologetic is only Reformed if its "tenets, principles, methodology, and so forth are formed and re-formed by Scripture" (1). The book is helpfully organized into three sections: exegetical considerations; theological foundations; and methodological implications, containing a useful introduction, 14 chapters and an appendix, along with Scripture and subject and names indices.

In a brief review such as this, it is nearly impossible to do justice to the chapters included here. I would like to briefly touch on a few highlights of the book from my perspective. Almost all of the contributions are a valuable development and extension of Van Til's penetrating approach to the defense of the Christian faith. Failure to note a contribution should not be interpreted as tacit criticism. In the exegetical considerations section, I was especially impressed with Moises Silva's "The Case for Calvinistic Hermeneutics," which is a refreshing defense of reading Scripture responsibly from a Reformed confessional perspective. Additionally, Tipton (with his two chapters on Paul's apologetic in Acts 17 and Colossians), Richard Gaffin ("Epistemological Reflections on 1 Corinthians 2:6-16"), and Oliphint ("The Irrationality of Unbelief," an exegetical study of Romans 1), all provide sufficient evidence that Van Til's apologetic is not only consistent with Scripture, but practically demanded by it.

In the section on theological foundations, Jeffrey Jue's "Theologia Naturalis" ploughs new ground by showing that while Van Til's critical historical assessment of Reformed Scholasticism on natural theology was informed by less a than stellar historiography, theologically Van Til and the Reformed Scholastics were of one mind on the value of unregenerate attempts to build a natural theology without reference to Scripture. Similarly, Michael Horton in "Consistently Reformed: The Inheritance and Legacy of Van Til's Apologetic" demonstrates that Van Til's doctrine of analogy and concern for the incomprehensibility of God are but contemporary applications of the standard Reformed Scholastic distinction between God's own knowledge of himself (archetypal knowledge) and human knowledge of God based upon revelation (ectypal knowledge). William Dennison concludes this section with a fascinating biblical theological study of Adam's priestly role as apologete in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:15, where we see that Adam was placed to guard the garden but failed to do so and how Christ fulfills that role in himself. Dennison reminds us that Van Til's apologetic method grows out of the biblical theology of Geerhardus Vos. It seems to me that Dennison's chapter should have been placed at the end of the exegetical considerations section, but that is a minor quibble.

The methodological implications section begins with Oliphint's "The Old-New Reformed Epistemology," which amply demonstrates his ability to constructively interact with contemporary philosophical currents, learn from them, and correct deficiencies. Specifically, Oliphint analyzes the contribution of Alvin Plantinga's "proper function" epistemology (the study of how humans know what they know), and offers correctives that take into consideration the sinful effects of the fall on the human mind. Don Collett's "Van Til and Transcendental Argument" provides proof positive that the logic of the transcendental argument functions differently than inferential logic. This is a fairly technical piece, but it is well worth the effort to work through it. The least satisfactory contribution to this volume is Michael Payne's "The Fate of Apologetics in an Age of Normal Nihilism." While in itself it is an interesting discussion of apologetics in a postmodern context, the subject is so far from having any real connection with Van Til (apart from a forced comparison in the conclusion), one wonders how this discussion forwards the goal of the book.

Revelation and Reason concludes with the republication of Oliphint's "Cornelius Van Til and the Reformation of Christian Apologetics." "Republication" may not be an adequate descriptor, however, as this is an updated and modified form of his argument that Van Til's apologetic is a worldview, Trinitarian, and covenantal apologetic. This appendix ought to be required reading for anyone interested in either apologetics generally or Van Til's contribution in particular. In fact, I was so convinced by an earlier version of this appendix that I have since referred to Van Til's presuppositionalism as covenantal apologetics. This book is a welcome contribution to the biblical and theological underpinnings of our defense of the faith and the practices that ought to follow as a result.

Friday, February 29th 2008

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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