In the Banner of September 10th we read a rather interesting review of Dr. J. Daane’s recently published book, titled: The Theology of Grace. Dr. L. Berkhof in his review gives the book some severe criticism. He really accuses Daane of being too philosophical and highly speculative. Berkhof claims that this is so evident that he is afraid most of his people will find the book hard to read. Also Berkhof sharply criticizes Daane, and that almost ironically, for his misrepresentation of the conceptions of Dr. C. Van Til, whom Daane takes to task in his book.
I confess that I have read only a small portion of the book and already I can agree with Berkhof’s first criticism. When I twice read Van Til’s book on Common Grace, I came to the conclusion that it was one mass of philosophic reasoning of which a poor, unlearned man like myself could not make head or tail. And as I read a little way in the book of Daane, J could not escape the thought that he must have sat for a while at the feet of Van Til. My, oh my, when two philosophers begin to philosophize, what a heap of philosophy you get! I know this little philosopher (for we are all little philosophers, don’t you know) got lost in the sea of philosophy.
About Berkhof’s second criticism of Daane, I am not so sure. He accuses Dr. Daane of not fairly restating Van Til’s conceptions. Unless I understood nothing of Daane’s philosophy, which is possible of course, I cannot agree fully with Berkhof’s criticism. Berkhof wants to leave the impression that Van Til, though he (Van Til) may differ on some points, is nevertheless in agreement with the Christian Reformed Church on the matter of common grace. If I understood anything of Van Til’s book, and it’s possible that I didn’t, I can agree with Daane that he does not agree with the presentation of the Christian Reformed Church on common grace. By this I do not mean to say that Van Til agrees entirely with Hoeksema, for I do not believe that he does.
Berkhof’s review is rather lengthy but I need to quote all of it in order to offer a little criticism myself. Here follows Berkhof’s review:
“Dr. Daane, the author of this book has shown in the past that he is interested in the doctrine of common grace. He is in full agreement with the Three Points accepted by the Synod of 1924, but also realizes that this cannot be regarded as the last word on that doctrine and deems a further study of the problem of common grace necessary. At the same time he is not at all pleased with what Dr. Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary has written to show that there is philosophical justification for that doctrine. This gave him occasion for publishing the present volume.
The purpose of this book is indicated in the Preface. It is to assess or evaluate the view of Dr. C. Van Til on common grace. To be more specific, in it Dr. Daane intends to show that Dr. C. Van Til did not get away from the Hegelian rationalism which underlies the theology of Rev. Herman Hoeksema, and that he in fact repudiates the Three Points accepted by the Synod of 1924. He finds the proof for this in the philosophical principles which underlie Dr. Van Til’s view of common grace. He does not deny that Van Til’s position differs in some respects from that of Hoeksema. This is quite evident from statements found on pages 30, 94, 120, 123. He does not maintain that Van Til explicitly denies the existence of common grace, which is exactly what Hoeksema does, but even says on page 117: ‘Van Til cannot be quoted as denying common grace,’ though he feels constrained to add: ‘But his writings show that he does not believe in the reality of common grace.’
This is in harmony with his contention that what Van Til offers us is an attempt to reconstruct the doctrine of common grace, and to promote a letter understanding of it by undergirding it with certain philosophical considerations. It is exactly these philosophical presuppositions of Van Til which the author of the present volume submits to a detailed examination, a rather laborious task. And it is exactly because he deals almost exclusively with philosophical questions, and does this in a philosophical and highly speculative manner, that most of our people will find this book hard to read.
For them the problem of common grace is theological rather than philosophical. It is primarily a doctrinal question, and the validity of a doctrine can be settled only by submitting it to the test of Scripture and our confessional standards. And our people -in general are far better versed theologically than philosophically. Hence they will be far less interested in the question, whether the philosophy of Van Til bears traces of Hegelian idealism and existentialism than in the question whether Van Til’s so-called ‘refinement’ of the doctrine of common grace is in fact a repudiation of the Three Points adopted by the Synod of 1924. They would like very much to have a direct answer to the question whether Van Til actually and not merely in fact or virtually repudiates the doctrine of common grace, just as Hoeksema does.
Since Dr. Daane himself says that ‘Van Til cannot be quoted as denying common grace,’ he can do no more than seek to demonstrate that he must deny what the Synod of 1934 (that must be 1924—M.S.) affirmed in view of his philosophical presuppositions. This means, however, that his proofs all along the line are purely inferential. The Synod of 1924 sought to prove from Scripture and from our Reformed confessional standards that the position of Hoeksema in the denial of common grace is contrary to the Reformed faith. But Dr. Daane, in order To prove the same thing respecting the teachings of Van Til finds it necessary to lead his readers into a maze of abstract and highly speculative reasoning.
Why not follow the same method which Synod followed? Scripture and our confessional standards by which tie can determine whether a person is true to the Reformed faith or not. It is true that Daane also refers to these occasionally, but only to prove that the views which he feels constrained to ascribe to Van Til are not in harmony with our real and only standards of judgment. The possibility is always there that he does not yet have a correct understanding of Van Til’s position. According to a statement in the Preface of his book he had some trouble with this in the past. And in his book he complains more than once that Van Til is not clear in his presentation, is confused in. his thinking, and does not express himself with the necessary precision. He finds in the works of Van Til not only careless but also contradictory statements, and intimates that in some instances he does not really say what he means. This would seem to imply that all is not yet clear to him, and that some expressions need clarification. Naturally, Van Til himself can best take care of this. It may be admitted that Van Til’s argumentation is not always equally clear, but I wonder how many will say, after reading the volume now under consideration: Now we know exactly where Dr. Van Til stands in the matter of common grace. Sorry to say, the book has not added materially to the insight of the present reviewer. But this may, of course, be due to the fact that his philosophical training has been deficient, which makes it difficult to follow the reasoning of Dr. Daane. But most of our people are in an even sorrier plight.
Dr. Daane is mildly surprised that Dr .Van Til’s dangerous views have not been pointed out before, since the latter’s book on Common Grace has been on the market since 1947. Perhaps the most plausible explanation of, this lies in the fact that the readers of that book did not see in the repudiation of the doctrine of common grace which Dr. Daane claims to find in it. The present reviewer read the book on Common Grace years ago, but did not discover its dangerous trend. The fact that Dr. Van Til, while agreeing in general whole-heartedly with the theology of such scholars as Kuyper, Bavinck, and Hepp, yet differs with them on some points, certainly does not prove that he is not Reformed. He quotes the Three Points of 1924, and defends them over against the Revs. Henry Danhof and Herman Hoeksema, Rev. S.G. de Graaf, and Dr. Klaas Schilder. While he recognizes a commendable element in the teachings of the last-named scholar, he maintains over against him that common grace testifies to a favorable attitude of God to the reprobate. According to Dr. Daane, Dr. Van Til is by implication guilty of some serious errors. I must confess that I have never seen this, but this may probably be due to my inability to think clearly and incisively; however, it, may also be due to I the fact that the errors which Dr. Daane discovers are more imaginary than real. To mention but a single instance: What is wrong with the idea of an earlier grace or a grace before the fall? Was not Adam the recipient of divine grace or unmerited favor before the fall? The words in question 12 of the Heidelberg: Catechism: ‘and again be received in to favor’ (Dutch: “en wederom tot genade komen’) certainly seem to imply that he was. How is it that Dr. Van Til’s colleagues at Westminster never discovered his serious errors? Did any of those who owed a part of their theological training to Dr. Van Til ever speak of them? If they have, it did not come to my attention. Moreover, Dr. Berkouwer in his work on De Voorzienigheid Gods speaks of Van Til’s criticism of Hoeksema and Schilder with approval, page 87 (note), 89, 90, 91 (notes). Ought we not always to assess and interpret the words of others in the most charitable way, and to give the best possible interpretation of expressions which may be interpreted in various ways?” So far the review of Berkhof.
Now, when you read this in the light of the history of the past, the thought cannot be suppressed: How can the professor so severely criticize his former student of being too philosophical, when he himself has been guilty of being the same? Was not Dr. Berkhof father of the Three Points? If my memory serves me correctly, he was. Are the Three Points based on a thorough exegesis of Scripture and the Confessions, or are they the product of Berkhof’s philosophical bent? Berkhof may say that he can explain the Three Points in the light of Scripture and the Confessions, and that he did. And the Synod of 1924 may say that it quoted Scripture and the Confessions to prove the Three Points. But is it so sure that Berkhof’s exegesis is Scripture and the Confessions? I say it is philosophy. Does the fact that Synod quoted texts of Scripture and parts of the Confessions make the Three Points infallible? I say all heretics follow the same pattern. If you quote certain texts of Scripture, you can make the Scriptures say anything you want to. And the same applies to the Confessions. My contention is that the Three Points are pure philosophy and are both un-scriptural, and un-confessional. They are the product of Berkhof’s philosophy, and of all who agreed with him. It may be true that one can understand Berkhof’s philosophy better than that of Van Til and Daane because he roams about, not in the philosopher’s heaven, but on the philosopher’s earth. But a philosopher he is, nevertheless. And one who has done some severe philosophizing himself should not so severely criticize those who philosophize.
Further, Berkhof insists that the common grace problem is theological, not philosophical. In the light of what I have just written, I am wondering, professor, whether you really believe this.