As a rule for the believer’s life in this world, Van Til’s “as if” theory is, I think, quite inadequate. The rule, if I understand Van Til correctly, is that the believer must “to a certain extent” assume the attitude toward the unbeliever and live with him “as if” there was something in common between them apart from the “metaphysical situation.” It would seem that this principle as a standard of living for the Christian in the world is rather vague, stretchy, ambiguous. The question arises inevitably: to what extent would Van Til apply this “as if” theory in actual life? It appears that he would give no definite answer to this question, but that he would let the extent of the “commonness” between the believer and the non-believer be continued upon the degree of their “epistemological consciousness.” The more they become “epistemologically self-conscious” the more the “territory-in-between” narrows in scope; the less self-conscious they are in this respect, the larger is the field of their cooperation and common activity. But all this is quite subjective, relative, ambiguous. It would be very difficult, on this basis, for the church to take any stand at all, and act accordingly, in concrete cases of amalgamation with the world on the part of the Christian. What stand would Van Til suggest, for instance, in such cases as membership of the worldly unions, the lodge, all kinds of worldly clubs and associations; or in cases of indulgence in worldly pleasures, theatre and movie attendance, etc.? In all these cases, those that defend membership, or indulge in such pleasures, frequently appeal persistently to their lack of “epistemological self-consciousness they cannot see any wrong in it! Must the Church be satisfied with this subjective excuse, or will she have to take a stand and act according to some objective criterion?
As for me, I am quite convinced that Scripture must have nothing of the “as if” theory of Van Til. It teaches us very distinctly that believers and unbelievers have all things in common in this world except grace, and that, for this reason, there can be no agreement or cooperation between them in the spiritual-ethical sense at all. On the common stage of “natural” things, they live from the principles of sin and grace respectively. And these two have nothing in common. Hence: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what comminution hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty,”. There is no “as if” about this clear exhortation of Holy Writ.
And how this “as if” theory can be applied to God and to His attitude toward the elect and reprobate, I confess to be wholly beyond the scope of my comprehension. Yet, this too Van Til appears to think quite possible and proper. Discussing the difference of opinion between Zwier and Schilder with regard to the question of “a certain grace of God to the reprobate,” he writes as follows: “With the last statement of Schilder we may well express agreement. We may add that in making up the balance all of the factors existing in man at any particular time in history must also be taken into consideration. We are Schilder’s pupils if we say that in everything Scriptural we deal with ‘covenant dating.’ If we speak of grace to the non-elect, we must, therefore, with Zwier speak of a ‘certain grace.’ This indicates the fact that all of God’s attributes have been thought of simultaneously. It is to recognize that there is a similarity of attitude on God’s part toward the elect and the non-elect, but a similarity with a difference, lit is therefore an ‘as if’ similarity,” p. 61. Now, as far as I can see, if this last statement is supposed to have any real meaning, it signifies that God assumes an attitude to the reprobate “as if” He were gracious to them, while in reality He is not at all. He acts “as if” He blesses them while in reality He curses them. But even Van Til could not possibly mean this, for it would ascribe duplicity to the living God. But if he does mean this, what sense does the statement have: “It is therefore an ‘as if similarity?”
However, this leads us to the consideration of Van Til’s discussion of the “Three Points,” particularly of the question concerning the gracious attitude of God to the elect and reprobate alike, and, still more particularly, that which concerns the “general well-meaning offer of grace and salvation on the part of God.” After his discussion of the principles of the philosophy of history which we have tried to explain to our readers thus far, Van Til offers a criticism of all that has been written on the problem of grace in recent years. He begins by discussing Kuyper’s views, pp. 22-32. Thereupon he gives a review and evaluation of the “debate on common grace” including a discussion of the “Three Points,” pp. 32-65. And the book closes with “Some Suggestions for Further Discussion.” We are now concerned with his review of the “debate on common grace,” and particularly with his evaluation of the “Three Points.”
But we must limit ourselves. To enter into all the details of Van Til’s criticism would make our discussion too lengthy, and, besides, would necessarily lead us simply to repeat what we have written long ago and repeatedly. We will, therefore, select some points that seem to us to be of chief importance.
Let me begin by saying that in his presentation of our criticism of the Three Points, Van Til is quite fair. He quotes rather elaborately from our writings on the subject, and leaves a rather correct impression of our chief objections against the doctrines adopted by the Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924. And this we appreciate, especially in view of the fact that we have not been used to such treatment on the part of those that sought to defend the Three Points over against our criticism of them. But what foe said of the fairness of Van Til’s critique as long as he presents our view, is not always true of his critical evaluation of the same. Pie writes that we “have been unable to be fair” to our opponents, p. 53. I now raise the same complaint against Van Til’s criticism of our position. I do not mean to bring this as an accusation, as if he purposely distorts our view in his criticism. The fact remains that he does so, nevertheless.
Thus, for instance, Van Til writes about our criticism of the “two wills” in God defended by Heyns as if we had proposed a fatalistic, deterministic view of man in relation to God. I quote from p. 53:
‘‘Over against this, however, Hoeksema argues, the equally abstract, in fact more abstract, position that the ‘facts’ do not exist at all since they must be interpreted in the universal God. This is, we believe, involved in what we have heard him say, particularly in what he says about the relation of the divine will to the human. His argument is very similar here to that of Karl Barth. God, because He is God, says Hoeksema, cannot offer anything. He says that even the murderer does not resist the will of God on the ground that he is punished for his murder. These points, and other of a similar nature, presuppose the idea that a party to be a party next to God must be an absolute or underivative party, and that man to resist the will of God must resist the secret counsel of God. On this point we believe the criticism of Heyns fair enough. It is perfectly true that God cannot and does not ‘in the same sense with respect to the same object’ will the mutually contradictory. But the thrust of Hoeksema goes further than that. It says that because man is not ultimate and therefore cannot set aside the secret counsel of God it follows that man can in no sense set aside the will of God. Or when man obeys the will of God he in no sense really obeys; it is God that obeys in him. It is thus that Barth, not committed to the doctrine of temporal creation as he is, reasons; it is virtually thus also that Hoeksema reasons. It is in effect to say that the distinction between the revealed and the secret will of God has no significance. It is to do away, in short, with the significance of ‘secondary causes’; it is to destroy the meaning of the relative on the ground that we must believe in an absolute that is really an Absolute.”
Now, we have become acquainted with Van Til’s tendency to compare someone, especially the undersigned, with Karl Barth. Van Halsema, we recall, was greatly impressed by this novel comparison, and put me to bed with that Swiss theologian. And even though comparisons are odious, I am not at all offended at this as far as Van Til is concerned, though, I think, he should warn his satellites, whose imagination is set afire by such comparisons even though they know nothing about their implications, not to repeat them blindly and ignorantly, lest they make fools of themselves in public. But it is but natural that Van Til, who has been making a good deal of study of Karl Barth, is even, I am informed, going to publish a critique of Barth in the near future, should be inclined to look at others from the viewpoint of their comparison with Barth.
Now, I have stated before, and will repeat it here, that even though I would not be classified as a Barthian theologian, and feel quite sure that, if I should attempt to do this, Barth would immediately disown me and expel me from his school, I have a notion that Van Til and I do not agree on the question just what Barth teaches, and, therefore, we differ in our criticism of him. I am afraid that, because of this fact, Van Til is suspicious that I rather agree with his Barth, i.e. with Barth as he sees him; while the truth is that I do not agree with my own Barth, i. e. with Barth as I see him, even though I cannot so utterly condemn him as some of the theologians of Westminster do. And, surely, I do not agree with the statement that “facts do not exist at all since they must toe interpreted in the universal of God,” whether Barth would put it that way or not. And, again, whether or not Barth would subscribe to such a doctrine or repudiate it, I certainly would never teach, that “when man obeys the will of God he in no sense really obeys; it is God that obeys in Him.” In fact, in my opinion this last statement is a contradiction in terms.
However, this is an ever interesting problem. And I must say a little more about it next time, the Lord willing.