We cannot possibly call attention to every detail in Van Til’s work for I am afraid that I would weary the attention of our readers too much by doing so. As an illustration of Van Til’s meaning when he speaks of the “paradox,” and his application to the matter of “common grace,” therefore, I will make just one other quotation. The writer is discussing Point I, 1924, and particularly Dr. Schilder’s appraisal of its meaning over against Zwier. He writes:
“The point of logic raised by Schilder is of a similar nature. Zwier replies that something more should have been said on the subject. Again we agree. It is one thing to say that our Scripture exegesis must seek to be consistent. We must, as far as we are able, interpret according to the analogy of faith. It is another thing to say that our interpretation must accord with logic as that is generally taken. If the second statement is not to be out of accord with the first it must refer to a genuinely Christian-theistic conception of logic. It may perhaps be said that much of the abstract reasoning of Hoeksema comes from his failure to distinguish between Christian and non-Christian logic. We do not mean, of course, that the rules of the syllogism are different for Christians and non-Christians. Hoeksema refers to the idea of insanity, saying that sin has not made us insane,. We may agree if he means merely that the unbeliever can follow the technical processes of intellectual procedure as well or often better than the believer. But when he says or assumes that God’s revelation in Scripture may be expected to reveal nothing which will be apparently self-contradictory we demur. He attempts to harmonize the revealed and secret will of God, prayer and the counsel of God, etc. His efforts on this score would not be accepted by unbelievers. He cannot solve the full bucket difficulty, a difficulty which, they think, lies at the heart of the Christian religion. To them the whole idea of a God who is self-sufficient and all glorious precludes the idea of anything taking place in history that should glorify Him. To say that no one resist the will of God, not even the murderer is for them, to say that we simply believe in fatalism. Have we then the right and courage to say that Christianity does not contradict the laws of logic? We do by pointing out that it is God, the self-sufficient God, in whom is no darkness at all, who made us His creatures. Then it appears natural that there should be in all that pertains to our relation to God (and what does not?) an element of mystery. As finite creatures we deal in all our contacts with an infinite and inexhaustible God. On the other hand, the Christian doctrine of God is the presupposition of the possibility of true logical procedure. The rules of formal logic must be followed in all our attempts at systematic exposition of God’s revelation, whether general or special. But the syllogistic process must be followed in frank subordination to the notion of a self-sufficient God. We must here truly face the Absolute. We must think His thoughts after Him. We must think analogically rather than univocally. To reason as though we can remove all the “logical difficulties” which will naturally appear to be contained in Christian system of truth is to say, in effect, that on the question of logic the believer and the non-believer occupy neutral territory and to assign to the unbeliever a competence he does not in reality possess” pp. 59, 60.
It is evident that in application to the first point of 1924 this means that, when Scripture teaches that God hates the reprobate, both as reprobate and as historically existing wicked, this does not preclude the possibility that the same Scripture also teaches that He loves them, both as reprobate and as wicked, and is gracious to them. The first point is defended by an appeal to the Paradox. The same application is made, of course, with regard to the second and third Points of 1924. The fact that the Bible teaches that the wicked is wholly corrupt, not only in his nature, but also in his ways, does not preclude the doctrine that he also does good in this world. It is admitted that these things are apparently contradictory. It is denied, however, that they are really contradictory. The apparently contradictory is a mystery. And all this is maintained by an appeal to the self-sufficiency and absoluteness of God.
Now, on this entire philosophy of the “paradox” I wish to make the following remarks:
- That it is still not quite clear to me what the author means by his distinction between Christian and non-Christian logic. He appears to admit that the formal rules of logic are the same for the believer and the unbeliever. But if this is fully admitted, it seems to me that it is admitted also that there is no difference between the logic of the believer and the logic of the unbeliever, any more than there can be any difference between the formal rules of arithmetic for the Christian and the non-Christian, For what is logic otherwise than a system of formal rules of reasoning? There may be difference in fundamental premises from which the Christian and the non-Christian start their reasoning process; and there is, of course. The former starts from revelation, the latter refuses to take his starting point in the Word of God. But this does not affect their formal logic. There may be a difference in the application and appraisal of the value and power of logic. The Christian admits, of course, that with his finite mind he can neither reach out for, nor deny the Infinite; the rationalistic unbeliever refuses to admit this. But even so, the formal processes of logic remain the same for both. Also in this respect they have what Van Til calls “the metaphysical situation” in common. The distinction made by Van Til between Christian and non-Christian logic to me appears erroneous.
- To formal logic certainly belongs the law of contradictions, and I maintain that this law holds for the Christian as well as the non-Christian, and, what is more, that even Van Til can never escape its binding force. It is my conviction that for anyone to state that he believes both sides of a contradiction, apparently or real, is itself a contradiction. He that makes the statement simply contradicts himself,. What is a contradiction? It is a statement that is the direct opposite of another statement, so directly the opposite that it denies the truth of the latter statement. And what is the formal rule of logic that applies here? This, that a thing cannot be and not be at the same time, or a thing must either be or not be; and that the same attribute cannot be denied and affirmed of the same subject at the same time. Now it ought to be as plain as the sun in the heavens that no one can possibly escape the stringent necessity of this formal law of logic. If I maintain the truth of one of two contradictory statements, I thereby have already stated that I have denied the truth of the other statement. A thing may have two quite different attributes, of course. The statement: this paper is white, does not contradict the statement this paper is black, for the simple reason that it may be white on one side, black on the other. But after I have stated: This paper is white, I cannot say and believe the statement: this paper is not white, for the simple reason that in my first statement I did already state: this paper is not not-white. Now, Van Til admits this. He emphasizes that he does not believe in the really contradictory. But he claims that he can maintain the apparently contradictory. Let us see whether this be true, i.e. whether any normal mind, Christian or non-Christian, can really accept the apparently contradictory. What is meant by the apparently contradictory? This, that two propositions appear contradictory to me, although I know that they are not. As far as I can see, they are absolutely contradictory, so that the one precludes the truth of the other, and the other precludes the truth of the one. I know that this paper is not: white and not-white. Yet, so it appears to me. What, then, is my only conclusion? The contradiction? Do I, in that case, say categorically; this paper is both white and not white? Not at all! I know that this statement cannot be truly made. I am convinced, that whatever may be the truth about the color of that paper, the statement that it is both white and not-white is certainly not true! What then is the result? That I can say absolutely nothing about the color of that paper! And so it is evident, that no normal mind can possibly entertain two contradictory propositions.
- This does not at all deny the mystery. I can very well believe the mystery on the basis of revelation. I know that the Infinite is forever beyond the reach of the finite, and that if we are to know the Infinite, it can only be by revelation, and, moreover, that this revelation of the Infinite must necessarily involve mysteries for my finite mind. The Scriptural notion of mystery is that of something which cannot be known by man at all, except by revelation. And even though it is known by faith, it may be too high, too deep for me to comprehend and fathom. But a mystery is no contradiction, nor an apparent contradiction. The doctrine of the holy trinity is a mystery, but it is no doctrine that involves logical contradictions. If it did, we could not have a doctrine of the trinity at all. That God is the absolutely self-sufficient Being, and that He, nevertheless, purposes to be glorified by the creature, may involve matters too high for us, but it implies no logical contradiction. But that God wills to damn and save the same man, is to say: God wills to damn him, and God wills not to damn him. And that is a contradiction.
- But Van Til claims that there are apparent contradictions in the Bible, and that in such cases we simply accept both sides of the contradiction. I deny this. For: 1. The Bible is the revelation of God to us, adapted to our understanding. God, who created our logical mind, also adapted His own revelation to that mind. Hence, there surely cannot be contradictions in the Word of God. There are no contradictions in God. How could there be contradictions in His revelation to us? 2. It is true, that there may be, there are, in Scripture statements that at first blush appear to contradict each other. But it has always been sound Reformed method of exegesis to make a serious attempt to solve the difficulties by explaining those passaged that appear to contradict the current teaching of the Bible, the analogia Scripturae, in the light of the latter. Van Til emphasizes that this method must be applied in such cases. Only, for some reason, he quite arbitrarily wants to stop at a certain point. And his objection to my method can only be that I insist that this method must be applied throughout, to the very end. And when I apply this thoroughly Reformed method to the interpretation of Holy Writ, I come to the conclusion that the theory of common grace is a myth, an invention of man’s mind, not a truth of revelation. 3. But suppose now that after all our efforts there should still be apparent contradictions in the Bible. What then? Must we then not accept both sides of the contradiction? I have already shown that this is impossible. No, but in that case: a. We adhere to the current teaching of Scripture, and b. We humbly confess that as yet we have not sufficient light to solve all the difficulties, and continue our search. I sincerely believe that I have always followed this method, and that Van Til does me an injustice when he accuses me of abstract reasoning or rationalism.