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Van Til's Apologetic - Highlights and Summary

In Van Til's Apologetic, Greg Bahnsen seeks to distill Cornelius Van Til's lifetime of defending biblical Christianity into a mere 700 pages or so.  The apologetic method can be difficult to comprehend on first exposure.  However, after wrestling with it a few chapters it becomes clear that the method is not complex but all too simple.  So simple that some critics accuse Van Til of not dealing adequately with objections.  

I penciled several pages of notes as I read.  Here they are in single sentences and phrases.  I hope to summarize the method after a few days of recording these nuggets.

Everyone knows/believes some things about God.  The apologist's task is not intellectual convincing but to 'morally convict' the non-Christian for not owning up to the truth he can't escape.

Romans 1 shows there's no excuse for disbelieving in God.  Yet some refust to reverence and obey God.  "In Thy light, we see light", thus outside of God is only ignorance

When men deny having knowledge of God, their thinking and attempts to gain knowledge can be reduced to absurdity

Romans 1 teaches a 'direct revelation' of God, not a 'reasoned interpretation' based on facts

The created order is a medium of constant, inescapable, clear, pre-interpreted information about God that all men possess.  But fallen man's interpretation of this revelation is not identical with the revelation itself.

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Loving to Know by Esther Lightcap Meek - Review

Esther Lightcap Meek challenges the 'default' way of knowing common to western civilization since the dawn of the Enlightenment.  This default, attributed chiefly to Descartes, seeks knowledge by reasoning through various facts using laws of logic to reach conclusions that are 'certain'.  Meek shows how this is all wrong.  She's not a relativist.  She maintains there is absolute truth but that we cannot know it with absolute certainty.  She urges a better way of knowing - an epistemology that we all commonly use that is intuitive and bears a resemblance to personal relationships.  Though the path to 'certainty' is unavailable, she shows how we can have great 'confidence' in what we know.

Meek begins by detailing the flaws in the Cartesian mindset, which we recognize by numerous sets of irreconcilable dichotomies.  She then counsels a more personal way of knowing which Michael Polanyi described - a method of clues and pattern, or more technically 'subsidiary-focal integration'.  Various 'clues' (or facts) are observed, or even better 'indwelt', until a 'pattern grabs you'.  In the process, you the knower are transformed in some way, large or small.  This 'grabbing' process, Meek shows, is a good deal like a personal response.  The pattern is more than than an arrangement of the clues - it's more like a relationship you have with the clues and the pattern.  A committment akin to 'love' prompts us to embrace the pattern

With this Polanyian insight as her foundation, Meek takes the reader on a tour of other 20th century philosophers.  She convincingly shows how many of these other philosophers have discovered facets of this clue/pattern relationship, though calling them different names and in some ways going beyond Polanyi's insight.  This series of 'conversations' she has with the various philosophers seems a bit tedious at times but amply reinforces her claim.  As a result, we see her 'covenant epistemology' has broad support and can be trusted as more than simply her own personal idea (no pun intended).

What I took away as her basic idea for how all this works is as follows: To learn or know, we indwell clues until a pattern grabs us.  This 'grabbing' is a personal response.  Why 'personal'?  Because the world is personal with the person of God behind it all, initiating everything.  God initiates Creation as a personal act.  He initiates relationships with humans in the form of covenant.  Covenant is love first and law or obligation second.  This knowledge is interpersonal communication between God and ourselves.  We come to an unsettled, confused situation where we lack knowledge - we can't see the pattern.  In this 'void' a rush of insight moves us.  This is the 'holy' that settles the chaos and brings clarity.  Though we relate to God, we remain distinct, 'differentiated' from Him.  The insight does not absorb us or assimilate us.  Rather, we dwell among the clues and among the holy in a 'dance'-like relationship.  Our knowledge and clarity can be held with great confidence, though not mathematical certainty.

I enjoyed the book greatly, more so the first half as her vision came into view.  After I was convinced her view had merit, some of the later chapters seemed a bit repetitive.  However, each philosopher she engages does add to the evidence for her view and increased this reader's confidence that she is indeed on the right track.  Meek has published the much shorter A Little Manual For Knowing recently.  I browsed it after finishing 'Loving to Know'. There she seems to incorporate more ideas for practice into the exposition of covenant epistemology.  I'm glad I started with 'Loving to Know' as I do enjoy seeing the foundations on which her idea is built.  Other readers may wish to start with the shorter volume and then turn to 'Loving to Know' to more richly 'indwell the clues' that led the author to the rich 'pattern' that is covenant epistemology.

(I'm grateful to the publisher who provided the book in exchange for a fair review) 

Christmas Devotional Readings

Here are Bible readings our family enjoys during the Christmas season. They begin with prophecies about Jesus, continue with the story of his birth, and finish with a glorious description of the kingdom of God that Jesus brought to His people.

Isaiah 40:1-5
Isaiah 40:6-11
Isaiah 40:12-26
Isaiah 40:27-31
Isaiah 42:1-9
Isaiah 52:7-10
Isaiah 55:1-13
Luke 1:1-25
Luke 1:26-38
Luke 1:39-56
Luke 1:57-80
Luke 2:1-7
Luke 2:8-20
Luke 2:21-40
Matthew 2:1-12
John 1:1-18
Psalm 145:1-9
Psalm 145:10-21

These are suitable for one reading per devotional or you can combine several, especially those from the same chapter. Merry Christmas!

No God, No Science by Michael Hanby - Review

You can know "what" without knowing "how", but you can't know "how" without knowing "what" - this is my short summary of this wonderful book. Modern science seeks to study complex things by isolating parts and assessing the various interactions between them. The book masterfully demonstrates that such a technique cannot be accomplished without a prior recognition of form, essence, and categories. In other words, the scientist must identify "what" a thing is and "what" its parts are before applying the scientific method of isolating those parts. But "what a thing is" is an irreducibly metaphysical question, rooted in the concept of differences. It is a question of being rather than merely a question of action. Hanby shows that the question of what makes things different cannot be answered from within a purely physical world, but only outside or above that world, requiring a "meta" physical viewpoint. However, the modern Darwinist claims there is no "outside" of the physical world, that there is no God or spiritual force beyond mere matter. Thus their science is at an end, unless they borrow concepts of form and essence from outside their system. Hanby counsels modern scientists to understand the impossibility of their task and to embrace the metaphysical concepts that everyone tacitly accepts in their lives as actually lived.

Hanby further shows how the metaphysics required to identify things - the "what" - requires not a vague spirituality, but the trinitarian God described in the Bible. He catalogs the impasse the ancient Greeks encountered in trying to determine the essence of objects and shows how the biblical doctrines of creation and the incarnation of Christ are required to solve the puzzles that ultimately stumped Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. Relying heavily on classical sources, Hanby summarizes the...  See my full review at Amazon

Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture - Review

Anyone who has read the Bible even a little can’t miss the many references to farming, livestock, and landscape. After all, Adam and Eve lived in a garden, their downfall involved eating fruit, and Adam’s body itself was mere soil into which God breathed. And that’s from just the first few chapters. Until recently I tacitly assumed God based so much scripture on these types of situations since the primary audience, ancient Jews, were themselves an agrarian people. If God’s chosen people had been the Phoenicians with their seafaring lifestyle, I assumed God would have used completely different scenarios to teach the same spiritual principles.

But lately I’m starting to wonder if the agrarian setting for scripture is itself necessary for what God is trying to communicate. Perhaps an agrarian based lifestyle and economy are God’s designed context for human flourishing and the deepest understanding of eternal, spiritual, ‘un-earthly’ principles. The scriptures I’ve studied for decades. Our own recent efforts at farming coupled with books and articles I’ve enjoyed from contemporary agrarian writers have led me to read many dear biblical passages with a new depth. Rather than attempting to extract a spiritual principle from a ‘earthly’ passage, I’m now beginning to wonder if such passages are truly a ‘whole’ that cannot be dissected without losing a vital element of their truth.

It was in this attitude of uncertain, investigative excitement that I discovered Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture – An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, by Ellen F. Davis. Dr. Davis is first an Old Testament scholar by vocation who then discovered contemporary agrarian writers....

Family Devotion Ideas

Each Christian family must have a routine time of focusing on the scripture and praying for one another.  Here's what has worked well for us...

Freedom Through Restoration of Property - Review

Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton were the primary champions of Distributism, an economic system neither Capitalistic nor Communistic seeking widespread ownership of property as the chief means to household freedom. Chesterton's chief work on the topic, Outline of Sanity, points out the troubles of industrialism and describes life under a Distributist scheme. Chesterton's work does little to explain how such a wanted transition might be made. Belloc's 1936 essay, On the Restoration of Property, answers the detailed policy questions. Belloc fully understands that replacing industrial capitalism or its evil progeny, the welfare state, cannot happen wholesale. He recommends various small efforts that might be compared to a few saplings planted to restore a vast deforested wilderness. The hope is that others wandering the wilderness notice the new life and yearn for more.

Belloc insightfully traces many of modern society's ills to their source. The cause is unchecked competition in which the most efficient shop, warehouse, factory, farm, etc. inexorably wins more and more business from slightly less efficient competitors. Nothing wrong with competition or efficiency, but the result in a mature market driven economy is always a few 'winners' that become very large corporations and many 'losers' forced out of business. The losers then have no choice but to become employed as wage slaves of the corporations. In the drive for greater efficiency, the wage slaves are pressed down, yet are provided enough to live and even a slight excess with which to purchase products from the big corporations. Nobody starves or is coerced yet little true economic freedom exists outside the owners of the corporations. Belloc suggests several policies that might limit large corporations and allow smaller household size endeavors to thrive. I don't think his initiatives will work, but they did inspire in me a couple ideas that just might....

Give Them Grace - Book Review

I received my review copy of this book almost a year ago. I read it immediately but knew I would have to re-read and takes notes before I could write a review. A couple months passed and as I re-read the book, it was as if I had never read it. Give Them Grace is such an unusual parenting book. As I read the book a third time more recently, again, it was all fresh to me. The message is that parents must always proclaim the gospel of Jesus and live it out before them and with them. There are various practical scenarios covered and many typical parenting issues. But the approach is still to me so different from what I have seen and done that even now I cannot say I really understand it. I think it's because the true gospel is so radical and so easily misunderstood and misapplied by even the most ardent Christian.

Since the direction is so different, readers may be tempted to think the "grace" refers to a permissiveness or relaxed parenting style that overlooks disobedience. But the book never attempts that, but to instruct children so that they aim to please the Lord and not work for a reward or seek to please the parent directly. For me, it takes a continual rethinking of who I am and who my kids are to make sense of the approach. I have a long way to go.

I love the gospel and loved the book, but can only say that you'll have to read it yourself to have an idea of what is really in it. I plan to refer to it over and over as I continue to parent our family. May the Lord conform us all to the true nature of Christ, which is really so different from standard human nature. Read Give Them Grace and be challenged.

How Should We Then Vote?

The ultimate king of the entire world and universe is Jesus Christ. He governs all and has all authority, including governmental or political authority (Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 1:20-21, Revelation 1:5). Believers in Christ belong to Him and are thus co-rulers with Him. Any Christian holding political office is obligated to govern according to principles that honor Christ - to rule as Christ Himself would rule (Ephesians 1:22-23). In a democracy where the people hold the power and exercise that power through electing representatives, Christians must choose representatives that govern according to the rule of Christ.

Any human ruler will be imperfect. Thus choosing a ruler (or candidate one votes for) who perfectly follows the rule of Christ is not possible. The Bible shows us how Christ would rule and how He has directed that rulers be selected. From this, we can examine a ruler or candidate to see how closely they align with the rule of Christ. Knowing we won't find perfection, we can determine if a candidate is acceptable in the eyes of the world's ultimate ruler, Jesus Christ. Given the biblical criteria, determining 'acceptability' is subjective. Honest Christians may disagree on a particular candidate. Here's how I propose to go about it...

Start Here - Home Education Overview

How to approach home educating your middle school child.  Methods, general scheduling, subjects, and resources.  Start here then look at the plans for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade for details.

What a Teenager Can Do

Teenager. The word can bring fear to any parent of younger children as they imagine their kids entering so-called "adolescence". Expectations seem universally low for modern teenagers. What can you as a parent and teacher reasonably expect from a 14 year old? Some see a modern culture in chaos and just hope to keep their kids off drugs and not pregnant. A look at past eras to get a sense of what is possible for a teenager...

Economics 101: College vs. Apprenticeship

The unchallenged cultural assumption in modern America is that "you must go to college" or be forever lost as a second class citizen trapped in life long poverty. Let's put a pencil to this assumption and see if your typical college student is really better off...  You may be suprised to learn that an entry level worker could own a $125,000 home at age 22 free and clear with no mortgage while the typical student would need to borrow over $100,000 to buy the same home.  The young entrepreneur has 4 years work experience, owns his home outright, and is already saving for retirement while the new graduate ponders 30 years of mortgage payments [More...]

After High School?

Since our oldest is 17 and nearing the end of the 'high school' years, we are starting to get questions about where she'll go to college or what's planned after 'high school'. I believe you never 'finish school' and therefore never really 'graduate'. Everyone should be always learning and should be actively engaged in reading, writing, and developing skills.

Instead of graduation as a completion of schooling, I consider it the start of self-directed learning which should continue until death. So I plan to give our kids a list of books to read as they transition into a completely self-directed learning pattern. They will write about what they read and continue mathematics until they master integral calculus. Some may also consider this a plan for a 'gap year' between high school and college.

The details...

Family Life Devastated by Industrialism

Must read - what's gone wrong with the family and church and how to begin recovery. Lines up almost 100% with how my thinking has developed over the last 15 years.

Reforming The Family - The Industrial Revolution and the Sociology of the Christian Family by Brian Aleshire

Similar thoughts, specifically from a young mother's perspective: Why Modern Motherhood is so Difficult

Devotion Topic - Leisure

For a helpful study of God's perspective on leisure, Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure by Leland Ryken is recommended. I have not read the book yet but have read several other books by Dr. Ryken and found them all very good. I suspect the same here. And a great set of study notes is available at the Contend for the Faith website. We are using these as a guide in our family devotions for a few days. Leisure is rarely done well so a family is wise to study and discuss the issue together.