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Van Til on Catholicism, Molinism and Arminianism

The debate between Calvinists and Molinists has flared up once again in the dying months of 2021 as Dr James White and Dr William Lane Craig held an informal debate/discussion on the merits and drawbacks of Calvinism and Molinism. Although a lot of people have written responses and held post-debate interviews with some of the interlocutors (and in some sense exhausting the possible points of discussion), I still felt that it is worthwhile to try and unpack a critique against non-Calvinist positions briefly made by Cornelius Van Til in his Introduction to Systematic Theology, Chapter 13 and 14 before the start of 2022.


Throughout Van Til's writings, he usually makes remarks on the ultimate reference point of predication. We'll first spend some time unpacking this concept, before looking at Van Til's critique of Roman Catholicism, Molinism and Arminianism.



The ultimate/final reference point of prediction


H.G Stoker provides a very succinct summary of what it means to say that God is the final reference point in predication in Jerusalem and Athens:


"Our self-contained God is the final reference point of everything created. On account of his counsel, creation, control, governance, and providence as well as his interpretation, every fact as well as the plan of the universe is precisely what it is. Every fact, the relations between facts, the plan of created reality, all display this and are, in other words, revelational of God. To be a fact at all it must be a revelational fact. Without the presupposition of God, the whole creation and every fact are meaningless and its interpretation and explanation futile. Every fact that faces man through his constitution as well as through his environment puts man face to face with God; man’s understanding of any fact is an understanding of something of the ways of God. Every knowledge transaction is a reference to our God. No area, no fact can be objectively, correctly, and truly interpreted unless it is seen in its absolute dependence upon God. To interpret one fact without God, as unbelievers do, is to maintain brute fact; it is to fall back on mere chance; it is to make man the final reference point of reality and to have recourse to the supposed autonomy of human reason. Between believers and unbelievers, the “factness” of fact is at issue. Facts do not constitute a common area, a point of contact, between Christians and non-Christians." [1].



Perhaps more clearly (at least according to Daniel Akande), the final reference point of all predication is taken to be whatever facilitates the relationship between “logic” (universals, classes, systems, categories, general concepts, etc.) and “reality” (objects, facts, events, states of affairs in the contingent realm). That is, whatever provides for the relationship between particulars and universals is the final reference point of all predication. If man is the ultimate reference point in predication, it means that God must know things in exactly the same way humans do (i.e. when we learn of a tree and we claim to be able to know everything about the tree without taking God into account, it means that God does not have an interpretation of the tree that's any more authoritative than ours).


Brute facts are facts without reason and can be seen as products of chance. Such facts are not created by God, nor do they serve any purpose in His ultimate plan for creation. Such facts are anti-Christian and cannot exist.


Finally, in Van Til' own words:

Stress has been laid on the fact that the Bible speaks of the Word of God as self-contained. That is, the Bible is the Word of him who, as Creator-Redeemer alone can identify himself. God in Christ identifies himself in terms of himself because he exists exclusively in terms of himself. There is no non-being over against him that influences him. There are no laws of logic above him according to which he must measure his own internal consistency. This God of the Bible is, therefore, the final reference point for predication of his rational creatures. They, and with them all things in the universe, must be explained in terms of him, and he is never wholly comprehensible to them. Therefore no fact in the universe is ever wholly comprehensible to them.
They therefore need to live by authority. They have to be told who they are and what the things of the universe mean in relation to themselves and finally in relation to God. God’s supernatural revelation is presupposed in all successful rational inquiry on the part of man.

Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, page 41.


Van Til's critique

The Romanist view of revelation is defective primarily in that it does not include the human mind itself within its purview. It is only if the Creator-creature distinction is taken seriously that the human mind can be seen as inherently revelational of God...

To maintain the Creator-creature distinction is to assert that God and man are not subject to some greater context or categories that contain them both. God is self-contained, self-defined and self-sufficient (simple). We are derivative and dependent on God in all areas of life.


But Romanism does not take the creation doctrine seriously. It detracts from this doctrine by its idea of the freedom of man. This idea of freedom amounts to a measure of independence over against God. And to the extent that man is independent of God he is no longer revelatory of God. Moreover, if man is made to some extent independent of God, to that extent God is made dependent upon man. Or rather, to that extent both God and man are dependent upon one another and upon the Universe. If man is made partly independent of God, his ultimate reference point is no longer exclusively found in God.

Knowing what Van Til means by the ultimate/final reference point, we can see why the idea of the freedom of man (libertarian freedom) amounts to man no longer finding his ultimate reference point in God. The freedom that the Roman catholic (or Arminian or Molinist) provides to man is a freedom that is completely independent of God's will, that is, Man is said, or assumed, to be able to do that which is wholly beyond the control of God [2]. God in no way imposes Himself on the free choices of man: He either looks through the corridors of time to see what His free creatures do (Arminianism) or via middle knowledge knows what free creatures would do in certain situations and actualises the appropriate world (Molinism).


The non-Calvinist, therefore, reduces the Creator-creature distinction by making man partly dependent on God, and God partly dependent on man (as God must gain knowledge from a source that is not Himself - thereby ceasing to be self-contained). Hence, no longer is everything explained in terms of God, His plan and His providence. In other words, some facts of experience are due to man's own doing and are completely independent of God, hence can be understood and interpreted wholly apart from Him. In fact, God first needs to learn from man why these new facts are what they are.


This puts God and man in a greater context in a genuine give-and-take relationship. God ceases to be self-contained in order to make place for the freedom of man.


It will now be apparent why the Romanist has no effective answer to the modern theologian. The modern theologian, with the modern philosopher and the modern scientist, makes the universe or reality as a whole his final or ultimate subject of predication. He includes his god and himself within a common universe. Then he makes assertions about the nature of this universe. He does so by means of the laws of logic that he finds operative in his mind. Without the least bit of justification he assumes that reality must answer to the nature of these laws. With Parmenides of old he assumes that what man can intelligently say about reality is true, and only that is true. That is to say, only that is real which man can reduce to a network of logical relations...
What is true of the Romanist is also true of the Arminian [and by extension the Molinist]. He too has attributed to man a measure of ultimacy. He too has thereby reduced the doctrine of the internal self-contained infinity of the perfections of God. He too has to an extent enveloped his god with himself in a universe of logic and of fact that is above both...

Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, Chapter 13, [square brackets my own].


Hopefully some of the above is useful to the reader to better understand the "grounding objection" to Molinism as well that was brought against Dr Craig in the debate.


Happy new year!


References


[1] Geehan, E. R., ed. 1971. Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Theology and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Nutley, NJ.


[2] Van Til, Cornelius, and Eric H. Sigward. 1997. The Pamphlets, Tracts, and Offprints of Cornelius Van Til. Electronic ed. Labels Army Company: New York.

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Guest
Sep 01, 2022

Is God therefore responsible when we sin?

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Arne Verster
Arne Verster
Nov 23, 2022
Replying to

No. You can read more on this particular question in the following article: https://www.apologeticscentral.org/post/calvinism-human-free-will-and-divine-sovereignty-explained

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