Westminster Theological Journal 24 (1) (Nov 1961): 106-109
H. Van Riessen, A. L. Farris, H. E. Runner: Christian Perspectives 1960. Pella, Iowa: Pella Publishing, Inc. 1960. viii, 159. $1.50.
Christian Perspectives 1960, published by the Association for Reformed Scientific Studies in Canada, is a series of lectures given to an audience drawn mainly from students of various universities, colleges and high schools. They are therefore popular lectures, but, in the main, profound and stimulating. Van Riessen and Runner, in particular, as representatives of epistemologically self-conscious Calvinism, are especially telling in their critique of non-Christian thought and culture, and able in their development of the Christian perspective.
Van Riessen, dealing with “The Christian Approach to Science”, concerns himself immediately with the problem of neutrality. If science were neutral, a Christian approach would be unnecessary, and science beyond the need of biblical thought or God’s grace. It “would be beyond the effects of sin, a sector of life not in need of God’s grace. It would be a kingdom by itself, self-existing and separate from the kingdom of Christ.” If neutrality is a false premise, “then science will always be determined by faith. In that case the Christian approach to science will not only be useful but obligatory” (p. 5). But the neutrality, autonomy and superiority of theoretical thought with regard to religion is one of the premises of our culture, of scientific thought, and of extensive areas of religious thinking.
The Thomistic division of faith and reason into two independent spheres has its counterpart in Protestant circles. Science, however, has not been able to assert its objectivity and neutrality without attacks and uncertainties within its own camp, all heightened by Einstein’s physics. The Christian, unlike the unbeliever, is able to deny the concept of neutrality without falling into relativism, and indeed preserves scientific truth by his very denial of neutrality, in that God, rather than autonomous man or the principle of relativism, becomes the source of interpretation.
Neutralism, by positing an area of life unaffected by the fall, accordingly offers a redemption apart from Christ. Neutral science, it is believed by neutralists, provides hope of redemption in a planned society. “Christ or this science: that is the choice thrust upon us” (p. 34). In America, the community, served by neutral science, and calling for neutrality on the part of diverse groups with reference to itself, has become an idol of major dimensions, a redeeming community. The central idol, however, is neutrality itself, which “has never existed in science” (p. 42), and which is guided by extensive pre-philosophical presuppositions which are a false faith. Christian faith alone can ensure valid science in the long run, in that it restores God to his proper place as Creator and the source of interpretation. A faith, however, like Tillich’s which “short circuits the Christ of the Scriptures and the Scriptures of Christ” becomes only “a new form of an old idol” and “an expression of autonomy” (p. 47). Only truly biblical faith “offers us real escape from the secularization of science…guarantees the sacredness of man’s vocation in the field of science…(and) sees in the sphere of science the signs of the Kingdom of God” (p. 54).
Farris’ briefer lectures are concerned with “The Christian Approach to History”. The Greek, Marxist, humanist and Christian interpretations are analyzed briefly and contrasted, as are the divergent approaches to historical necessity, freedom and the eternal decree. Farris lays a welcome and strong stress on the significance of the resurrection to the philosophy of history, as the declaration of the triumphant sovereignty of God and the assurance of victory in time as well as eternity. He lacks, however, the sharp epistemological awareness of Van Riessen and Runner. Nonetheless, noteworthy emphases appear throughout his study. Of especial interest, as an illustration of “Christ’s victory over evil” and the conquering aspect of Christ’s work, is his comment on an observance of the sacrament of the Lord’s Table in Scotland:
Many years ago I conducted a communion service in an old parish church in…Scotland. As I walked into the Church that morning twothings startled me. In the first place there was a fine white linen over the back of every pew. One had the feeling that one had walked into a banquet hall and that was precisely the feeling that was meant to be engendered. In the second place, there were no communion vessels or elements on the communion table. I began the service and preached the sermon. Then I announced the metrical psalm based on Psalm 24. While we were singing the elders retired to the vestry and when we reached the word “Who is the Lord, the Lord mighty in battle?” they returned bearing the plates of bread and the flagons of wine. I realized then that I was participating in a victory celebration and that the elders were carrying in not only the symbols of Christ broken body and shed blood offered as an atonement for sin, but they were bearing aloft the spoils of victory. From that day to this the communion service has had no funereal overtones for me (p. 69).
Runner’s study of “The Relation of the Bible to Learning” returns to the basic problem of epistemological self-conciousness. The crux of the problem, as Runner states it, is, “What, after all, is the Word of God?” (p. 95). The Scriptures cannot be known or understood if alien categories of thought, or moralizations, are imported into the preaching thereof. Similarly, God and his Word remain alien to us if the divine order is not understood, if God, man, and “the law-order of God” are not seen as related rather than independent “pieces of knowledge”. In the Greek conception of Law, for example, one still decisive in contemporary culture, Law is abstract and a necessity above all duties. The medieval inheritance of Hellenic categories of thought led to abstract Laws (the Law of Reason, and Natural Law) which were in effect independent of God. For Occam, God and Law became irreconcilables, Law implying universals, so that “God is ex-lex: Deus Exlex” (p. 101). Calvin, by rejecting Augustine’s theory of ideas with their abstract and Hellenic realism, and also “the Occamist view of the Deus Exlex”, related the Law to God. (Van Til has stated it succinctly: “God does not have a law; He is law”, Intro. to Theol., 1947,II, 214). To know Law, one must therefore know God, and, similarly, to know the self, we must know God, in whose image man was created. God’s Law is “the very condition of our existence as selves…the Law is the condition of man’s freedom” (p. 104). Scripture, the Word of God, is the power by which God opens our hearts to see and know reality. In the world of learning, however, those holding apostate principles have not only failed to see the “inner connection that exists between the Word of God and our life in this world, more particularly just now the intrinsic connection between that Word and the world of learning” (p. 109), but have deepened and widened the disunity of the Fall by those developing apostate principles. Unhappily, many Christian thinkers, from early days to the present, as Runner points out in an able and concentrated survey, have sought common ground with apostate principles and thereby in effect surrendered the faith. A rejection of all synthesis is requisite to truly Christian thinking.
To understand Synthesis perfectly, and its consequences, just imagine what would have happened if our second representative or Office-bearing man, Christ Jesus, when, like Adam, he was tempted of Satan in the wilderness, had taken each of the devil’s tempting words and looked for, even expressed a measure of agreement with, the ‘moments’ of truth in them (without which the Lie cannot even exist since it is only a Distortion of the Truth)! That is precisely what our first parent did, and fell from his place. But the heart of the man Christ was held in the grip of the Truth, and he gave to each of Satan’s tempting words the integral answer of the Truth. Because of what He did it is possible for the apostle to enjoin us to ‘stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage’ (Gal 5:1) (pp. 156f).
Christian Perspectives 1960 is a delight to read and is deserving of wide circulation and use.
Rousas John Rushdoony
Santa Cruz, California