Category Archives: Van Til

10 Things to Expect in a Federal Vision Church

I recently read a post by a frustrated woman on the outcome of some decisions made in different PCA Presbyteries. Among many things, this individual observed that she was deeply concerned for the well-being of the people who attend PCA churches. She urged them to leave the denomination. Many of them have bought into the “Federal Vision theology,” and are possibly doomed to a “Christ-less eternity,” she wrote. They also are grace-less, because they emphasize a robust faith that is not dead.  Among the other things mentioned, apparently Federal Vision advocates do not care about personal relationships, but only church business, because we put so much emphasis on the church. And to top off the list of accusations, we have traded “a relationship with Jesus for religion.”

I am not a PCA pastor, but as someone who served in the PCA for several years, I do want to defend those brothers who are referred to as Federal Vision. Suffice to say, these accusations are childish in every way.

At the same time, I know there is a lot of misunderstanding out there. And in case you are either curious or tempted to visit one of these so-called Federal Vision churches, I would like to prepare the bold visitor for ten things he/she is to expect as they enter into a typical one:

1) Apart from using the term to clarify ideas and misunderstandings in friendly conversations and the occasional men’s study, the term Federal Vision will most likely never be used in the pulpit.  Further, opponents and even advocates of the Federal (Covenant) Vision differ on many points. The closest thing to a consensus is found here, but there are still are sorts of distinctions and qualifications that need to be made.

2) Be prepared for that archaic practice of singing the Psalms. Yes, we confess to singing from Yahweh’s songbook, as well as some old time religion music from the 4th century. Expect very vibrant singing; the one that roars!

3) Be alerted that we are a very friendly congregation, and contrary to what you have heard (if you have ever heard such a thing) we will greet you and likely invite you to lunch after church.

4) Also, do not be alarmed by the little cries in the congregation (Ps. 8:2-3). We really love our little ones and we encourage parents to train them up in worship, and the best place to do that is…in worship.

5) You may be asked to kneel (Ps. 95:6). We believe posture is important to God. Obviously, you do not have to kneel. It is optional, though everyone will.

6) The pastor may get a bit theological at times, he may take the time to explain the text in detail, but he usually explains his theologizing and biblicizing and is very consistent in applying his text and theology to the life of the body.

7) This may truly shock you, but we have the Lord’s Supper every week. And furthermore, we offer bread (real bread) and wine (real wine). This may take some adjustment, but I promise it will make sense after a while.

8) And I know the red flags are all over the place by now, and this is not going to help, but we also believe that baptized children are called to partake of the table of the Lord. Here is where we confess we have strayed from broad Reformed practices. But we have only done so because we believe that the early Christians practiced this. We further believe that I Corinthians 11 actually confirms our practice.

9) The ministers may wear an alb and a stole (though many others may simply wear a suit and tie). This practice serves to point out the unique role the man of God has in proclaiming God’s truth in Word and Sacrament. This may appear very Roman Catholic to you, and you are right. Of course, it is also very Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and yes, even Reformed (see data on clerical collars).

10) Finally, you are correct to assert that we love the Church. We love her because Christ died for her. Our Reformed forefathers were clear. But the Church is no substitute for Christ, the Church is called to build on her firm foundation, which is Christ. You cannot separate Groom and  Bride. And what does this Christ demand of his Church? He demands repentance, and in repentance you will find fullness of life.

I trust you will visit us, but if you do so, we want you to be prepared.


Van Til’s Influence on Norman Shepherd

In Obedient Faith: A Festschrift for Norman Shepherd, Dr. Shepherd speaks to the influence of Van Til in his own thinking:

Van Til visited Westminster College in my senior year, and I heard his lecture on Noah. This lecture made a profound impact on my thinking. Van Til described how great teachers from several renowned universities came to Noah representing various philosophical positions. They disagreed among themselves, but they were united in explaining to this poor, benighted man how foolish he was to build an ark in the desert with only blue sky overhead. They were certain that there could not be such a flood as Noah predicted. But Noah continued pounding away because he believed what God said and acted accordingly. The floods did come. They swept away the professors of this world’s wisdom, but God spared Noah and his family. I left college with the deep conviction that God and his infallible Word are the ultimate reference point for all predication. Our calling in this life is to be faithful to every word he has spoken.

Van Til on False Remedies

“Christians are in themselves no wiser than are other men. What they have they have by grace. They must be ‘all things to all men.’ But it is not kindness to tell patients that need strong medicine that nothing serious is wrong with them. Christians are bound to tell men the truth about themselves; that is the only way of bringing them to recognize the mercy, the compassion, of Christ. For if men are told the truth about themselves, and if they are warned against the false remedies that establish men in their wickedness, then, by the power of the Spirit of God, they will flee to the Christ through whom alone they must be saved.”

Cornelius Van Til
The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel

The Tangibility of Worldviews

Angels in the Architecture: A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth  -             By: Douglas Wilson, Douglas Jones    George Grant writes in the foreword to Angels in the Architecture that a “worldview is as practical as garden arbors, public manners, whistling at work, dinner-time rituals, and architectural angels (14).”

For all the great resurgence of worldview thinking in our day, there is still a lack of practicality associated with it. A good worldview–one grounded in creation and providence–is messy because life can be rather messy. If one seeks to build a worldview (the task itself never ends) one needs caution not to define a worldview as some non-tangible, intellectual pursuit left to the scholars and arm-chair theologians. A worldview–to borrow Doug Wilson’s famous analogy–comes out of your fingertips.

Perhaps this is the inherent difficulty associated with getting Christians to think biblically about most issues. The difficulty stems from a low view of Creation, thus elevating the mind over body. When a Christian begins thinking he must begin where God begins, in the beginning. Creation then offers a profound view of the body with Adam’s hard work ethic, which is first found in the the pre-fall state. God does not wait to begin worldview thinking post-fall, rather He has already established the framework for good living and thinking even before one would assume it to be unnecessary.

Worldviews matter. The Christian who claims to love Jesus fails to love him truly when he despises the forming of a coherent model for thinking, and when he trivializes the common.

Psalm 19, Brief Observations

This psalm contains a three-fold theme. Creation, the law, and forgiveness serve as testimonies to the glory of God. Creation does not serve as an equal manifestation to the Law-Word, but rather in submission to the Word of the Lord, which is perfect and all together righteous. Creation is personified in the passage. This is a poetic way of explaining the world as a harmonious choir praising the excellence of God.

One way to begin to consider this passage is by acknowledging the Creator/creature distinction. Creation is not God. Creation speaks of God. Insofar as creation speaks of God, man is called to respond to that message. However, creation is not the end of that message. Creation points us to the words of God, which are sweeter than honey.

Calvin on Reason

All my years of reading Calvin (a weekly part of my sermon preparation) I have often found him much more consistent with a VanTilian way of looking at reason than other attempts that claim Calvin. In his commentary on John, he says the following about the source of sound understanding:

All that Scripture tells us about the Holy Spirit is regarded by earthly men as a dream; because, trusting to their own reason, they despise heavenly illumination. Now, though this pride abounds everywhere, which extinguishes, so far as lies in our power, the light of the Holy Spirit; yet, conscious of our own poverty, we ought to know, that whatever belongs to sound understanding proceeds from no other source. Yet Christ’s words show that nothing which relates to the Holy Spirit can be learned by human reason, but that He is known only by the experience of faith.

At the very least, we conclude that a) Human reason is full of limitations when it comes to divine things; and b) Calvin does not overlook the noetic affects of the fall.

Van Til in 30 seconds

William White Jr. in his biography of Cornelius Van Til: Defender of the Faith, summarizes Van Til in this way: “To concede that the mind of the thinker can by searching find out about God, or discover truth, be it Plato’s or Spinoza’s or Einstein’s, is in effect to fight the Lord’s battle in Saul’s armor.” Van Til believed with great conviction that the way to know God was by presupposing God; a presupposition that only came by the work of the Spirit. This was certainly revolutionary in Van Til’s day and it is quite revolutionary today.

Van Til on the Antithesis

Every time any human being opens his mouth to say anything, he either says that God is or that God is not a reality. It could not be otherwise. God claims to control every fact.

–Cornelius Van Til, “Our Attitude Toward Evolution,” The Banner, December 11, 1931, reproduced in Van Til: Science Articles (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary), 12.