The Confession of 1967 by Cornelius Van Til

Forty-five years ago P&R published a small book by Dr. Van Til entitled: “The Confession Of 1967: Its Theological Background And Ecumenical Significance”. Fast forward a mere forty-four years and we read the following headline on CNN’s website “Presbyterian Church U.S.A. to allow gay and lesbian clergy” May 10, 2011. According to the article:

 “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Tuesday voted to allow the ordination of openly gay and lesbian ministers. The church put the vote to its 173 presbyteries, or governing bodies, nationwide. On Tuesday, the Twin Citites Area presbytery, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, became the 87th presbytery — and the deciding vote — to approve an amendment that will remove the constitutional requirement that all ministers, elders and deacons live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness. The change, which opens up the possibility that people in same-sex relationships can be considered for ordination, is expected to take effect starting on July 10. It is the latest move by a Protestant denomination toward the inclusion of gay and lesbian clergy.” – CNN 2011-05-10 

Now rewind forty-four years, and read the introduction to Dr. Van Til’s book.

“The 1958 General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America appointed a committee to draw up “A Brief Contemporary Statement of Faith” (Report of the Special Committee on A Brief Contemporary Statement of Faith, p. 7). The proposed confession of 1967 constitutes a part of the report of this committee. Should the Confession of 1967 be adopted by that church, an entirely new phase in its life will be ushered in. This is true because this proposed Confession gives expression to and is based upon a new theology. Our concern in this booklet, therefore, is with the nature of this new theology which will be given creedal status if this proposed Confession is adopted by the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. The casual reader of the new Confession may not readily see that it is founded upon a new and relativistic view of truth. Is he not told that the Confession of 1967 is based upon Christ and his reconciling work? Does not the new Confession appeal to the authority of Scripture? Does it not use the phraseology of the Bible and of the Westminster Confession? Though we concede that the new creed and its new theology speak highly of both Christ and the Bible, we nevertheless contend that new meanings have been attached to old, familiar words. The whole question, accordingly, is one of reinterpretation. One may take a milk bottle and fill it with a poisonous white liquid and call it milk, but this does not guarantee that the poisonous liquid is milk. It may well be some thing that is highly dangerous to man. Such is the case, we believe, with the new theology: It is an essentially humanistic theology which disguises itself as an up-to-date Christian theology. Of course, we are told that the new Confession is contemporary in its view of truth. We are also told that the Westminster Standards are outdated, being written in an age of absolutism. By contrast, today’s theological thinkers know that truth is relative to man and the human situation. Has not Immanuel Kant taught us that man can know nothing of God and of Christ in so far as Christ is said to be God as well as man? From Kant recent philosophers and theologians have learned that man’s conceptual knowledge is limited to the impersonal world of science and does not apply to the religious dimension. Though the twentieth-century church has been informed by the new theology that it can have no objective or conceptual knowledge of God and of Christ, this same theology still continues to speak about God and Christ in eloquent terms. But, as we have already noted, these terms have new definitions. The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity. There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.

First, the new theology speaks in the warmest terms of the great fact of the “Incarnation.” Are we not encouraged when we hear this? For a moment we are—only to be sharply disappointed when we discover the “God-man” of the new theology is not the self-existent and self-attesting Son of God of the New Testament, of Chalcedon, and of Westminster. Instead of a Trinitarian formulation of the doctrine of the Incarnation, the church is to learn that God is identical with “Christ” and that “Christ” is directly identical with the “work” of reconciling all men to himself, but only indirectly identical with Jesus of Nazareth. Men can be truly men only as they realize that their very manhood exists in their participation in this work which is of “Christ.” Men enter the kingdom of heaven as they follow “him” and they follow him if they treat all men as persons.

Second, this contemporary theology would have the church believe that Christ’s salvation is ultimately universal. The “Christ-Event,” the act of God’s saving all men in “Jesus Christ,” ideally reconciles all men to God and all men to one another.

Third, the new theology discounts the idea that the language of Scripture can truly represent the meaning of the “Christ-Event.” When the Scripture speaks of God’s reconciling act in terms of “vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil,” then the new theologians of the drafting committee hasten to explain that “these are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for man.” All that the Bible writers did or could do was point to a higher or deeper dimension of being opened up to them by this symbolic language of Scripture.

Thus when the new church, with its new creed, speaks to modern man about Creation, the Fall into sin, and Redemption through Christ, it is not speaking of the world of historical fact in the orthodox Christian sense. These theological terms are supposedly mythic and symbolic of another dimension of reality. It matters, but it matters only secondarily, whether these eyelets did or did not happen in the actual world of every day history. Such a question as this is largely irrelevant. Christ’s reconciling work is not primarily historical in that sense. It is said to be primarily in a world above history.

In what follows we hope to show that this new “dimensional” theology which controls the new Confession is, at bottom, a new heresy—that its use of traditional language is misleading and that, for all its praise of “Christ the Word,” its message is foreign to the teachings of the historic Christian faith. The new Confession presents an essentially man-centered instead of a God-centered theology.”

Now fast forward again 45 years and look where the new man centered theology has led us to, the self-deception of considering a lifestyle of sin, to merely be an “alternative lifestyle”.



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