Section 1-5 from “The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture”
by Cornelius Van Til
According to Christ speaking in the Scripture, man has sinned against him by declaring his independence. When man listened to the temptation of Satan it was, in effect, to deny his own creaturehood. Adam was no longer willing to love his Creator and to show this love by obedience to his voice. He wanted to make himself the center of his own interpretative effort.
Involved in this was the idea that man rejected God’s prediction with respect to what we now, after Kant, call the phenomenal realm. He said in his heart that God did not know that death would be the consequence of eating the forbidden fruit. Why did Adam think that God did not know? There were no records of what had happened to people who had eaten this fruit in the past. Could not Satan’s hypothesis be as good as God’s? Does not the scientific method require that, at the outset of any investigation of the facts of the physical universe, any hypothesis be placed on a par with any other hypothesis? Surely any hypothesis that anyone makes with respect to the future configuration of facts must be tested by those future facts themselves. And these future facts must not be interpreted in advance.
Here then, are the marks of the natural man in his attitude toward the interpretation of the facts (events) of the world:
(1) He thinks of himself as the ultimate judge of what can or cannot be. He will not allow any authority to stand above him revealing to him what may or may not have happened in the past or what may or may not happen in the future.
(2) This assertion or assumption of autonomy on the part of man makes a covert, if not an overt assertion about the nature of God. God (it is assumed if not asserted) cannot be of such a nature as to control any and all phenomena.
(3) These two assertions or assumptions imply a third: that man’s thought is, in the final analysis, absolutely original. Whatever his ultimate environment may be, the area of interpretation that man makes for himself will be true for him because his thought is in effect legislative with respect to that environment.
(4) The facts of man’s environment are not created or controlled by the providence of God. They are brute facts, uninterpreted and ultimately irrational. The universe is a Chance controlled universe. It is a wholly open universe. Yet, at the same time, it is a closed universe. It is so in this sense: it cannot be what. Christ says it is, namely, created, governed, and redeemed by him. In this one respect the cosmos is closed—there can be no such God as the Bible reveals. This is the universal negative of the openminded men of philosophy and science.
Herbert Feigl seems to see this great gulf fixed between the men of science and philosophy and the people of God when he says: If by religion one refers to an explanation of the universe and a derivation of moral norms from theological premises, then indeed there is logical incompatibility with the results, methods, and general outlook of science. 5
The basically important point about all this is that the scientist as well as the philosopher and the theologian, unless he be converted to Christ by his Spirit, follows the method that was introduced into the world by Adam when he listened to Satan. The essence of this method is that man starts and finishes his interpretation about any and every aspect of life with the assumption of his own autonomy, with the assumption of the brute factuality of the material with which he deals; and with the assumption of abstract formality of the logic which he uses to relate the brute facts to one another.
The Christian, on the other hand, has been saved by the blood and tears of Christ from this God-insulting and self-destroying methodology.
The two positions can be well illustrated by Descartes on the one hand and by Calvin on the other. Descartes starts with man as though he were sufficient unto himself and could make himself the final reference point in his interpretation of himself and the world. Descartes thought he had a clear and distinct idea of himself apart from his relation to God. It was after he had determined who he himself was that he sought to place himself in relation to the world and to God. These relations were therefore secondary relations.
In complete contrast with this approach is that of Calvin who also started with man—and who can help but do so?—but who started with man as set, from the beginning, in relation to his Creator and his Redeemer. After this establishment of a primary and immediate relation, Calvin proceeds to interpret himself and his world in detail. Seeing himself as redeemed by the blood of Christ, he knows that sin still remains within him. He still tends to fall back into his naturally autonomous ways. Calvin keeps telling himself and us, that all things (of nature as well as grace) must, from the outset, be seen in their relation to the story of God’s creation and redemption of the world. Since the Redeemer speaks to him, not through individual mystical insight but by the word that his Savior has given to his church in the form of Scripture, the believer will go to the record of that redemptive work which Christ has accomplished for the world. That record will shed light on every fact in every relation in the world. The record of the redemptive work of Christ is the record given by the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the prophets and apostles. God has not left man alone with the event of redemption, leaving it to man’s own sinful heart to interpret it. On the contrary, God has with the facts given the interpretation of the facts. It is the triune God that is active in saving the world. The Father sent his Son to secure objective redemption for it. Then the Father, with the Son, sent the Spirit to inspire his servants to interpret the facts of redemption. The one without the other is meaningless. It is the triune God who tells us what he has done for sinful man’s redemption. The final aspect of this redemption is that, by the regenerating power of the Spirit, sinful man learns to submit his own interpretation, once based on the idea of human autonomy, to the interpretation which the God of grace has provided for him in the Word through the inspiration of the Scripture. This is a truly biblical and therefore a truly analogical methodology.