Here is why I argue that reformed epistemology isn’t sufficient on its own, and that dispensational epistemology must be distinct from it:

Cornelius Van Til is brilliant on what I would call the first three pillars of Biblical epistemology (#1: Biblical God exists, #2: He has revealed himself authoritatively, #3: Natural man’s incapacity to receive), but his epistemology falls short in that he does not account for hermeneutics (Pillar #4) within his epistemology. In fact, in his Th.M thesis, “Reformed Epistemology,” he never once even discusses Biblical interpretation. Much of his critique of other thinkers, like Kant, includes considerable discussion of their deficiencies in the interpretation of experience, but not a word about interpretation of Scripture. Not one. How can Van Til build such an outstanding foundational framework on special revelation and then totally ignore the centrality of hermeneutic method for understanding that revelation?

VanTil-teachingYou see, it all has to do with where one places hermeneutics: I consider Biblical hermeneutics as an absolutely necessary component of epistemology. Hermeneutics falls within the realm of epistemology. Van Til does not seem to share that conviction, even though he critiques the hermeneutics of others’ bases of authority (i.e., experience) within an epistemological context.

Still, while not considering hermeneutics an integral part of epistemology, he does give hermeneutics attention elsewhere. In his The New Hermeneutic, for example, Van Til concludes, with these words, “…we would appeal to the Cahier’s men, to Wiersinga and to others, to build their hermeneutical procedures on the theology of Calvin, Kuyper, Bavinck, etc., (emphasis mine) and then in terms of it to challenge all men to repentance and faith in the self-identifying Christ of Scripture instead of making compromise with unbelief” (pp. 180). Notice his prescribed hermeneutical procedures are grounded in historical theology, rather than literal grammatical-historical. In short, Van Til is marvelously consistent in his epistemological method until he arrives at the hermeneutic component. At that point his writing shows, in my estimation, two deficiencies: (1) he does not grant hermeneutics its proper and necessary place in epistemology, and (2) when he does consider hermeneutics, he prescribes historical theology as the orthodox hermeneutic, rather than literal grammatical-historical – an unfortunate contradiction of his own expertly stated first principles.

The Biblical epistemological model does not share these two deficiencies, and leads me to consider that while Van Til is outstanding up to a point, we cannot simply adopt his reformed epistemology without ourselves walking more consistently down the reformed path.

cc

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