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Absolutely excellent article on Doug Wilson’s New St. Andrews College in the NT Times Magazine!!! (I know I was shocked as well.) It’s well-balanced and it’s written in such a way that it doesn’t treat the subjects as aliens from another planet (a problem with a lot of articles written about Christians).
I thought this was funny:
The college handbook forbids students to embrace or promote “doctrinal errors” from the 4th through the 21st centuries, “such as Arianism, Socinianism, Pelagianism, Skepticism, Feminism.” If drawn to such ideas, they must “inform the administration immediately and honestly in a letter offering to withdraw from the College.” Cultural revolution cannot tolerate heretics.
And this is pretty amazing when you remember you’re reading the NY Times:
The phrases that N.S.A. students are trained to use – like “Christian worldview” and “presuppositions” – are the tag lines of the theological tradition that partly inspired their college. In the early 20th century, a Dutch theologian named Cornelius Van Til introduced a kind of theology called presuppositionalism. He argued that no assumptions are neutral and that the human mind can comprehend reality only if proceeding from the truth of biblical revelation. In other words, it is impossible for Christians to reason with non-Christians. presuppositionalism is a strangely postmodern theory that denies the possibility of objectivity – though it does not deny the existence of truth, which belongs to Christians alone.
According to critics, this school of thought equips young Christians to read and discuss non-Christian ideas without ever taking them seriously. “The trouble is that once you’ve figured out someone’s presuppositions, you can write them off as right or wrong without having to deal with their arguments. . . . It becomes anti-intellectual,” says Darryl Hart, a historian who has taught at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, the birthplace of presuppositionalism. Token “anti-Christians” like Margaret Sanger, Karl Marx and Charles Darwin appear on N.S.A. syllabuses, but students say these rarely generate serious debate. Darwin, for his part, remains only “a curious event in the history of modern secularism,” Matthew McCabe says.
Presuppositionalism Van Tillianism defined on the pages of the NY Times! Unbelievable!
And given that this is the NT Times it’s incredible that the really bad stuff is at the end of the article:
Students at New St. Andrews rarely read Van Til’s dense theological treatises. They absorb his ideas from their teachers. A few faculty members at New St. Andrews also had links with a largely defunct offshoot of Van Til’s thought called Christian Reconstructionism. The movement’s founder, Rousas John Rushdoony, wrote that Christians should gradually take control of society and reinstate Old Testament law – including the execution of adulterers and homosexuals. Most N.S.A. faculty members are quick to distance themselves from the movement, but not Doug Wilson.
Wilson emphasizes his flexibility when it comes to Old Testament law. “You can’t apply Scripture woodenly,” he says; instead of executing them, “you might exile some homosexuals, depending on the circumstances and the age of the victim.” He adds: “There are circumstances in which I’d be in favor of execution for adultery. . . . I’m not proposing legislation. We’re saying, Let’s set up the Christian worldview, and our descendants 500 years from now can work out the knotty problems.” Gene Veith, who is provost of Patrick Henry College and active in classical Christian education, fears Wilson’s views are a handicap for the movement. “One of the frustrating things for me is that people sometimes associate the classical Christian education movement with Doug Wilson, so some people are sort of afraid of it,” he says.
I wonder if the reconstructionists would consider their movement “largely defunct?” BTW, just so you know, I’m not a reconstructionist. I’m not even a post-mil. I’m an amil which means I believe that Christ reigns through his people in his kingdom that transcends nations. His kingdom is not of this world and can’t be seen (it is by faith and not by sight). Post-mils believe that Christ reigns through the church visibly — that governments become Christianized.
Wilson liked the article but made some points of clarification here which included a further explanation of Van Til:
The article missed a theological point concerning the thought of Cornelius Van Til. “In other words, it is impossible for Christian to reason with non-Christians.” The point here is that when they are reasoning from their respective presuppositions, it is impossible for believers and unbelievers to have a meeting of the minds. We can only reason with one another when we share the premises, which the Van Tilian argues the non-believer unwittingly does, borrowing from the Christian worldview in order to function in the world God actually made. So the point was not that it is unnecessary to interact with non-Christians, or with non-Christian thought, or to deal with their arguments, but rather that we should do so intelligently, recognizing the foundational role of presuppositions in all of it.
And those liberals really worried about actual executions of adulterers and homosexuals perhaps need to think about signing up to support Bush’s newly developing exit strategy for Iraq — it is starting to look as though he might go out through Iran. But I don’t really think that will make them happy either.
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Updated: I corrected the post to reflect that it was Van Tillianism (this is how closely I link presuppositionalism with Van Til — to me they are synonymous) that I was amazed to see in the pages of the NY Times.
Updated: Ugh! As I was driving to church yesterday after I published this post, I realize that I didn’t make myself clear about the distinction between amils and post-mils as regards Christ’s reign. And then when I came home I forgot to correct the post. But a commenter reminded me that I had to fix it, so I did.