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The Essential Van Til — The Pastor and Systematic Theology

Who says Van Til is impractical? I would argue that Van Til in all his writing always has an eye towards the church. All of his theologizing, all of his thoughts about apologetics, has a view toward the church and her ministry. A case in point is found in An Introduction to Systematic Theology:

It is sometimes contended that ministers need not be trained in systematic theology if only they know their Bibles. But “Bible-trained” instead of systematically trained preachers frequently preach error. … There are many “orthodox” preachers today whose study of Scripture has been so limited to what it says about soteriology that they could not protect the fold of God against heresies on the person of Christ. … If we carry this idea one step further, we note that a study of systematic theology will help men to preach theologically. It will help to make men proclaim the whole counsel of God. Many ministers never touch the greater part of the wealth of the revelation of God to man contained in Scripture. But systematics helps ministers to preach the whole counsel of God, and thus to make God central in their work. (pp. 22-23)

At first blush it may sound like that Van Til is prioritizing systematic theology over the Bible. There is nothing further from the truth. What Van Til is eschewing is the practice of myopic and atomistic handling of Scripture in the ministry. We might say that Van Til is saying that systematic theology properly done protects against reductionism. That is certainly what he has in view when he talks about orthodox preachers who limit their study of Scripture to soteriology.

Such a practice can be found even today in the Reformed church. Sometimes everything gets boiled down to soteriology, or one aspect of soteriology like justification. Sometimes it all gets boiled down to counseling, or evangelism, or law, or what have you. Every sermon seems to be harping on one subject. Texts are picked out which teach only that subject matter. Or, worse still, texts are made to address those subjects no matter what they are really saying.

Being trained as systematic theologians helps us to maintain balance in the ministry. With it we can be free to preach the whole counsel of God. We can maintain a balance between soteriology, the doctrine of God, the person and work of Christ, etc.

Anyone who is a frequenter to this website knows how much of a premium we place on Biblical Theology. But Vos himself was quite clear how BT and ST should relate, even as they should be distinguished. The Reformed minister would do well to heed the concerns of both Vos and Van Til. If we do we will be better equipped to serve the health and well-being of the church.

In closing, I leave the reader with this quote from Van Til later in the same volume:

It is not sufficient, then, to instruct the church in certain portions of Scripture, or to make them memorize a great deal of Scripture. In addition to this, they must possess a doctrine of Scripture as a whole. It is only if men see clearly that Scripture is what the orthodox doctrine says it in that they will, by the grace of God, be safeguarded against every wind of doctrine that so easily besets us.

Unfortunately many Fundamentalist ministers are, to a large extent, themselves to blame for this deflection of the membership of the churches into all manner of false doctrines. With all the good intentions that they have, they all too commonly teach Scripture in a piecemeal fashion. And, in particular, many of them occupy themselves to such an extent with the more obscure passages of Scripture that they cultivate in their hearers a wrong sense of proportion. It is not uncommon to find an ardent and well-meaning youth, of less than twenty, interested greatly in the details of the “signs of the times,” while he has no reasonable knowledge of the main doctrines of Scripture, to say nothing of the catechisms of the church, in which the system of doctrine of the Scripture is set forth. (p. 240)


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