Reformed Apologetics

J. V. Fesko has written Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Baker Academic, 2019). In the book, Dr. Fesko criticizes, among others, Cornelius Van Til. In this conversation, we interact with the book and compare its claims with those of Van Til. A central claim of Dr. Fesko’s is that Van Til rejects “common notions.” He writes:

in the middle of the seventeenth century, philosophers such as John Locke (1632–1704) rejected the idea of common notions. In the twentieth century, this rejection made its way to liberal and conservative Reformed theologians alike, including Karl Barth (1886–1968) and Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987).”[1]

He draws particular attention to Van Til’s discussion of authority and reason on pages 168–169 of Defense of the Faith (3rd edition).[2] On those pages, Van Til makes an important distinction:

A word must now be said about the idea of ‘common notions’ referred to in the quotation given above. The present writer made a distinction between notions that are psychologically and metaphysically, that is revelationally, common to all men, and common notions that are ethically and epistemologically common.[3]

Van Til continues, “All men have common notions about God; all men naturally have knowledge of God.”[4] So, what is Van Til getting at? There are notions common to all men, but there are some things common to believers and others common to unbelievers. Van Til explains what is also common to natural man as a consequence of total depravity:

It is this actual possession of the knowledge of God that is the indispensable presupposition of man’s ethical opposition to God. There could be no absolute ethical antithesis to God on the part of Satan and fallen man unless they are self-consciously against the common notions that are concreated with them. Paul speaks of sinful man as suppressing within him the knowledge of God that he has. . . . It is these notions of human autonomy, or irrational discontinuity and of rationalistic continuity that are the common notions of sinful or apostate mankind.[5]


[1] J. V. Fesko, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 24.

[2] Fesko, 24n56.

[3] Cornelius Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: P & R Publishing, 1967), 168.

[4] Van Til, 168.

[5] Van Til, 168.

[6] Van Til, 168.


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Reformed Forum, the Church, and the Great Commission

Reformed Forum exists to present every person mature in Christ (Col. 1:28). We do that specifically by supporting the Church in her God-ordained task of accomplishing the Great Commission. In this episode, we discuss our mission and vision and share exciting news about the future of our ministry including Camden Bucey’s transition to become our full-time Executive Director.

Reformed Forum is an organization committed to providing Reformed Christian theological resources to pastors, scholars, and anyone who desires to grow in their understanding of Scripture and the theology that faithfully summarizes its teachings. We are committed to the principles of the Reformation and a redemptive-historical approach to Scripture. We believe these faithfully represent the teachings of the Bible, which is our only standard for faith and practice.

During the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy of the early twentieth century, E. J. Young wrote to J. Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary and key figure in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which had yet to be formed:

Within the church there should be an organization, entirely independent of the formal church, which would act as leaven. This organization should be composed of ministers, elders and laymen of the new church alone, who not only believe the Westminster Confession but who are on fire with it. The purpose of this organization should be to propagate and to defend the Reformed faith, to point out the errors of modernism, sacerdotalism, premillennialism, Arminianism, Trichotomy, and so much of the anti-Scriptural evangelism of today. Furthermore, this group would seek to propagate Reformed literature, such as your book, Christianity and Liberalism, Boettner’s book and works of that type. It would seek to propagate this literature not only among the clergy but also among the laity. In other words, it would be a missionary agency whose primary field is the church. Further, it would eventually seek to promote truly Reformed Bible Conferences and Evangelistic Campaigns, would seek to start Reformed Bible classes and prayer meetings and would seek to encourage Reformed radio broadcasts, etc.

E. J. Young, letter to J. Gresham Machen, October 2, 1935.

Seventy-three years passed before Reformed Forum was founded and much has changed regarding technology, but providentially we have become such an organization. There is a need today just as there was then, because the theological challenges persist. We are committed to be faithful to Scripture to the end that Christ would be glorified in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.


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The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Civil Religion

We welcome Richard M. Gamble, Professor of History, Anna Margaret Ross Alexander Chair in History and Politics at Hillsdale College, to speak about Julia Ward Howe’s poem, which came to be know as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Gamble is the author of A Fiery Gospel: The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Road to Righteous War (Religion and American Public Life), which discloses the history of the hymn as well as its position within an overall intellectual history of civil religion within the United States.

Other Books by Richard M. Gamble

From the Publisher

Since its composition in Washington’s Willard Hotel in 1861, Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” has been used to make America and its wars sacred. Few Americans reflect on its violent and redemptive imagery, drawn freely from prophetic passages of the Old and New Testaments, and fewer still think about the implications of that apocalyptic language for how Americans interpret who they are and what they owe the world.

In A Fiery Gospel, Richard M. Gamble describes how this camp-meeting tune, paired with Howe’s evocative lyrics, became one of the most effective instruments of religious nationalism. He takes the reader back to the song’s origins during the Civil War, and reveals how those political and military circumstances launched the song’s incredible career in American public life. Gamble deftly considers the idea behind the song―humming the tune, reading the music for us―all while reveling in the multiplicity of meanings of and uses to which Howe’s lyrics have been put. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” has been versatile enough to match the needs of Civil Rights activists and conservative nationalists, war hawks and peaceniks, as well as Europeans and Americans. This varied career shows readers much about the shifting shape of American righteousness. Yet it is, argues Gamble, the creator of the song herself―her Abolitionist household, Unitarian theology, and Romantic and nationalist sensibilities―that is the true conductor of this most American of war songs.

A Fiery Gospel depicts most vividly the surprising genealogy of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and its sure and certain position as a cultural piece in the uncertain amalgam that was and is American civil religion.


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The Creator-creature Distinction in the Hypostatic Union

In the incarnation, the eternal Son of God assumed a human nature. He did this without giving up his divinity. He retains his immutability, omniscience, omnipresence, and all the attributes according to his eternal, divine, and necessary existence.

In this episode, we discuss how these two natures relate to the person in the hypostatic union. By looking at Scripture, the Council of Chalcedon, and our confessional tradition, we review an orthodox grammar for speaking about these matters.

An error in the doctrine of God or Christology, however minor it may seem, will inevitably compound as other doctrines are developed. We should always seek to maintain confessional orthodoxy by reviewing the basics from which we never graduate.


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Divine Authority Displayed in Covenant

We gather around the table in Wimberley, Texas to discuss the authority of the self-contained Triune God of Scripture. The absolute, self-sufficient God nevertheless established a covenant with man by an act of special providence. In that act, the authority of God’s word is diplayed—entirely independently of man’s response. Whether Adam obeyed or disobeyed, God’s infallible word would be proved.


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On Richard Dawkins

Dr. Ransom Poythress has written Richard Dawkins in P&R Publishing’s Great Thinkers series. Poythress speaks about Richard Dawkins’s system of thought. Since the early 2000s, Dawkins has been an outspoken advocate of what has been termed the New Atheism. Poythress discusses Dawkins’s beliefs and advocates methods for approaching those who believe likewise. Dr. Poythress is assistant professor of biology at Houghton College in Houghton, New York.


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The Marburg Colloquy

Carl Trueman speaks about the Marburg Colloquy, a meeting called by Philip I of Hesse to unite the Protestant states in a political alliance. To accomplish such a union, he sought theological agreement between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. While Luther and Zwingli could agree on fourteen theological points laid out at the meeting, they could not come to terms on the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

Dr. Trueman is professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College.


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2018 Highlights

As is our annual custom, we’ve selected several clips from the episodes we released over the last year. We spoke with many people and had many fascinating conversations. I hope we’ll pique your interest, and you’ll go back to listen to many of the full conversations represented by these highlights.

Thank you to everyone who visited reformedforum.org/donate throughout the year. We are tremendously grateful for your generous support. Be assured that we’re setting the stage for another big year as our board continues to think and pray about our next steps.

We’re looking forward to another full year of Christ the Center. January 25 marked our 10th anniversary. Jeff, Jim, and I recorded that first episode during my first year in seminary—three homes and three children ago. Things have changed over the years, but our goal has stayed the same. Our mission is to present every person mature in Christ (Col. 1:28).

Episodes

  • 524 — Marcus Mininger, Uncovering the Theme of Revelation in Romans 1:16–3:26
  • 533 — Michael Kruger, How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church
  • 540 — The Nature of Apostasy in Hebrews 6
  • 542 — Bill Dennison, Karl Marx
  • 551 — The Impeccability of Jesus Christ
  • 555 — Darryl Hart, Still Protesting
  • 556 — The Deeper Protestant Conception
  • 566 — Glen Clary, The Liturgies of Bucer, Calvin, and Knox
  • 570 — Danny Olinger, Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian
  • 571 — Cory Brock and Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, Bavinck’s Philosophy of Revelation

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