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The Essential Van Til – In the Beginning (Part 5)

Van Til now turns to Barth’s doctrine of creation.

Barth denies that creation as it came forth from the hand of God was good, and was to have a genuine significance. Instead, Barth’s doctrine resembles that of paganism which held that the spatial-temporal world was somehow existing independently of God and was evil in itself. Accordingly Barth has a very low conception of sin. Man is not really responsible for sin and is not really guilty inasmuch as sin or evil was already in the world. Hence Barth has a very low view of redemption. The whole of objective redemption is reduced to the prosaic level of setting the ideal of the eternal before man.

Van Til believes that Barth has a low view of both sin and redemption. Why is that? It flows from his view of creation. Reformed theology has held to the inherent goodness of creation. Creation is, according to the Reformed, made “from the hand of God” as unfallen and very good. This view stands over against the Roman view of Thomas who asserted that creation was made with an inherent defect called concupiscence. This is a natural drag inherent in creation in general, and humanity in particular, that pulls it “downward” toward non-being. God then gave the “super-added gift,” the donum superadditum, in order to keep humanity from “sliding” into sin and non-being.  Concupiscence is not sin itself, to be sure. But it is an undesirable tendency in creation, and as such negates the biblical witness that creation was made “very good.” The Reformed rejected this medieval move and affirmed the goodness and non-deficiency of the original creation.

For Barth, however, creation is in itself fallen by virtue of that fact that it is not-God. Creation is deficient. What is more, it is against God. Van Til says that this resembles paganism. Perhaps what he has in mind is gnostic conceptions that regarded the physical world as being inherently deficient and even evil. Perhaps Van Til sees this as being part and parcel of the Aristotelian system picked up by medieval metaphysicians. Be that as it may, Barth denies that creation was made sinless and without corruption. He further denies that creation only subsequent to the act of creation fell in real-time history through an act of one man, Adam. To use the language of later criticisms of Barth, there is no transition from a state of grace to a state of sin (just as there is no transition from wrath to grace in Barth’s doctrine of redemption).

If creation – inclusive of humanity – is inherently fallen, then we cannot be blamed for our sin and rebellion. This produces a low view of sin. Certainly it mitigates the culpability of sin to some extent (and to a full extent if carried to its logical conclusion). This, therefore, produces a low view of redemption. Redemption is not so much ethical as it is ontological. That is because sin is not so much ethical as it is ontological. Sin is me not being eternal. It is a condition in which I find myself, not one brought about by my own culpable rebellion. My rebellion flows from my fallen ontological condition, and not vice versa. Redemption then is me becoming eternalized in Jesus Christ who is the eternalized man in union with the eternal God. It is not a moment when I am transitioned from an estate of sin into a new estate of grace and glory. This mitigates the fully ethical and covenantal nature of the atonement, and that is what Van Til means when he says that Barth has a low view of redemption.

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