Friday, October 09, 2009

Christian Apologetics – Van Til’s Categorization

Intelligence is the capacity to understand and evaluate categories of information and recategorize it meaningfully. That’s my definition and I suggest it’s a more helpful definition than the one in the dictionary for thinking epistemologically. That is, we categorize information because we have a general level of intelligence as human beings.

Take M and M’s for example. You can categorize them in two groups: Plain or With Nuts. Now that might be helpful with regard to a taste preference, but perhaps you find it more helpful to categorize them by color. You can have perhaps yellow, blue, green, orange, brown and red. Well, if you need both sets of categorizations you can sort them two-dimensionally where each color would also have a Plain or With Nuts subcategory. But the Mars company has a need to create an ongoing category list that we are unfamiliar with. They categorize by lot number. This is practical from a manufacturing standpoint but most of us never think of that categorization.

I gave a system of categorization of theological thought in my first article in this series. The system of categorization I typically employ helps establish relationships of logical dependency between categories. This is useful for presuppositional thinking.

Van Til, in the first chapter under the heading “Theological Encyclopedia”, gives a different system for the categorization of theological thought. His system seems to be based on the departments in a seminary and are subsequently more pedagogical in the relationships between them. His army analogy is helpful for understanding how these different categories work together. His system may be more practical than mine for actually formulating a debate tactic and the purposes he gives seem to be limited to this area of practicality. I wonder how he will use his system in a discourse of presuppositional apologetics.

As it is, his system uses the following categories:

1. Biblical department: Old Testament
2. Biblical department: New Testament

Both of these, he observes gives “a defense as well as a positive statement of the truth.”

3. The Apologetic deparment

Here he observes that apologetics cannot be left solely to the Apologetic department, but the Biblical departments must also give their defense because “the specific truths of Christianity must be defended once they are stated.”

4. Systematic Theology (he stops using the word “department” here for some reason)

This categorizes the rest of the departments into an “organic whole”

5. Church History

This gives us insight into how the “preaching of the Word has fared throughout the centuries.” I observe that this is one area that’s not explicitly covered in my categorization scheme. This is precisely because I hold church history pretty low in my estimation of Christian theology. It’s helpful for hermeneutical consideration as well as for understanding some arguments of challengers to the faith, but too many have gotten too much too wrong too often in the history of the Church. Well, that’s helpful for determining what not to do, but too often the temptation is to overreact into similar error. For example, overreaction to the effects of hierarchical apostasy often generates small-group legalism or unbalanced teaching like snake-handling or utter separatism, such as unchecked by ecclesiological accountability.

Do any of you have a system of categorization of theological thought?

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