Re: Natural Theology, Unguided Processes and Apologetics

Jack Collins (
Wed, 17 Sep 1997 14:47:14 -0400

In reply to Terry Gray's questions to me, I'm sorry I have to brief right
now. I'm giving an apologetic lecture on (of all things) "miracles" this
Friday night and am up to my elbows in preparation.

Terry asks:
>>Tell me, Jack. Do you believe that any attempt to reach God apart from
Jesus Christ is idolatry? Call it name calling if you like--I think it's
orthodox Christian belief. That's all I was saying. I doubt if you

Well, whether "idolatry" is the best word or not is an interesting
question. And of course I'd have to be absolutely clear on what "trying to
reach God" means, by whom, and whether it's intended to be the end-point of
the process. But ultimately, I have no doubts about John 14:6, and that
this requires covenant faith. I do not, however, see that this is an
argument against classic theistic arguments (e.g. those of Aquinas); these
arguments were never meant to be the end-point, but instead to clear away
barriers to willingness to confront the Christian message. Van Tilians
(one "l", for Cornelius VT) have a problem with that approach; I'm not sure
it's as bad as they say (or at least, that it's bad _by its own
necessity_). Some Van Tilians agree.

Commentaries on Rom 1:19-21 will support the (strong) Van Tilian position
if they come from a Barthian commentator (e.g. Cranfield); otherwise they
usually don't (see Murray or Moo, for example).

It's interesting that you refer to Old Princeton on evolution. The passage
in Berkouwer that I referred to attacks the Warfield position on divine
action. I have no intention of "imply[ing] that there is no Biblical basis
for God's intimate involvement even with so-called naturally occurring
phenomena", so you don't need to post your piece (although I'd be happy to
see it anyhow). Rather the question is the _mode_ of involvement, and
whether there is more than one. As to my comments about the superficial
exegesis in Berkouwer, I wrote to a theologian I know, who is a Van Tilian
and also favors Berkouwer's model of divine action, and he wrote to me:

>>The Dutch [he's referring to Berkouwer, Kuyper, and others] never did
much exegesis to justify their concept and make it precise. They don't make
careful statements on such things as the relation of miracles to
providence, miracle as attestation of special revelation, miracle as
evidence (Berkouwer is very sloppy on that question).<<

So I'm not making it up. In my view, though, the situation is a little
worse than my theologian friend acknowledged: the strongest exegetical
presentations of this view come mostly from those influenced by the
continental "Biblical theology" movement, and suffer from the kinds of
problems identified by the (in)famous James Barr.

Well, more could be said, but my lecture notes await, and I'm also giving a
Hebrew quiz tomorrow morning. As I said, I'm trying to write something on
the subject (why aim low? I'm aiming at the "definitive" exegetical
discussion!). For those interested, may I recommend the essay by William
Lane Craig on the historical and philosophical dimensions of the discussion
on Gospel miracles, in _Gospel perspectives, vol vi: The miracles of Jesus_
(JSOT Press, 1986)? I realise that this doesn't speak directly to the
question of ID, and it's not intended to. But people's reaction to ID as
an idea seems to be related to their concept of divine action and miracle.

Sorry, gotta go!

Your servant,

Jack Collins