C.S. Lewis and Moose Tracks Ice Cream

Over the last few weeks, we have been discussing natural law — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Jim Jordan kicked things off by attacking The Calvinist International at the Auburn Avenue conference, and I wrote a few posts on the subject, including an outline of my own debt to C.S. Lewis, and my derivative gratitude for the work of Van Til.

So the debate now continues. Peter Escalante and Steven Wedgeworth have now replied to Jim here. In addition, just as I did, Steven gives an account of his intellectual pilgrimage here. We all travel different paths, but we ascend the same mountain.

That’s what natural law leads to, right? A syncretistic swirl of paganism and Christianity, like moose tracks ice cream? The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient, that kind of thing?

Not really. I think this is a fruitful topic for debate because it concerns the nature of reality, and our access to that reality. For every Christian who lives downstream from Kant, I think this is an issue that should concern us much more than it usually does. We shouldn’t want to live in a generic universe, ruled over by the place-holder god of the secular deists, on the one hand, but on the other we must not duplicate (in our own fashion) the liberal Protestant “retreat to commitment” that Bartley dissects so ably.

So that you don’t have to read between the lines, here is my summary take on the whole thing. As far as relationships go, Jim Jordan is a friend, Peter Escalante is a friend, and Steven Wedgeworth is a friend, so that won’t help you much. I could leave it there, but as far as the substance of this discussion goes, I have much greater affinity with the outlook of The Calvinist International than I do with thoroughbred Van Tilianism. My most recent book, Against the Church, is dedicated to Peter and Steven for their work at The Calvinist International, so that should give you some idea.

One last thing. These really are crucial issues, and so as we debate them, I would urge everyone to keep a cool head. When outsiders look at us, they should think “hotbed of cool customers,” or something equivalent. I commend Peter and Steven for the measured response, and look forward to what shakes out of all this.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • caine

    Doug, I still have my dog eared copy of persuasions (the one where it was Mis-spelled on the binding). Loved it! Amazing you had not read Van Til before writing it!!

  • RFB

    I read the linked articles. I am not erudite by any creditable standard; I am treading water (and breathing hard) trying to assimilate what is posted here. The link to Messrs. Escalante and Wedgeworth left my knuckles bleeding as I ran to keep up. But it was enjoyable.

  • Mike Sweeney

    Hi Doug, is it as simple as acknowledging that classical arguments for the existence of God merely disprove atheism, but do not prove God’s existence? Had Kant considered the existence of nothing in his critique of the ontological argument, and the sense of where, “we are completely ignorant whether it is to be met within us or outside us,” we might not be having this disagreement today.

  • jay niemeyer

    I haven’t even read this blog post yet, but I hereby declare it the best of 2014 for the simple fact that the title contains both “C.S. Lewis” and “Moose Tracks”.

  • P Anselmo

    Pastor Wilson,
    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Peter E. and Stephen W. kicked things off by attacking their conception of Van Til on The Calvinist International? 
    Additionally, this fall I had a conversation with Peter E. and at the time he told me that he could “not stand Van Til”. When you say, “We all travel different paths, but we ascend the same mountain”, do you mean to associate with this sentiment upon that path?
    It is my understanding that these gentlemen do not genuinely appreciate Van Til’s presuppositionalism one bit. 

  • Douglas Wilson

    Peter . . . there are too many Peters involved in this, by the way . . . I wouldn’t think so. Within the Reformed world, Van Til is a pretty big target — OPC, Westminster, our circles, John Frame, and so on. He is so influential as to be that kind of fair game. Jim’s critique was far more specific. As for me, I am happy to be associated with Van Til in the ways I have described. In CREC circles, I think that most of our men would be “Framian,” e.g. moderated Van Tilians, but that is just a guess.

  • Dan

    Mike Sweeney, good question: “Is it as simple as acknowledging that classical arguments for the existence of God merely disprove atheism, but do not prove God’s existence?”  Personally, I prefer to assert that classical arguments do in fact prove God’s existence, but they do not lead one to believe in the triune God of the Bible.  As I have stated in prior comments, evidential apologetics can only take us so far.  It cannot (by itself) bring one from spiritual death into spiritual life (i.e. to “saving” faith).  However, evidential apologetics is still useful (and vital) for two reasons: 1) for solidifying the intellectual foundation for those already in the community of faith by demonstrating the “reasonableness” of our faith; and 2) for making the persuasive case to non-believers that they are “without excuse” if they deny God, due to the “general revelation” that they already have since they are created in God’s image.  That’s the whole point of Romans chapter 1.  But that’s where general revelation ends and where special revelation must intervene if one is to be born again.  In other words, we may deduce that God exists by our reason and by our senses, but we cannot know Him personally except by divine revelation.  We receive this revelation only through the work of divine grace and faith, as God intervenes in our lives and accommodates Himself toward us.  Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”   

  • Dan

    Mike Sweeney, I also wanted to make a point about Kant.  As brilliant as Kant was, his conclusion about not being able to “know God in Himself” is only true if one holds to “pure reason” unaffected by special revelation.  In effect, Kant’s view can be defined as “practical atheism”.  However, as a Christian, I believe God can, and does, intervene in our lives and accommodate Himself toward us through the Holy Spirit (i.e. special revelation).  Of course, Kant did not subscribe to this view.  Neither did David Hume, but for different reasons.  At least Kant accepted theism, whereas Hume did not.  But Kant’s theism was not a Biblical view of God, and thus it was inadequate in many respects.  As a Christian, I believe that even though we cannot know God exhaustively, we can still know Him truly.  But we can only know God personally as He accommodates Himself toward us, not the other way around.  So Kant had it partly right.  We cannot “know God in Himself” by plain reason (i.e. general revelation), but we can know God through the Holy Spirit and through His Word (i.e. special revelation). 

  • Steven Wedgeworth

    Pastor Wilson, 

    Thanks very much for the plug and the kind words. Speaking for myself, I am very appreciative of John Frame and find his modifications of Van Til to all be very helpful. I would have my own distinct spin on things, and I am still closer to Lewis, but I don’t have any major objection to Frame’s brand of presuppositionalism when it comes to those basis questions of metaphysics and epistemology. Frame is also certainly very supportive of common-ground interaction and meeting people where they are. 
    Of course, I think it is also important to note that Van Til is not at all identical with “Reformed Orthodoxy,” and that he was always fairly controversial when considered in light of the larger tradition (It’s just a lot of folks agreed with him in critiquing the tradition). When I was at RTS in Jackson, several of the more influential faculty were pretty open about not being Van Tillian, and one of the most beloved professors of philosophy at Belhaven College was as well. I self-identified as a Van Tillian during my studies there, but I was always accustomed to two-way criticism on that topic.

  • Mike

    Hi Dan, thanks for the response. In the spirit of my journey, over 10 years ago I began to question the historicity Jesus while thinking I could still know God through a philosophical argument. With a mind reeling, the question of my relationship to this necessary being came up and I couldn’t answer that one. After finishing my stint at the community college, I began a philosophy undergrad program at the local university and began to connect the dots with Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger. Got a few interesting looks from my professors along the way.
    God has been more than faithful to me, and I solidly base my knowing on the name of the one who did not know what it was to be alone until he became sin on our behalf.

  • Dan

    Hi Mike, thanks for sharing part of your spiritual journey!  It’s always good to hear when someone comes to know the Lord.  Godspeed, my friend.