Daane’s Theology*

Professor Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Theological Seminary has, in his little book, The Theology of James Daane, made a most significant contribution to the cause of living orthodoxy. The Daane-Van Til controversy, having its historic origins in the question of “common grace”, has come now lo reveal itself as a controversy about the nature of divine sovereignty. That this is the kernel issue has long been suspected by many, but not until The Reformed Journal, in its issue of September 1957, published a lengthy article by Dr. Daane on “The State of Theology in the Church” has the evidence been either voluminous or so convincing.

In the first chapter Van Til gives nil extended presentation of Daane’s position as it was set forth in The Reformed Journal article referred to above. In the second he goes on to come to grips with Daane’s expressed desire for a living theology of the Word. Van Til discovers that Daane has been something less than careful to distinguish his position from a similar position held by Lutherans and Arminians. Traditionally these theological systems have maintained that Scripture can not teach God’s secret counsel and providential control of history because such control would impinge on the freedom and responsibility of men, which is also taught in Scripture, Dr. Daane is then asked to show the Church how he escapes such Arminianistic conclusions.

The third chapter begins a discussion of Daane’’ criticism of Van Til’s position concerning the Ontological Trinity as the starling point for all philosophical discussion. Daane wants 10 have a more Christological approach, and it is this desire which causes him to set the uniqueness of Christ over against the ontological trinity.

Van Til establishes, first of ail, that his position in regard to the trinity as starting point is identical with that of Berkhof and Bavinck. Then it is shown how Daane’s desire to give honor to the uniqueness of Christ causes him 10 exalt that uniqueness beyond the sovereign foreordination and control of history. We are shown that to have this unique Christ as the starting pOint must either lead one back to a more ultimate starting point in the decreeing ontological trinity or must lead one on to cut himself off from the doctrine of free. sovereign grace as it has been historically expressed in the Reformed symbols.

In the fourth chapter Van Til launches into a long and profitable discussion of divine decree, which discussion occupies the readers’ attention for the next three chapters. The first part of this discussion deals with the relation of divine sovereignty to the entrance of sin into the world. In connection with this, Van Til considers divine providence as it relates to the death of Christ and in greater detail to the question of the equal ultimacy of election and reprobation. With regard to the entrance of sin we are shown that it was inexorably certain since it was indissolubly linked with the death of Christ. Only by making man the final reference point in history and thus completely misunderstanding the nature of Adam’s freedom can we make the entrance of sin an open question.

With regard to the equal ultimacy of election and reprobation, Van Til in a masterful way shows the sense in which this doctrine is Scriptural and the sense in which it is heretical. Daane is shown to have rejected not only the heretical view but the Scriptural view as well. Van Til triumphantly confesses his personal commitment to the doctrine of reprobation and to the Scriptural sense of the equal ultimacy of election and reprobation.

This problem of equal ultimacy is next related to the infra-supra-lapsarian question. Van Til claims that only in a synthesis of the methods of infra-and supra-lapsarianism can the pitfall of synergism (the idea that man shares ultimate sovereignty with God) be avoided, and the Scriptural sense of the equal ultimacy be maintained.

In the seventh chapter Van Til develops the doctrine of divine sovereignty as it is presented by Karl Barth. This Barthian conception of sovereignty is then shown to result in a complete perversion of the doctrine of sovereign grace. Daanc is al this point asked to show wherein his own concept of sovereignty differs from that of Barth and how it escapes the result, namely, a perverted doctrine of grace.

This little volume is a model of controversial writing. It is free of rancor and sarcasm. It abounds in graciousness without being compromising. It is at once irenic and firm. Never is a position attributed to Daane which Daane has not expressly affirmed. The book is written in language that any intelligent layman can understand. The nature of its contents makes it obligatory for every consistory member, as well as every layman who wishes to be informed on the state of the church, to read this boo k carefully and thoughtfully. Daane is confronted with a number of very pointed questions. It is doubtful if the Christian Reformed denomination can long consider itself entitled to the name of Church if it does not take cognizance of these questions and seek in some way to have Dr. Daane clarify his position with respect to them. Neglect at this point can only demonstrate how far the church has already proceeded 011 the path of decadence and decay.

Earl E. Zetterholm

*The Theology of James Daane, by Cornelius Van Til. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1959. $3.00.