Just a couple of weeks ago, I got a text message from a good friend of mine asking “How does a dead man respond?” Even though we both agree on the “deadness” of the unconverted, we still had an interesting back and forth. One of the text message replies he sent (and that I’ve heard him say before) is “Dead is dead.” I came across an interesting article by a fellow named Eric Sigward a little while ago. He was a student of Van Til’s and the article is entitled, “Van Til Made Me Reformed”. He was quoting Van Til in a class he had taken under him at seminary. It made me think of my friend and his statement, “Dead is dead.” I thought it was worth sharing. In the article, Mr. Sigward writes:
I remember Van Til’s class on Karl Barth. Diagrams were going up and down all over the blackboard. Pure flux and pure staticism were intertwining, interpenetrating, and coalescing. Confused students were asking questions. He used to say, “It’s okay to ask dumb questions. What use is ignorance unless it shows?” Then one day he looked at me, and I thought he was talking to me. He said,
Total depravity. That means the whole glass is poisoned. It’s not as poisoned as it could be, but it’s all poisoned. The faculties of soul are all turned against God by nature. All are poisoned by sin. Wherever there is evidence of God, which is everywhere, man will deny it. You see, God must reach down and save dead men in their trespasses and sins. You do not heal a dead man. You resurrect him. Man is not sick, not drowning, but dead. Dead is dead. You can’t throw him a rope. A dead man can’t grab anything. Your mother is dead without Christ. Your culture is dead without Christ. This is the problem with Karl Barth, there’s no space-and-time redemption by Christ. There’s no change of the unbeliever to believer. There’s no challenge to the natural man. That’s why Barth is poison. Water and sulfuric acid look the same, right? If you drink sulfuric acid, it will kill you. Barth has placed sulfuric acid in our water bottles and told us it is water. Barth has created the systematically most satanic philosophy ever devised by the mind of man. Salvation is like cleaning a bad tooth. It’s no good if your dentist tells you your tooth is okay when it’s rotten. The dentist has to go down, drill out the decay and replace it with gold. This is what salvation is.
Then one night in the library I read this passage on the Holy Spirit from The Defense of the Faith:
For this reason we must observe at this juncture that the Spirit who applies the work of Christ is himself also a member of the ontological Trinity. He would have to be. Unless he were, the work of salvation would not be the work of God alone. If God was to be maintained in his incommunicable attributes the Spirit of God, not man, had to effect the salvation of man. The only alternative to this would be that man could at some point take the initiative in the matter of his own salvation. This would imply that the salvation wrought by Christ could be frustrated by man. Suppose that none should accept the salvation offered to them. In that case the whole of Christ’s work would be in vain and the eternal God would be set at nought by temporal man. Even if we say that in the case of any one individual sinner the question of salvation is in the last analysis dependent upon man rather than upon God, that is, if we say that man can of himself accept or reject the gospel as he pleases, we have made the eternal God dependent upon man. We have then, in effect, denied the incommunicable attributes of God. If we refuse to mix the eternal and the temporal at the point of creation and at the point of the incarnation we must also refuse to mix them at the point of salvation.
It began to become clearer to me. God alone was the author and finisher of my salvation. I was by nature totally depraved. I had no natural inclination to believe in or follow God. Only the work of God’s Spirit could save me. God did this by regenerating me through his efficacious call. Faith was a gift of God. I did not believe unto regeneration. The reverse was true: God gave me his Spirit and this created faith. I was given repentance and faith. This is the order of salvation as taught by the Westminster Confession of Faith and by B. B. Warfield’s Plan of Salvation, which Van Til freely references in the introduction of The Defense of the Faith.