BUY THIS BOOK, BUT BEWARE! It is a gross misrepresentation of Scripture and of classical reformed theology. So buy it, but read it in conjunction with this review, and you will be all the better to arm yourself against errors in Theology and Apologetics.
Fesko's book in its overall purpose and design is destructive to sound doctrine and a complete misrepresentation of Scripture, Calvin, the Reformed Confessions, the Puritans, Turretin, and classical Reformed theology. In every chapter Fesko exaggerates and misrepresents the role and importance of "the light of nature, common grace, common notions, natural law, and theistic proofs" in the teaching of Scripture, the Reformers, and the Puritans in order to promote his own soft, effeminate, minimalist, and unscriptural, unreformed view of apologetics. He essentially denies the authority and sufficiency of Scripture by an absurd and ungodly reverence for what he labels "the book of nature." Reformed Apologetics is very simple. We are to preach Christ and defend the truth of God from Scripture as our authority, and all use of evidence or proofs are to be presented with faith, reverence, and obedience to God and His Word: Paul says in Rom.1 that natural revelation (and common grace, common notions, the light of nature, natural law, etc...) leaves all men in bondage to sin and idolatry, guilty before God, and without excuse. And 2 Tim.3:16-17 he says that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is therefore profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished for every good work.” In other words, “the light of nature, common notions, natural law, or common grace” has no authority or consequence when it comes to Apologetics apart from Scripture and the preaching of Christ. Apologetics, which is the defense of the Faith, is a part of Christian Theology and the ministry of the Word. Fesko’s view of Apologetics as stated in this book is completely bankrupt and subversive to Scripture and Biblical and Reformed doctrine!
Throughout his book Fesko confuses at times "the light of nature, common notions, common grace, natural theology, etc." with natural revelation. In so doing he mutilates classical reformed theology and ascribes to the so-called "book of nature" what Scripture often condemns as "sin, vanity, idolatry, false religion, science falsely so-called, the works of the flesh, the old man, the works of the devil, and antichrist." Fesko seems to argue in his book that "the book of nature" (which he speaks of constantly with an absurd and ungodly reverence) has the same authority as Holy Scripture; when in fact Scripture is the alone rule of faith and conduct, by which we glorify and enjoy God, as well as "the spectacles by which we are to interpret all things," as Calvin rightly says in his Institutes. The Bible is also the alone inerrant and infallible rule for apologetics! 2 Tim.3:16-17 and every one of the Reformed Confessions! To be sure, the first sentence of Fesko's introduction is entirely ungodly and perverse, being subversive to the authority of Scripture. He states, "The divine library consists of two beautiful books, the book of nature and the book of Scripture." That is not the testimony of Scripture or the Reformed Confessions. Fesko is entirely outside the pale of Reformed theology with such a profane and misguided statement. Scripture alone is the library of the Holy Spirit, and the infallible rule of faith and conduct.
And so contrary to the advertisement given, Fesko's book is not "a detailed exegetical, theological, and historical argument that takes as its starting point the classical Reformed understanding of the "two books of God's revelation: nature and Scripture." Nor does it at all "teach believers to always rest on the authority of Scripture but also appeal to the book of nature in the apologetic task." In fact, the book completely undermines the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in Theology and apologetics. And it doesn't even show anywhere how to properly use Scripture in defending the faith, or how to properly use the evidence in "nature" and theistic proofs under the authority of Scripture in defending the faith. ZERO! The book is just a misguided critique of Van Til and presuppositional apologetics and a gross misrepresentation of Calvin, the Puritans, and classical reformed theology.
There are 20 points presented here that easily dismantles Fesko’s misguided view of Apologetics. I could list many more.
1. While some of Fesko's observations are correct in relation to Van Til's blind spots, his overall purpose in the book and his conclusions are absurd and even profane, especially in the last chapter when he denies that there is a comprehensive Christian or Reformed world and life view. This is the greatest overall evil of the book. Fesko doesn't at all understand the all-encompassing role of Scripture, Theology, or the Reformed Confessions. Evidently he doesn't even understand the overall purpose of the Book of Romans, Paul's treatise on the righteousness of God, where Paul vindicates God's saving purposes in the world, the claims of Christ's Lordship over all things, and the duty of preaching of the Gospel against paganism, unbelief and false religion Rom.1-3, (i.e. "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ"). Paul lays out in his letter a platform for godly reformation in every aspect of life and thought! How can Fesko not see this??? The same comprehensive Reformed world and life view can be found in Ephesians, Paul's treatise on the fullness of the glory of Christ and the claims of His Lordship over all of life and thought! To provide a comprehensive world and life view is the very design of the Canon of Scripture, and also of the Reformed Confessions, including and especially the WCF! Fesko's overarching purpose in the book is not only wrong-headed, but profane. It is a subtle attack against the very purpose of Scripture as CANON of divine truth, and of the Reformed Confessions!
2. Fesko in his book shows no godly sense or understanding of the purpose and scope of Scripture, or of Reformed theology, nor of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture for apologetics, or the depravity of man, the bankruptcy of pagan thought and false religion, the transforming power of the Gospel in history, the resurrection glory and Lordship of Jesus Christ, the historic role and purpose of the Reformed Confessions, the need for the faithful preaching of the Gospel, or the godly pursuit of Biblical reformation in the church and the nation. The book actually shows the evil influence of Escondido two-kingdom Antinomian Theology as described and aptly refuted by John Frame in his book Escondido Theology. I would even take John's critique of the Escondido theology much further, because it is anti-Puritan and a complete dishonor to the divine glory and Lordship of Jesus Christ.
3. Fesko's book is not classic reformed theology at all. It is a misrepresentation of classical reformed theology; as well as bad scholarship, cowardice in Christian leadership, and false humility borne out of a compromise with secularism, political correctness, modern philosophy and worldliness! Fesko totally misrepresents Burgess, Calvin, the Puritans and the WCF, as well as Van Til. And it is beyond annoying, it is infuriating. The fact is, Calvin wrote the Institutes as a defense of the Reformed faith and dedicated it to the king of France for the sake of reforming the church and state of France? It was intended as a comprehensive world and life view! The Westminster Assembly was moreover convened by the English Parliament to reform the church and state of England, and the Westminster Standards were documents outlining a comprehensive Christian and Reformed "world and life view!" Even the Lutheran Augsburg Confession was designed to unify the German princes on the platform of a Protestant world and life view. That is the nature of Theology and of Reformation. Fesko's thesis is entirely contrary to the WCF and the pursuit of reformation! It is in fact contrary to his very position and office as academic dean at Westminster Seminary! Maybe he should be replaced until he learns the basic purpose of Scripture and of Reformed Theology.
Fesko's distaste for a Christian world and life view shows a gross ignorance of the purpose of Scripture and of the Reformed confessions. The origins of HWT in the 18th century was a corruption of the truth derived from the formulation of the dogmatic theology of the 16th and 17th century, (Reformed Orthodoxy) not the other way around; just as pagan sacrifice in the ancient world was a corruption of the truth derived from God's instituted ordinance of sacrificial offerings first revealed in Gen.3. Fesko's view of the history of theology and philosophy is very much backward and distorted. The idolatry and false religion of HWT was a corruption of the whole design of the Reformed Confessions, which sought to provide not only a systematic theology, but a comprehensive world and life view in opposition to Roman Catholicism, Socinianism, Anabaptist theology as well as every form of false religion...Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism , etc...! REFORMED THEOLOGY was the light of the nations in the 16th and 17th century! For not only the church and ministry, but for government and society as well! DUH! It is truly embarrassing that a reformed scholar of Fesko's stature doesn't know this, or worse that he would deny this.
4. By the general argument of the book, Fesko makes himself out to be a preacher and promoter of mere "common grace" and "natural theology" to the neglect of Scripture, the Gospel, the glory of Jesus Christ, and the godly pursuit of reformation. I wonder why he doesn't see this? There is nothing of Christ and the Gospel in the whole book. The book is a subtle denial of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, the Lordship of Christ, the transforming power of the Gospel, the abiding validity of the Law of God, and the need and necessity of Biblical reformation in the church, politics, government, law, society, culture, technology, education, etc.. on the basis of a false and misguided view of "common notions and the light of nature." Fesko's view of "common notions" in fact implies a willingness to tolerate false doctrine, Roman Catholic idolatry, Neo-Orthodoxy, and all the moral depravity in the modern world that is today promoted under the guise of "common notions." For truly, what are "commonly held notions" in American culture today are blasphemous, wicked, morally depraved notions, and works of the Devil according to Scripture. Just look at the demonic party of the left and 50% of the electorate! "Common notions" and "natural theology" according to Fesko are in fact the very works of the Devil in the world today. He evidently doesn't see this, which shows a gross lack of spiritual discernment. I don't believe Fesko understands at all the doctrine of total depravity, nor is aware of the evil influence of the demonic forces of false religion in the world.
5. While some of Fesko's observations and corrections of James Orr, Abraham Kuyper, and Cornelius Van Til are right, (which have already been pointed out by John Frame, Greg Bahnsen, and many others including myself years ago), Fesko misrepresents Van Til in a grand way. Van Til never denies the use of evidence or of theistic proofs or of common grace. Van Til wasn't always clear in his statements. And he at times exaggerated. But he believed evidence was important and necessary, and that proofs for the existence of God were also useful as long as they were properly used and formulated under the authority of Scripture and with the design of preaching Christ and defending the true and living God. Neutrality is a myth! And evidences are useless apart from Scripture and the Gospel! Fesko begrudgingly concedes this of Van Til on pg.95. But Fesko doesn't at all understand the implications of this for reforming apologetics. He is blinded by his misguided and ungodly reverence for "the book of nature." The fact is "nature," or as Paul says, "all of creation is subjected to vanity." Van Til's formulation of apologetical method, though certainly not without errors, was of monumental importance. He returned apologetics back to Calvin, the Puritans, and the Reformed Confessions; and he even went further in expounding on the necessity of defending the Gospel from Scripture without compromising with modern thought! Van Til made clear in the 20th century what was the fundamental conviction of Calvin and the Puritans. Those who deny this are deceived! 2 Tim.3:16-17 should be clear! Of course, Van Til wasn't a NT scholar or a preacher, and he was given to exaggeration and philosophical verbiage at times because of his idealism. But he rightly saw and exposed the corrupting influence of Arminianism and Roman Catholic views of natural law on theology and modern apologetical method as well as the exaggerated use of "the light of nature, common notions, common grace, natural law, etc.." in the Princeton theologians and others. Thankfully, Van Til's insights on apologetical method have been perfected by others after him. But Van Til followed Calvin and the Puritans and the WCF. Fesko is the one who has deviated from Scripture and the Reformed Confessions, and he has done so in a monumental way. It may be worth stating here that I have 5 unpublished books myself on Apologetics (taken from over 150 sermons and lectures) that includes extensive Scriptural argument from the OT and the NT on apologetical method, the faithful preaching of the Gospel, as well as the use of evidence and proofs. See Emmanuelgrace.org and the tab on Apologetics.
6. Fesko's arguments about "the light of nature and common notions" do not contribute to reforming apologetics. No, in fact, they deform Biblical apologetics by exaggerating the role and importance of "the light of nature, common notions, common grace, etc..." in Theology! There seems to me to be an intrinsic dualism to Fesko's theology here that he is unwilling to admit, (nature-grace... natural theology-revealed theology) that is not in Calvin, the Puritans, the WC, Turretin, or classic reformed theology. I believe Fesko is grossly misrepresenting Calvin and the Puritans by taking their words out of context from their greater argument with respect to the doctrine of revelation as well as other important truths such as the sinfulness of sin, the universal guilt and depravity of man, and the bondage of the will. Fesko's line of argument is in line at times with Aquinas and "the vomit of Rome" as well as the misguided views of Sproul. There is also in Fesko's argument a strain of the Escondido two-kingdom theology found in Kline, Horton and others who accommodate the truth of God to post-enlightenment philosophical influences as well as Neo-Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Broad Evangelicalism, Antinomianism, modern feminism, and political correctness. Their view of total depravity is not Scriptural, as their view of common notions and natural law is not Scriptural. They falsely try to build a tower of Babel called "the light of nature, common notions, or natural theology" for apologetics to stand on instead of laying the foundation properly on Jesus Christ and the Word of God, Mt.7:24-27; 1 Cor.3:10-11; 2 Tim.3:16-17! The WCF therefore rightly states, "Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation." Scripture and divine revelation are necessary! Why? Because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness."
7. Fesko's misguided views on Apologetics are further evident in the fact that there is nowhere in the book where he explains, expounds, or preaches the Gospel at all, or outlines from Scripture a defense of the Reformed faith. How is that in any way a reforming of apologetics? It is not! It is a deforming of apologetics and the Reformed confessions in a very ungodly way. In fact, there is a gross absence of Scripture throughout the book, and a gross absence of the Gospel. He doesn't quote Scripture at all. He doesn't preach Christ at all! Calvin rightly said, "Christ is to have the preeminence in the ministry of the word or we will miserably go astray in darkness." Luther also said, "A theology that doesn't preach Christ and the Gospel is of the Devil." Maybe Fesko should have thought about this before writing such a misguided book. Try reading Mt.28; Acts 1:8, Peter and Paul's apologetical addresses in the book of Acts, Stephen's defense of the faith in Acts 7, or Rom.1:16-18, 1 Cor.1:17-31; Eph.3; Col.1:28-29; 2 Tim.4:1-5, and a hundred other passages from Scripture. Fesko mutilates the work of Apologetics by exaggerating the use of common notions and completely ignoring the Gospel. It should be apparent to any honest Christian and scholar that he miserably goes astray, just as Calvin warned. Fesko's book is just a bad and misguided work on historical theology. But it does show us how some so-called Reformed scholars like Fesko (as well as others) can be grossly misguided. And Fesko doesn't even mention 1 Peter 3:15, one of the classic passages on apologetics, until the very end of the book. And he doesn't even try to expound on it. How stupid can that be? The book is said to be about "Reforming Apologetics." NO! Fesko's book is a complete misrepresentation of Biblical and Reformed Apologetics. You would think he would have the integrity of including a chapter on the Gospel and the defense of the faith and try showing how his understanding of "the light of nature and common notions" relates to preaching and the ministry of the Word. But no! Nothing! Just a worthless academic monograph completely devoid of Christ and the Gospel.
Not only that but he doesn't expound at all on Paul's defense of the faith in his letters at all. There is in fact no defense of the Christian or Reformed faith in the book whatsoever! No summary of the Gospel or of Reformed doctrine as the form and pattern of sound words in the defense of the Faith. The entire book is just a misrepresentation of the role of "the light of nature, common notions, common grace, natural law, etc..." Once again, Fesko has an absurd and ungodly reverence for this so-called "book of nature" that is not in Scripture or in the Reformed confessions. In fact, there is nowhere in Scripture where you can find the phrase, "the book of nature." By using such a phrase, and ascribing divine perfections to it, Fesko and others like him, completely undermine the authority of Holy Scripture. For the Bible is alone "the book of God" and "the divine library." The Holy Scriptures are the rule of faith and conduct for everything. Fesko's view of apologetics is garbage! It is destructive to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, to Reformed theology, and also the faithful preaching of the Word of God.
This is part 1 of a 4 part review.
Brett Woody, Pastor-Teacher
Emmanuel Grace Church
- Paperback: 274 pages
- Publisher: Baker Academic (19 March 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801098904
- ISBN-13: 978-0801098901
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.7 x 22.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 376 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)