Van Til, Richard Brash, and the Underwater Bridge

In 2018 I was in the midst of my Ph.D. class work. I was living in FL at the time and classes were in Lynchburg, VA. I had classes in September of that year and part of my journey north included traveling through the lowlands of North Carolina just as Hurricane Matthew passed through the day before.

In the picture above you can see how high the water rose over the course of a few days. I came to several bridges like the one shown above. A couple with police telling me I couldn’t cross the bridge because it was under water. And why is that dangerous? Well because the bridge could be swept away as happened to at least one bridge on my journey, but the fact was that I could be swept away or simply get stuck in the middle of the bridge and need rescue at least for my car. So I was turned back by the police twice.

But I was not to be deterred. I kept hunting for a bridge that the police were not guarding until I found one. On both sides of the bridge cement jersey wall hemmed in the road. The water from the river had risen above the bridge and began to flood in around the ends of the jersey wall. Water was pouring onto both ends of the bridge. The only way I knew there was a bridge there was because I could see the jersey walls sticking out of the water on both side. So I pressed on. All the way across the bridge I was pushing water with the bumper of my 2007 Crown Victoria.

I had this experience two more times before I was able to get out of the lowlands. Usually when I tell this story people look at me like I was crazy, or like the risk wasn’t worth it or that I was irresponsible.

In this video Dr. Richard Brash points out and utilizes an analogy proposed by Cornelius Van Til regarding the relationship of the lost original manuscripts and the current manuscript tradition. In sum, the originals are lost to view but nevertheless support the Bible of the Church which is like an underwater bridge. You can’t see the bridge [i.e., the originals] but it is there and it supports your vehicle [i.e., the current manuscript tradition].

Given my experience with underwater bridges, I find Van Til’s analogy and Brash’s use of it inept for the circumstances touching current textual debate. In my experience the police would not allow crossing an underwater bridge because of the inherent danger. Where the police weren’t present, lines of cars would wait at the bridge wondering what to do. In one case there was a long line of cars waiting in front of what looked like minor river rapids. A semi-truck from somewhere back in the line pulled into the oncoming traffic lane and began to plow his way through the water. As soon as I saw him making a wake I pulled out of line and followed close behind. No one else moved.

The point is that people do not cross underwater bridges because they don’t trust them. In like manner, professing Christians do not trust the Bible as I pointed out in this post about the American Worldview Inventory of 2022.

One might be able to understand Van Til’s failure on this point given the influence of Scottish Common Sense Realism at his time, but Brash has no excuse. If the underwater bridge analogy is representative of anything it is representative of the Church’s distrust of Scripture and nothing more.

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