What is Chaos & Old Night?


The phrase “Chaos and old Night” originated with John Milton in his epic poem Paradise Lost.

Sonorous mettal blowing Martial sounds:
At which the universal Host upsent
A shout that tore Hells Concave, and beyond
Frighted the Reign of Chaos and old Night (Book I; line 540-544).

Milton uses the phrase, to refer to the “stuff” out of which God ordered and created the world. When Satan is cast from the realm of heaven, he falls into a dark abyss which is inside of the realm of Chaos and old Night. As Satan rallies the demonic fiends of Hell their cries shake the realm of Chaos and old Night. Milton further personifies “Chaos”, “Chance” and “old Night” as fickle and impersonal. These realms are the location of Hell and the final destiny of Satan. [See an overview of Milton's meaning. Richard Bradley, the first interpreter of Milton, in 1732 states that "Reign" here means realm.]

Cornelius Van Til, in his work “My Credo,” considered “Chaos and Old Night” to be the foundation of the worldview of all non-Christian thought. According to Van Til, it was this worldview that Paul challenged when he spoke to the Greek philosophers of the Areopagus in Acts 17.

“Chaos” and “Old Night” were their only substitutes for what Paul told them of the origin and destiny of the world. They tried various combinations of ultimate rationality (unity) and ultimate chance (diversity) in terms such as “form” and “matter” to take the place of creation and providence, but to no satisfaction. Even so, Paul could not prove to the Greeks in their sense of the word “prove,” that what they believed was foolishness and what he believed was “good sense.” Paul could not adopt the principles of the “free” first Adam to “prove” the principles of the Second Adam. Paul recognized, as did his Greek audience, that his ideas were, all of them, foolishness to the non-Christian mind (Jerusalem and Athens, 5).

For Van Til there are only two worldview options: the worlviews of Chaos and Old Night or the worldview of the Christian God of the Scriptures.

As one probably has gathered by now, this blog aims to engage the worldviews of Chaos and Old Night and show that without the God of the Scriptures, there can be no meaning, rationality or knowledge. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul says:

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ . . .

Paul employs military language when he describes one of the aspects of his ministry among the Corinthians. Paul’s aim was to destroy every type of thinking which raises itself up against the knowledge of God. According to Paul elsewhere, all men raise these contrary thoughts against the knowledge of God because man considers himself autonomous, resulting in his allegiance to Satan and his kingdom (cf. Romans 1:18-3:20; Ephes. 2:1-3). All thinking, which is not according to the gospel, is contrary to the knowledge of God. Paul recognizes the fallacy in a belief of “neutrality.” For Paul, one is either on the side of God and his Christ or he is against them. Therefore this blog maintains that all other worldviews are antithetical or in conflict with the Christian worldview. Furthermore all other worldviews align themselves with chaos and old night because they fail to bring their thinking into submission to the Triune God and His Christ.

Therefore we see the necessity to enter into theological conversations with those both from within and from without the Church. While the church has compromised on critical doctrines such as the authority, inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the penal substitutionary atonement, the exclusivity of salvation in Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity (to name a few), those outside the church have attacked the Christian faith with arguments from the problem of evil, alleged contradictions in Scripture, the historical unreliability of Scripture, etc. In some cases the church’s arguments for these doctrines are not sufficient for the defense of the Christian worldview. It is with this in mind that we invite you, whether you consider yourself Christian or non-Christian, to compare the Christian worldview with all others and see if every thought can be taken captive to the obedience of Christ. We look forward to the dialogue. Post early and often!

       – John & John

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4 Responses to What is Chaos & Old Night?

  1. This sounds like a great launch pad for discussion. One question, though: you say, “In some cases the church’s arguments for these doctrines are not sufficient for the defense of the Christian worldview.” Do you allow for the possibility that perhaps a particular component of our worldview may be the culprit? I might be out of my philosophical league, but it seems as though my epistemological foundation is Christ, not my worldview. Nobody has the perfect Christian worldview. The Church is filled with myriad Christian worldviews, all of which are striving to more closely resemble the mind of God.

  2. Fraiser says:

    N.C.,
    The components of a worldview encompasses foundational beliefs as well as consequential beliefs. So this would mean that Christ can be the foundation within a worldview. What I mean by the Christian worldview is not necessarily everything that is included in my total worldview. For example, I’m a capitalist and a fiscal conservative but I don’t count that as a necessary component of the Christian worldview. But I do take it that any truly Christian worldview must include certain components such as the doctrine of the Trinity, justification by grace through faith alone, the authority of Scripture, too name a few, while not including all the nuances of my particular worldview. But I take that while no two worldviews are identical, there is some worldview that God commands us to have and that through faith we can know it, and therefore we can speak of this as the Christian worldview. There is commonality even between worldviews that are not alike in every way. Though I don’t have the perfect Christian worldview myself, it is only because I’m sure I’m wrong I just don’t know about what exactly (Otherwise, I’d change). While Christian worldviews won’t be perfect on earth, the new kingdom has already come and believers have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). Not knowing all does not mean not knowing at all. As to the myriad of Christian worldviews which are striving to resemble the mind of God, I can only think that some of them strive in vain. I can’t buy into the non-foundationalist conclusion of some that the standard for knowledge is that one’s Christian beliefs cohere, because I don’t see that this is the standard that God will hold us to. So while Christ may be one’s epistemological foundation, we still have to ask Christ who? Who is he? What did he do? What does it mean to have him as a foundation? Why Christ?, etc. And at the point we ask these kind of questions we’re past our knees in worldview issues.
    Thank you for helping me clarify what I mean by this.

  3. Owen says:

    “Chaos and Old Night” comes originally from Hesiod, and it is to that that Van Til makes reference. The Milton reference wouldn’t make any sense in the context of Van Til’s position in general.

    -N

  4. Pingback: It’s Never Been About Civil Rights | The Heidelblog

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