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The Thought of Cornelius Van Til
John M. Frame
Why Study Van Til? A. Frame: “the most important Christian thinker since Calvin.” Because he cogently argues the biblical teaching that God is Lord of all human thought as well as human life. 1. Compare Kant, who made all reality conform to the human mind (illustration of the intelligent jelly jars). 2. Van Til, just as comprehensively, insists that reality must conform to the mind of God. B. Much theological insight. C. A powerful apologetic method. D. Van Til’s thought requires comprehensive critical analysis. 1. “Analysis” a. Interpreting. b. Understanding how it fits together. 2. “Criticism” a. Recognizing that Van Til is a fallible human being. b. Sorting out the good from the bad, so that we can build on the good. 3. “Comprehensive:” trying to discuss and tie together all the major elements of Van Til’s thought. 4. Often difficult to read and interpret. a. Homey illustrations, vivid language—but these can lead readers prematurely to think they have understood Van Til. b. Much of Van Til presupposes some knowledge of philosophy and theology. 5. Many published interpretations are not adequate. a. Many studies sympathetic and useful, but not analytical: Rushdoony, Pratt, Marston. b. Some analyses useful, but not critical: Notaro, North’s Foundations (for the most part). c. Many studies seek to debunk, but don’t get it right: Buswell, Daane, Montgomery, Pinnock, Robbins, Crampton, Sproul, Berkouwer, McGrath. d. Some studies are sympathetic, and occasionally critical, but not comprehensive: i. Weaver and Lewis in Jerusalem and Athens. (Knudsen’s article should perhaps be included in this list, but I don’t find it very useful.) ii. North, Dominion and Common Grace.
2 Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic. This book is quite thorough in its analysis (not critical, for the most part) of Van Til’s apologetic, but it is sketchy in dealing with other areas of Van Til’s thought. e. Movement thinkers: Halsey, Horner, Karlberg, White, Bahnsen (to some extent), reflecting a duality in Van Til’s own work. i. Van Til was both a creative scholar and a movement leader. ii. He often saw the Reformed Faith as antithetical to other forms of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Arminianism. 6. Spiritual Benefit (My Testimony) a. My guide through philosophy studies in college and grad school: Van Til showed me that Scripture, which presents the gospel of salvation, also presents metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. b. At seminary: some problems of communication and with movement mentality. II. Major Themes of Van Til’s Thought A. All human thought and life governed by presuppositions. 1. Ultimate presuppositions serve as criteria of truth and right. 2. The Christian presupposes the truth of the Word of God. 3. The non-Christian presupposes that God’s Word is not true; but he cannot presuppose that consistently, so he regularly depends on Christian presuppositions in practical life (“borrowed capital”). 4. Human thought is part of life: epistemology is part of ethics. So thought too is governed by presuppositions. B. Only Christian presuppositions yield an intelligible, meaningful, account of reality. (“The Metaphysics of Knowledge”) 1. God is the creator of the world and of the human mind, so all intelligibility is due to him. He is the author of all truth, wisdom, and knowledge. 2. The most important thing about any fact is its relation to God. To deny that relationship inevitably introduces distortion. 3. Without God no predication is possible: there is no way to attach a predicate to a subject. a. For predication, you need real subjects (particulars, facts), intelligibly related to one another. b. Real predicates (universals, concepts, laws, logic) universally applicable. No chance. c. Intelligible relations between them. d. A human mind capable of making these connections. e. Else, you cannot attach particulars to universals, facts to logic. i. “Trying to put beads on a string with no holes in the beads.” iii.
3 A “turnpike in the sky.” “Sword in the sky.” An “engine without an airplane.” A “revolving door in a void, moving from nowhere to nowhere.” “A rock in an endless ocean.” iii. Aristotle’s infima species: how do you characterize what is most particular, and therefore different from anything else? No universal can apply to it entirely, let it lose its individuality. But then the particular is unrelated to anything else, unknowable, and therefore, in effect, nothing. Pure unity cannot be related to pure diversity. e. “The one and the many.” 4. Unbelief results from ignoring and suppressing clear revelation, an irrational stance (Rom. 1:18-21). 5. Denying God leads to distortions in every area of thought and life. 6. Christianity provides a structure for intelligible predication: a. The Trinity as the ground for unity between particulars and universals. b. God’s eternal plan, by which nature and history form an intelligible whole. c. Revelation as a reliable means of knowledge. d. Mysteries: acceptable, since we don’t need to resolve all of them to have true knowledge. C. The Noetic Effects of Sin (“The Ethics of Knowledge”) 1. The unbeliever knows God, but suppresses this truth (Rom. 1:1832). 2. In terms of his system, he sees everything wrongly: yellow glasses cemented to his face. “All is yellow to the jaundiced eye.” “The man made of water trying to climb out of the water on a ladder of water.” 3. But he sometimes uses and speaks truth by borrowed capital. 4. Between a consistent non-Christian world view and a consistently Christian world view, there is antithesis. The wisdom of the world, versus the wisdom of God. Like a buzz-saw set in the wrong direction. 5. But of course neither Christians nor non-Christians are fully consistent in this life. D. Apologetics 1. The “traditional method” a. Parts (i) theistic proofs (ii) evidences of Christianity b. Assumption: that evidence is intelligible apart from God, and thus may be used to prove God without assuming him. 2. Van Til’s method a. Even the evidence we use in proving Christianity is unintelligible apart from the presupposition of Christian theism. No “brute facts.” ii.
Since the Christian revelation is a presupposition. ii. History of philosophy b. Modern secularism c. but governed by the Christian presupposition. iii. The argument must be transcendental: i. Van Til’s Life (1895-1987) A. d. Earned his Ph. Married Rena Klooster. Earl. it cannot be proved as we prove other things. under supervision of Caspar Wistar Hodge. meaningful view of reality. Transferred to Princeton Theological Seminary and simultaneously took doctoral studies in philosophy at Princeton University. 1905. i. D. Catholic. But all systems of thought are circular when they try to establish the truth of their fundamental presuppositions. 1. M. (C) We defend the use of logic by reasoning logically. MI. . Van Til’s Critical Use of His Method a. Show the “impossibility of the contrary:” that the denial of Christianity is unintelligible and leads to meaninglessness and chaos in all of life. in 1927 with dissertation. and one year at Calvin Theological Seminary. Holland. So adequate flooring presupposes beams. Show that the Christian presupposition leads to an intellgible. college. in 1925. Barth and Brunner g. 3. e. 1925. (B) The empiricist must establish the authority of sense experience ultimately through sense experience. Use of evidence: useful. c. 1927-29. (A) The rationalist must establish the authority of reason by an argument that is rational. Parents dairy farmers in Grootegast. Pastor.4 b. F. 2. Circularity? Yes. went to CRC prep school. Christian Reformed Church at Spring Lake. They had one son. Only the Christian circle is intelligible on its own terms. but unless the beams were there. I couldn’t walk on it. D. Evangelicalism (i) Inadequate apologetic methods (ii) Arminian theology III. Earned Th. Philosophy of science d. B. IN. Illustration: I can’t see the beams under the floor. Family emigrated to Highland. Joined Christian Reformed Church. Jewish) f. in a sense. E. Liberal Theology (Protestant. “God and the Absolute” under supervision of Archibald Allan Bowman. C. Roman Catholic Theology e. ii.
” 3. a. because it was usually thought of as a religiously neutral discipline. b. Disparaged apologetics to some extent. his bodily resurrection. 4. and his literal second coming are all human “theories” and need not be believed by candidates seeking the ministerial office.” later “The Orthodox Presbyterian Church. b. biblical theology. The Clark Controversy (to be discussed later). The Orthodox Presbyterian Church 1.300 ministers sign Auburn Affirmation. After repeated urgings.” “two kinds of people” e. but followed in some measure the “traditional” apologetic. great dogmatican. J. the virgin birth of Christ. Influences A. 3. American Presbyterian Theology 1. Founded by J. He and others founded a new denomination. continued teaching occasionally until 1979. Van Til joined the new faculty in 1929. 1. 2. Van Til remained as Professor of Apologetics until his retirement in 1972. f. Machen was suspended from the ministry for disobeying a General Assembly mandate to resign from an independent mission board he had founded to send orthodox missionaries abroad. Dutch theology 1. At Calvin: Samuel Volbeda. Did not want to cooperate with the reorganization of PTS to reflect “all points of view within the church” including Auburn Affirmationists. Gresham Machen (Christianity and Liberalism) as an alternative to reorganized Princeton. humble believer. 1928-29. Westminster Theological Seminary 1. Declines chair of apologetics. I. Affirmation states that biblical inspiration. 2. Wanted to return to the pastorate. 2. K. Out of sympathy with Machen. Louis Berkhof. Christ is Lord over all areas of human life. Lectures on Calvinism d. Abraham Kuyper a. B. Geerhardus Vos.5 G. his substitutionary atonement. Warfield: emphasized that Christianity was rationally defensible. Herman Bavinck. Van Til left the CRC to join the OPC. “Two kinds of science. B. Took leave of absence to teach apologetics at Princeton Seminary. 2. H. “This is mine. and remained therein until his death.” c. . originally called “The Presbyterian Church of America. 1924: 1. Renaissance man. Common Grace 3. IV. B.
9. who later taught Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff. . 1955. Calvin College. Christianity and Conflict. One of his best summaries of his approach. 7. C. He used this syllabus to introduce his apologetic to first-year seminarians. Brightman). Publications (not exhaustive) A.-level courses. 1969. a concise summary of his position (especially the “Credo”) 6. J. 4. Often followed the apologetic tradition. 5. without methodological anxiety. Christianity and Liberalism. Includes much of #1. Texts on Apologetics 1. Henry Jellema. Van Til’s published exposition of his method. 3. Still perhaps the best introduction. V. Some articles are critiques of Van Til. Introduction to Warfield. A Survey of Christian Epistemology (1969). S. M. James Orr: Scottish theologian-apologist who uses idealisttranscendental approach in The Christian View of God and the World. 1963. Theological orthodoxy necessary for theological coherence. 3. Van Til shows how he would interact in dialogue with a modern secularist.6 2. especially epistemology. and to some of them Van Til replies. the second syllabus Van Til used in the first-year course. 3. like Borden Bowne. Idealism a. on history of apologetics. “unpublished” syllabus. W. Why I Believe in God. 8. Bernard Bosanquet: English Idealist who emphasized that all human thought depends on presuppositions. ii. Jerusalem and Athens (1971). 4. Christian Apologetics. little about Anglo-American philosophical analysis. The Defense of the Faith. A. Princeton University (personalist. Used in his Th. E. But highly antithetical: i. 2. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (1948). Philosophical 1. Van Til knew much about continental phenomenology and existentialism. Bowman. William Brenton Greene: one of Van Til’s chief examples of “traditional” apologetics. brief pamphlet. with additional material that is sometimes distracting. Interacts with the history of philosophy. A Christian Theory of Knowledge. b. A. Gresham Machen a. Festschrift. 2. syllabus (1962-69). His old Metaphysics of Apologetics syllabus. 1968. The Defense of Christianity and My Credo (1971). b.
12. Exposes the Barthianism of the new confession adopted by the Presbyterian Church. and sufficient. D. The New Synthesis Theology of the Netherlands. his most extensive critique of David Hume and Joseph Butler. Graham. Theological Subjects 1. Van Til strongly advocated Christian schools. Tillich. Vs. Van Til’s first published book. A. D. Christianity and Idealism (1955). C. Christian-Theistic Evidences (1976). essays and reviews. Ebeling. 2. Doctrine of Scripture and Doctrine of God. The Confession of 1967 (1967). 13. Van Buren). The Triumph of Grace (1958). the “God is dead” fad (Altizer. 3. Pannenberg. The Great Debate Today (1971). clear. Von Balthasar. Syllabus for Van Til’s ethics course. authoritative. The Case for Calvinism (1964): critique of the Westminster Press “case” books of Hordern. The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture (1967). Christian-Theistic Ethics (1971). Christ and the Jews (1968). Henry. Fuchs. Moltmann. S. “Nature and Scripture” in Stonehouse and Woolley. Maintains that both natural and special revelation are necessary. Other Subjects 1. 3. An Introduction to Systematic Theology (1974). 9. and Carnell. Mostly Carnell.7 10. Barth. others. Ramm. 11. The Theology of James Daane (1959). 14. 74). Modern Theology 1. Schleiermacher. Title derivative of Machen’s Christianity and Barthianism. Is God Dead? (1966). 10. The Infallible Word. The New Modernism (1946). Kung. Essays and reviews. Christianity in Modern Theology (1955). History of philosophy. de Wolf. 7. 2. Kant. 4. 2. The New Evangelicalism (1960). 6. Ritchl. Herman Dooyeweerd and Reformed Apologetics (1972. Maritain. Common Grace and the Gospel (1972). Attacked Barth and Brunner. . Who Do You Say That I Am? (1975). Van Til’s second book on Barth. Notes on Roman Catholicism (N.). The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought (1971). 11. scholastic theology. 5. 8. Christianity and Barthianism (1962). Essays on Christian Education (1974). U. Van Til taught the first course in systematics. 3. modern thought. The syllabus for his second-year “evidences” course. using this syllabus. The New Hermeneutic (1974). Hamilton. also some modern philosophers of science. 4. other theologians. 13. 12. Martin Buber on the background of Philo Judaeus. B.
Epistemology is ethical: following divine norms. our acts are “representational” of one another. the primacy of the impersonal in non-Christian thought. Sermons and addresses. b. Observations (JF) (i) We should make more of this personalism than Van Til himself did. chance. it cannot make choices to bring things about). a. (A) Only biblical religion presents a God who is both absolute and personal. The Metaphysics of Knowledge A. a. d. Close relations: each presupposes the others. But sin is not mere finitude. and it is an element of metaphysics. . b. The creator-creature distinction is fundamental to a sound metaphysics. self-sufficient. which we learn in Scripture. (B) A non-absolute person cannot account for reality. and the remedy is not infinitude. Doctrine of God 1. Absolute personality a. implying that he is a larger creation).e. Rather. Surprising agreement with secular psychologists. All of God’s attributes are self-existent. 3. absolute.” b. (C) An impersonal absolute cannot be sovereign (i. b. Metaphysics. “Absolute”—see above. (i) Simplicity: his attributes are perspectives on his whole being. Epistemology and Ethics 1. Nor from mere negation (which leads to emptiness). In the Trinity and in man.” (i) Since the actions of persons affect other persons. a. God subject to impersonal law. 5. eternal. 2. Epistemology presupposes a “metaphysics of knowledge. Fullness. but critical. Self-contained: ase.. (ii) Vs. His nature not derived from mere eminence (ascribing to God more than the creation. self-sufficient. 2. self-existent. V. c. “completely personal relationship without residue. The God of Hope (1978). we must begin from God’s revelation of his nature. Psychology of Religion (1971). But we should distinguish ethics from metaphysics (sin from finitude).8 4. B. 3. Sin presupposes metaphysics. c. (ii) Eminence and negation help us apply biblical teachings: as our knowledge of space and time help us to understand something of God’s transcendence of them. His last book.
“The Spirit of God in the OT” (Biblical and Theological Studies. without specifying a particular person of the Trinity. the idea that God and the world are mutually dependent. (B) If God is wholly other. love) (C) If God is wholly other. (e. but can be defined only relative to the world.” . But he only admits to “apparent” contradiction. The Trinity a. it in fact makes him relative to the world. rather than impersonal.” (2) God has one essence.9 (D) An impersonal absolute cannot account for rationality. moral value. on this view.” requiring the plurality of the world to supplement it. b.g. then he cannot define himself. he cannot provide a basis for the rational and moral order of the world. Though this concept emphasizes divine transcendence.. Follows the Catholic and Reformed confessions (i) Three persons. Is it heretical to believe that these are not the whole truth? (iv) If VT’s formulation logically contradictory? (A) Clark and Robbins thought that Van Til embraced contradiction. (A) Our only knowledge of the wholly other can come through human language which. (b) Warfield. but he is autotheos (Calvin). Three Persons and One Person (i) VT: the traditional doctrine (three persons in one substance) is “not the whole truth of the matter. causality. (a) Scripture represents God as acting personally. (ii) Gordon Clark. 4.” rather than as a personal absolute. John Robbins: “a radically new heresy. (B) Clark and Robbins do not consider VT’s argument: (1) “Each of the persons of the Godhead is co-terminous with the being of the Godhead. (i) Both Sabellianism and Arianism see God as a “bare unity. the whole Godhead is also one person. which must be personal. can only refer to the world. (ii) The Son’s deity is not derived from the Father.” (iii) But VT affirms the confessional statements.” In a sense. logic. (ii) Like the concept of God as “wholly other. one substance. But then our working concept of God becomes a mere extension of the world. 153): for the OT it is important that people know that God is “one person. Heresies about the Trinity stem from correlativism. c.
individuals. (B) And if every particular is defined by universals. (A) But if every universal is relative to particulars. we are sometimes free from causal sequences within the finite world.) . either. 1985). except by means of particularities. He says that so far as the Greek language is concerned. the church could have said that God had three ousiai and one hypostasis. are not universal. God has exhaustive knowledge of the world. and of his world. 52-53. (B) The world is made in his likeness. so whence comes universality? (iv) So there are no pure particulars or pure universals. without uniting them by universal terms. d. many and one. (D) Scripture itself fails to give a precise distinction between essence and person in God. (Importance of VT’s two-level metaphysics. exists: (i) Because God’s sovereignty is personal. Human freedom. (A) God is both perfectly particular and perfectly universal. nevertheless. it requires further explanation. (ii) Because. pp. So they cannot explain all particularities. b. But only if he affirmed this would his formulation be contradictory. both of himself. The Latins. (C) The correlativity of one and many in the world is like the correlativity of these in God. Clark admits this in The Trinity (Trinity Foundation. hence there is mystery. how can it be distinguished from them so as to be explained by them? (v) VT: the Trinity explains this situation. without difference in meaning. 5. it calls us to trust that he has a perfect understanding. rather than impersonal. Divine Sovereignty a. The Trinity and the One-and-Many (i) We cannot identify particulars and distinguish them from one another. But particularities. Rather. (iii) We cannot define the universals.10 (C) Van Til never says that God is one and three in the same respect. although we are not free from God’s plan. or the kind of exhaustive knowledge that these would bring us. how can it serve as an explanatory principle? Insofar as it is particular. (ii) But the universal terms exclude particularities (“dog” and “Fido”). (D) Van Til’s “solution” does not give us pure universals or pure particulars. in fact he denies it. because his eternal plan includes all that comes to pass. in effect did this.
and will not. the anthropomorphism contains some literal truth. JF: I think this answer is inadequate. (iv) 6. but he does have a high regard for “anthropomorphisms.) 2. Not the same as Aquinas’ use of analogical. Van Til affirms the “equal ultimacy of election and reprobation. rather than God. The non-Christian can offer no hope that good will triumph. Christian Epistemology 1. b. which refers to language somewhat between univocal (literal) and equivocal (a mere pun).” contra Berkouwer.11 (iii) Because God wants the human will to become more spontaneous.” (i) He tells us to be “fearlessly anthropomorphic” about statements like “God changed his mind. but does not deny the “asymmetry” of the Canons of Dordt. God does not reveal to us all his reasons for bringing events to pass. C. . The non-Christian cannot distinguish good from evil. If at any point salvation is dependent on man. Calvin himself did not propose this distinction as a solution to the problem of evil. d. rather than the “proximate” cause of evil (Calvin). Analogical Knowledge a. (ii) Knowledge subject to God’s control and authority. For Van Til. The Clark Controversy a. b. 7. therefore different from God’s self-knowledge. Election and Reprobation a. analogical knowledge is (i) Knowledge of creatures. then we have made God dependent on man. especially in his temporal omnipresence. Because man is morally responsible.” (ii) Perhaps he means that though God is changeless in his essence. (JF: God changes in his relations to creatures. be saved. c. Evil a. God is the “remote” cause. c. but moral responsibility would be meaningless if the world were in any measure ruled by chance. (iii) Knowledge that agrees with God’s thoughts. b. even self-determinative in its will to do God’s will. Van Til does not deny that we may use language about God literally. only as a help to discussing it. God is sovereign in determining who will. Incomprehensibility (i) In theology generally: the fact that God cannot be exhaustively known by man.
(B) He knows all their relationships and implications of these truths. like everything in God. while God knows by knowing his own nature and plan. The parties should have agreed that (A) God and man can think of the same objects. There was much talking past one another. As a synonym for content. he remained a minister in good standing until he later left the denomination. Example: when God and a man affirm the existence of the same rose. e. the man’s thought is identical to God’s.) (ii) Because of the creator-creature distinction. . God’s knowledge “possesses the divine qualities that can never attach to ours. (D) Man knows only by revelation. (ii) Neither VT more Clark was at his best in this dispute. as Clark insisted.” The OPC Report (i) God and man can think of identical objects. (ii) However. Van Til’s Critique (i) Clark sees the difference only in “quantitative” terms. but the difference is “qualitative. the term was used (or misused) to describe the relationship between God’s thoughts and man’s thoughts.12 But in the Clark controversy.” (iii) Positively.” (Clark denied this. has divine attributes. This was Clark’s emphasis. with a proper understanding of the importance of each. (B) But God has a different subjective experience of knowledge than creatures do. CVT. 111. unlike any creature. Bahnsen. (ii) b. (ii) But Clark does not say enough about the difference between the content of God’s thoughts and that of man’s. It has the same object. VTA. 169n). c. but Van Til often said the same thing (see Frame. divine and human knowledge do not “coincide at a single point. Clark’s position (i) God’s thoughts are different from man’s in that (A) He knows more truths than any creature. Evaluation (JF) (i) Basically. d.” (iv) Clark’s ordination was not revoked. men can have thoughts that are identical to God’s. (C) He knows by an eternal intuition. unlike any human thought. they refer to “knowledge in the subjective sense. (C) And God’s thoughts. I agree with the OPC Report.
nature and self. (D) The controversy is interesting. Integration of revelational knowledge (“perspectivalism”) (i) Revelation from God. (1) JF: The Van Tillian response is not persuasive. . (2) This exchange shows less than a mature attempt to understand one another sympathetically. can only speak with supreme authority. Revelation a. (iii) But even in Paradise. (i)) that could have brought agreement between them. nature. 3. he attests himself.) (ii) All three sources are involved in our knowledge of any object. They refused. all reality necessarily reveals him. (ii) In Scripture. even though those points should have been acceptable to both parties. (B) to correct our sinful misunderstandings of general revelation. it would eliminate God’s very incomprehensibility. (iv) Sola scriptura. General and Special Revelation (i) Strong view: it is necessary. b. man needed verbal revelation to rightly interpret general revelation.13 (A) Neither stated clearly the points (above. (ii) Since God is sovereign. man needed special revelation (A) to set forth the way of salvation. (iii) But the knowledge of God is involved in all of these. and self. (B) Clark demanded that the Van Tillians “state clearly” the “qualitative difference” they wanted Clark to affirm. Scripture (i) God. (Nine categories. There is something slightly silly about insisting on a precise definition of divine incomprehensibility. (b) Insofar as the Van Tillian answer is plausible. sufficient. including ourselves as his image. c. perspicuous. interpreting one another in the worst possible sense. because of who he is. about God. (C) Van Til and Clark continued to criticize one another in their writings. saying that if you could state that clearly. (a) They could have affirmed (i) (A) through (C). authoritative. it should have silenced the entire controversy. and Scripture must serve as the highest presupposition. and after the Fall. but we never know Scripture purely in itself. mainly as an example of how not to resolve theological disputes.
(ii) Human consciousness as “proximate starting point. (vi) Scope: “Scripture speaks of everything” including science. assumption.14 An authoritative Bible is necessary to challenge man’s claims to autonomy. e. (i) Therefore. b. Presuppositions a. Presupposition as a priori (i) a priori: knowledge not dependent on experience. Presupposition as knowledge held “before” (temporally) other knowledge. Presupposition as the commitment the unbeliever wants to suppress.” f. (ii) They are known by our faculties. d. particulars and universals. Presupposition as basic commitment of the heart to God or to an idol: VT’s basic view. postulate. (i) For VT. (ii) This is assumed by some of VT’s critics. See Bahnsen. but we also make presuppositions at less fundamental levels (the traditional a priori). Presupposition as mere supposition. sensation and reason. regard itself as autonomous. politics. in God’s revelation. (v) Traditional statements on the attributes of Scripture. ultimate presuppositions (i) The basic commitment of the heart is most fundamental. brought to experience to analyze it. presuppositions do have a basis. economics. Borrowed capital. (iv) The human mind must interpret Scripture—but must not. (ii) A priori in the sense that it takes precedence over all other knowledge. (ii) A posteriori: knowledge based on experience. criterion of truth and right. (iv) Van Til not an apriorist. hypothesis. in doing so. including sensation. the arts. Gerstner. Lindsley. (Kuyper) 4. (iii) . under God’s revelation. presupposition “in spite of himself. VT’s view often confused with this. Wants to coordinate facts and laws. in an inquiry we must begin where we are. especially Sproul. etc. illumined by the Spirit. c. but it is different. autographa. etc. (i) Not VT’s view. chosen without rational basis (fideism). (iii) Debates through history of philosophy as to the nature of these and their roles in knowledge. Proximate vs. (iii) But known through all our faculties of knowledge. 535-36. though he occasionally suggests it. under the illumination of the Spirit..” (A) Obviously.
formulate arguments. Clark denied that God had emotions. Primacy of the Intellect (i) Held by some Reformed theologians: Hodge. . Rather. Clark. If he had. (B) judge contradictions (possibilities and impossibilities): see “logic. a human capacity for thinking or acting according to logical norms. because he define emotion as among the “passions” denied to God in the Westminster Confession.” (B) A Christian view of the primacy of the intellect will be based on the Creator-creature distinction. but never to God’s revelation. over against the intellect. only some of our thinking is rational. (ii) Van Til’s View (A) Does not address the question of emotions in God. (B) And Clark disparaged the importance of emotions. but rather our sober judgments of truth. Rational Faculties a. His main point. In this sense. (C) So although we “start where we are.” below. (A) In the Clark controversy. 5. (ii) Includes the capacity to form beliefs. (C) judge evidence for a revelation: see “evidence. In this sense. (iv) For VT. Intellect (i) To Van Til. Reason. I think he would have urged us to be “fearlessly anthropomorphic. (iii) Rational (A) Descriptive: any use of rational faculties. His illustration: we should not follow our momentary anger. The intellect may be prior to other faculties of the mind.” below. is that emotions never cloud God’s judgment. (B) Normative: proper use of rational faculties. draw inferences.15 (B) But the whole point of inquiry is to correct our present knowledge by additional knowledge from outside our present thought.” (v) Functions of reason (interaction with Hodge) (A) receive revelation: see “primacy of the intellect” below.” it does not follow that our present ideas should constitute our ultimate presuppositions. the norms of reason are in God’s revelation: “the intellectual itself is ethical. revelational presuppositions ought to govern our inquiry. b. all thought and action are rational. Machen. however.
Based on the nature of God (i) God’s nature is rational. Non-Christians (i) can and do think logically. intellect. will. to some extent. competing with one another for supremacy. (2) We choose. (ii) Our rationality is created. the Greeks). b. (2) But the intellect has an “economic” primacy. “Primacy of the intellect” is a confusing and unhelpful phrase. relating to one another in different ways. Logic (reason as “judge of contradictions”) a. intellectual satisfaction is a feeling (“cognitive rest. but it is “the expression on a created level of the internal coherence of God’s nature. (5) So perhaps emotions. will. they still write somewhat as if intellect. . (iii) Evaluation (JF) (A) Van Til and Clark at this point differ somewhat in emphasis. (1) Intellectual judgments influence our feelings and choices. emotions ontologically equal. since the will doesn’t know what to do unless informed by the intellect. from one point of view. (3) Feelings influence will and intellect.” (iii) The science of logic seeks to discover the principles (such as the law of non-contradiction) for correct inferences and correct judgments of consistency. will. I prefer to regard these as interdependent. what we will believe and feel. as borrowed capital. (C) Though both Van Til and Clark want to stress the unity of the mind. economic primacy (compare the doctrine of the Trinity) (1) Intellect. (6) Reformed theology should be much more positive about the emotions and will.” (4) Emotions can be described as beliefs (a “feeling of anger” is a belief that I have the right to relate to another person in a certain way). should be seen as perspectives on the whole personality.16 (C) Ontological vs. and emotions were independent entities. (a) None more fallen than the others. but their views are compatible. (B) Van Til’s emphasis on the ontological equality of the faculties is a good insight. 6. and vice versa (belief that 2+2=4 is a feeling of cognitive rest about that proposition). none more in need of redemption than the others (vs.
but which guide our thinking or our lives in some way. Apparent contradictions (i) Van Til denies that there are any real contradictions in God’s revelation. (D) God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. (G) The “full-bucket difficulty” (1) God is all-glorious. (iv) But non-Christians have no basis for believing that the laws of logic apply to reality. immortality. freedom. Christians and non-Christians do not use different laws of logic. (C) Necessity and freedom in God. We are to live “as if” they were true. see Frame. So he says that "“All teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory.” (A) He frequently insists that one doctrine follows from another or logically excludes another. (B) The truth is a “system. examples such as mathematical infinity (iii) Van Til (ii) (iii) . especially if they pervade revelation. (ii) But he says that there are apparent contradictions. How can we reconcile Van Til’s affirmations of logical system with his embrace of apparent contradiction? d. 156.” (iv) JF: but “apparent” contradictions. (ii) In other writers. (A) The noumenal world. create as many problems of understanding as real contradictions.” (H) For others. that injects paradox into all of God'’ relations with the world. How can you add to a full bucket? (3) In Van Til’s view. CVT. c. (A) The Trinity. limiting concepts describe things that do not actually exist. (E) The problem of evil. (F) God’s secret and revealed wills. this is a fundamental paradox. no creature can add anything to him. (2) But he calls us to add to his glory.17 but use their logical gifts to repress the truth. Christian limiting concepts (i) In Kant. (iii) But he also insists that some biblical teachings logically exclude others: “God controls what comes to pass” excludes “God does not control what comes to pass. (B) God. (B) God’s nature and attributes. which we may never be able to resolve.
the process of developing a theology requires spiritual maturity and sensitivity (though Van Til doesn’t say this). such a separation is impossible. (ii) The nature of the theological system is to see each doctrine in the light of the whole. Vs. Van Til does not disparage evidence. (i) his eternal power and divine nature (20) (ii) his moral standards (32) . (C) So reading each biblical doctrine in the light of others may sometimes restrain the deductions we make.” (iii) So that in every doctrinal discussion. Definition: the facts adduced in support of a conclusion. but regards it very highly. Each doctrine becomes a perspective on the whole.18 (A) We should speak as if sin would have destroyed the work of God. we rethink the whole. of laws. (B) But you can’t say everything at once. the issue is maintaining the same meanings of terms throughout your syllogism. as ultimate determiners of truth. “limited by every other. non-Christian use of facts. Rom. Interpretation is prior to inference in one sense.” (JF: I have some questions here. although we know it could not have done so. Multiperspectivalism (i) See earlier discussion of revelation. c. (E) JF: Logically speaking. VI. then. Vs. rather than “talking endlessly about facts. or the formulations of those facts. 1 a. (C) So “that” and “what” are matters of degree. The Ethics of Knowledge A. God clearly revealed (18-20) to all human beings. Evidence (“reason as judge of the evidences of a revelation”) a. or of interpretation. e.” “Christian theism is a unit. non-Christian philosophy of evidence: “Brute facts” independent of God.” 7. Biblical Data 1. (i) Van Til emphasizes that facts are never independent of God. (B) Principle: every biblical concept we use is limited by every other.” (iv) Relative indifference to “encyclopedia” and “logical order. b. (A) At one level.” d. (i) Stress philosophy of fact. See Poythress’s “Rethinking Ontology and Logic in the Light of the Trinity. (D) JF: Evidently. (ii) “We appeal to God-interpreted facts.) (ii) Don’t separate fact and meaning (as in discussions of the Resurrection).
3:14. 1 Cor. Eph. c. So God’s grace in Christ is necessary to renew us unto knowledge (John 3:3-8. 5:7. Prov. 2:14). Rom. 3:1-17). yet be absolutely opposed to the truth.” 2. 1 John 2:11). Antithesis 1. d.19 b. in fact. vain (Rom. 2:14. . 3:18-20). (i) The unbeliever ought to know the truth. Eph. Van Til admits to some difficulty in describing the unbeliever’s consciousness: how it can contain truth. 17:23. Eph. futile (1 Cor. 12:2. 111:10. Van Til notes that although belief and unbelief are absolutely opposed “in principle. Extreme antithetical formulations: as “the unbeliever interprets all the facts and all the laws that are presented to him in terms of his [unbelieving] assumptions. 6:14-15. Some of his attempts: a. compare Proverbs). though sometimes he doesn’t take full account of both elements. 10:3. 5:6-11. John 9:40-41. He is blind (2 Cor. 1 Pet. Since he is of the world. as between the old and new life (Eph. e. 28) (iv) moral degradation (24-31) d. 1 Thess. 3:18). 1:4. Acts 3:7. not of God (1 John 4:4-5).” nevertheless unbelievers sometimes affirm truth. 2 Cor. He cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). 2:8. 6:20. 1:7. he has no wisdom or knowledge (Psm. He cannot receive the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17). 3:10). Col. Since he has no fear of God (Rom. 23:16-26. verse 21. 11:7. so he cannot discern spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:8. Matt. Rom. worship of false gods (21-23. Rom. God’s response (i) wrath (18) (ii) judgment (“without excuse”) (20). but doesn’t. 1 Cor. 30. 3:5. cf. 2:3). 4:4. 2. just as believers sometimes deny it. 1-2. 2 Cor. 1 Cor. f. 2:1-10. 3. 12:40. Col. he speaks of the world. b. 25. B. 4:18. esp. 12-14. There is an antithesis between unbelieving and believing thought (Acts 26:18. 2:12. a. a “mixture” of truth and falsity.” JF: these formulations do not do justice to Scripture’s assertion (and Van Til’s!) that the unbeliever knows truth. c. 15:14. 7:26-27). Eph. 3:18-23. Col. The unbeliever’s commitment to falsehood is restrained by God’s “common grace. sinful (Eph. So they “know” him. 25) (iii) exchange the truth for a lie (25. The unbeliever’s ignorance: 1 Cor. 4:2024. 3:20). Their response (i) suppression of the truth (18) (ii) refusal of true worship. His thoughts are foolish (Matt. So Van Til affirms that the unbeliever’s thought is. 1 Tim. 4:18. 4:5-8. 1:21).
(ii) But it doesn’t allow us to predict how an unbeliever will respond to a statement of truth.20 Divine revelation given to the unbeliever. (i) These formulations are compatible with.” never “essentially correct. Bahnsen. Normative formulations: the unbeliever opposes the truth “in principle. (v) They know the truth. (ii) Here it is not easy to distinguish the truth from the error. He cannot even deny God without affirming him. including the emotions. e. and add to. but cannot give an “account” of it (cf. (ii) b. involving all our faculties. the normative formulations.” We can agree on “details. Practical formulations (i) “a mixture” (ii) The unbeliever’s judgments never “basically proper. (i) So depravity is located in the unbeliever’s motive.” (iii) These suggest a difference in degree. (A) But knowledge assumes justification. (iii) “He can’t be satisfied. (iii) Unbelievers have the metaphysical capacity to know.” though not necessarily in detail. (i) JF: more biblical and adequate. but they are inconsistent with the extreme antithetical ones. c. But that is inevitable. d. 514). but it has only words in common with the truth. For the unbeliever affirms truth even in denying it. . even by moving to irrationalism when his rationalism doesn’t work. the depravity from the common grace. Existential formulations: the unbeliever may have “theoretically correct knowledge about God” but does not love God. (ii) “Not intellectual but moral?” (Sproul) But Van Til insists that the moral influences the intellectual. (B) Imagine a brilliant presuppositional apologist. but he always makes faulty use of these rational faculties. The “satisfaction” is trans-rational. (iv) The unbeliever’s knowledge is only “formal”: what he says sounds true. who is not saved.” though he can adopt various ad hoc measures for salvaging his theory. Situational formulations: the unbeliever lives in God’s world and so cannot be satisfied with anything other than a theistic interpretation of reality. but his interpretation is entirely wrong. (iii) The truth is psychologically repressed (as in Freud)? Not always.
I don’t think it can be established from Scripture that there is an increase of wickedness through history and a corresponding decline of God’s favor to the reprobate. c. b. Common Grace 1. c. E. D. challenged by Herman Hoeksema. C. b.The Free Offer of the Gospel: Van Til argues that it is legitimate to preach to reprobate as well as elect. 535-36). Van Til sometimes extended his “antithesis” language to nonReformed believers: illegitimately in my opinion. though occasionally he gives them some amount of credit (cf. They become more and more differentiated as history progresses. Van Til sought to formulate the doctrine in a way that escaped Hoeksema’s objections. a. Reformed believers have “no fundamentals in common” with Stuart Hackett. c. and in that process. because the gospel is addressed to a “generality. There is a “certain favor or grace” of God which he shows to his creatures in general. Hoeksema’s view focuses exclusively on the latter: God can have no favor to the reprobate.” but under God’s wrath. Summary of CRC Statement (1924) a. Common grace is earlier grace: the continuation of the genuine love God had for the whole human race at their creation. 4. a. CVT. Van Til’s main point is that the doctrine of common grace should be controlled more by the idea of the earlier and less by the idea of the later. b. Taught by Calvin and Kuyper.” deeds that promote the welfare of others. Bahnsen. The gospel is not addressed to a generality. 3.” c.21 4. Criticisms of Daane. God restrains sin in individuals and society. Carnell’s apologetic method “requires the destruction of Christianity” and leads to “the rejection of the whole body of his Christian beliefs. b. Arminian apologists. Unbelievers are not “undifferentiated. . Rationalism and Irrationalism in Unbelieving Thought 1. JF: I disagree. a. but to actual people. because their destiny is damnation. God enables the unregenerate to perform “civic good. North: see Frame. Van Til’s insight: the beginning and middle of history reflect God’s genuine purpose. Rationalism: claim that autonomous human is the criterion of truth. So Christianity cannot be true. 5. Similar statements about Roman Catholics. J.” “undifferentiated” until their actual acceptance or rejection of the gospel. common grace diminishes. not only the end. 2.
Van Til believes that most of the history of apologetics is a story of compromise. Irrationalism: reducing the mind to material process. 3. there can be no absolute truth. (ii) JF . Aristotle: similarly. Compare earlier discussions of thinkers who have tried to find absolutes in universals or particulars. Kant K. Athenagoras) a. a. Vs. The “Traditional Method” 1. Rationalists and empiricists J. Irrationalism: claim that since the biblical God doesn’t exist. Neoplatonism. 2. irrationalistic in the other. Justin. Apologists have tried in some measure to reason with unbelievers on a neutral basis. 2. Note the similarity of all historical movements. Modernism and postmodernism 6. b. VII. The Second Century Apologists (Clement. Language Analysis M. He ignores ways of interpreting these traditional arguments as aspects of his own transcendental apologetic. Examples from the history of philosophy: A. The Sophists. Aquinas I. (God as “the nameless one” in Justin) b. 3. Parmenides D. Eve in the garden. Rationalism: making a universal statement and presuming to deny the creator-creature distinction. laws or facts. 5. rhetoric about the radically new. E. G. Clement compares the Resurrection of Christ with the return of spring and the resurrection of the mythical Phoenix. F. Confuse biblical teaching with Greek philosophy. JF: His critique uncovers weaknesses in the apologetic tradition.22 2. B. Sartre. But his analysis does not establish the crucial point of his critique: that the tradition assumes reality to be intelligible apart from God. The Argument for Christianity A. Plato: rationalistic in one world. (i) VT: destroys the uniqueness of the Resurrection of Christ. 4. H. Milesian nature philosophers: “all is…” 1. Existentialism L. Heraclitus C.
then why appeal to them? b. as the Gnostics claim? (ii) If not. Gnosticism: do the philosophers. so you have no right to declare that the Resurrection of Jesus is impossible.. 4. lack of sophistication is not compromise. how can they convey true knowledge.e. But to say that that influence invalidates his arguments is a genetic fallacy: like saying Idealism’s influence on VT invalidates VT’s arguments. vs. (iv) JF: most likely he was. they don’t need Christ. but we don’t know much about his initial audience. In any case. know the truth about God? (i) If so. Athenagoras: since God has created all things. around 200) a. and VT hasn’t proven to me that it was necessary in Athenagoras’s book. (B) Why shouldn’t we read Athenagoras as giving the first step in the transcendental argument. since on the Gnostic view identity of substance is necessary for understanding? c. c. (ii) JF: (A) Why should we be intimidated by the unbeliever’s denial of our premises? VT himself is not intimidated by that. how can they be ignorant of the supreme being. Plato. Another argument vs.23 (A) But aren’t there legitimate analogies between the Resurrection of Christ and the coming of new life to the earth? (B) And couldn’t we understand Clement’s point about the Phoenix as ad hominem? I. (ii) If not. Vs. Irenaeus (d. Gnosticism: Are the emanation-deities of one substance with the supreme being or not? (i) If so. from which the Gnostics get their speculations. it should not be thought impossible that God should raise the dead. (i) VT: but the Greek philosophers did not grant that God created all things. (iii) VT: Clement is influenced by Stoic moralism. “You unbelievers give credence to the Phoenix myth. namely showing that the resurrection is credible given a Christian worldview? (C) Should he have been more sophisticated? Perhaps. (D) Should he have spoken of the presuppositional antithesis between Christian and non-Christian forms of reasoning? I don’t believe that must be done in every apologetic encounter. who thought that knowledge is recalling a past existence in the world of Forms: .
in his discussions of the psychology of religion. VT: Evidence of rationalism and irrationalism. On the Prescription of Heretics: “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” b. which (i) . Ultimate truth.” see my earlier discussion of evidence.” d. VT does the same. If we grant that non-Christians have some true knowledge (however construed) (see discussion of antithesis) then we must grant that the truth the apologist communicates does indeed “supplement” the truth he already has. and so truth hasn’t perished. VT: Irenaeus believed that Plato and others held to a “general theism” that required Christianity only as a supplement.g. (ii) Reliance on innate knowledge (rationalism). though of course it must do more than that. not mere human authority. from his Platonic roots. (iii) Reliance on “expert” authority (irrationalism and rationalism). it is still true that truth perishes. JF: (i) This judgment doesn’t arise from any of the examples VT cites. e. (i) Scepticism about sense-experience (irrationalism). But to present Christian truth as supplementary is not necessarily wrong in itself. (ii) Why shouldn’t we give Irenaeus credit for seeing the rationalist-irrationalist dialectic in the Gnostics and Plato? (iii) As for the notion of “supplementation. Tertullian (c.” how can he have reliable knowledge of a state prior to that oblivion? (ii) If he were in the World of Forms. (iv) JF: agree with VT. Apology: Christians get their ethical principles from divine revelation. 160-220) a. “in a state of oblivion. e. Augustine (354-430) a. 5. His theistic proof: If truth perishes. c. how could he communicate his knowledge to people like us who are stuck in oblivion? d. b.24 Since Plato is in the body. JF: (i) Does this mean that everything the unbeliever says must be contested (“extreme antithesis”)? (ii) Or is it another polemic against the notion of “supplementation” (see above)? 6. VT: But Tertullian sees difference between Christian and heathen thought as one of “gradation rather than of contrast.
” But if Aquinas is right that causality implies God’s existence. (i) VT: (A) Aquinas’s dependence on Aristotle “vitiates the entire argument for the existence of God that he offers. (ii) JF: does he really assume that cause and purpose are intelligible apart from God? (A) He assumes that the language of his proof is suitable for intelligible communication with unbelievers. c. Scripture must supplement (and sometimes contradict) what we learn from natural reason.” (B) Aquinas’s proofs lead only to a finite god. (B) Van Til would revise the cosmological argument to read that “men ought to realize that nature could not exist as something independent [of God]. we can trust non-Christian thinkers. and his conclusion is as well. JF: see above. then “p and not q” is unintelligible.” (ii) Aristotelian prime mover. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) a. it must be in relation to the absolute system of truth. In this area. To say that it does is a genetic fallacy. b. Arguments for the existence of God: chiefly causal. (iv) JF: But Van Til is right to criticize the neutralism of Aquinas’s view of natural reason.) (ii) His premises are biblical. (JF: in itself. that fact does not invalidate Augustine’s reasoning. (i) Neoplatonic “chain of being. Neoplatonic and Aristotelian backgrounds. since they begin with notions of cause and purpose thought to be intelligible apart from the God of Scripture. which is God.” But is that not Aquinas’s whole point? (C) Van Til would insist that “if anything intelligible is to be said about nature. (ii) Faith: deals with matters of salvation. Faith and Reason (i) Natural reason: operates without the aid of biblical revelation. In this area. must reside in an ultimate mind. (iii) VT: the idea of supplementation amounts to compromise.25 provides the criterion for all knowledge. does not the denial of God lead to an unintelligible account of the world? If p implies q. (i) VT: this comes from Plato. But VT also assumes that the unbeliever can “understand intellectually” his argument. therefore God exists. and in fact vitiates his approach to every other problem in philosophy and theology. 7. .
(ii) But how do the analogies gain their meaning without some literal reference point? Some irrationalism here. (ii) We don’t know enough about death to say that it involves a loss of our powers (discontinuity). (ii) JF: odd. It does have to prove a God compatible with the Bible’s description. but Aquinas certainly believed his argument implied an infinite God.26 (D) Does Aquinas’s argument lead only to a finite god? (1) His causal argument doesn’t immediately raise the question of infinity. (ii) The problems in Scripture are similar to problems in natural revelation. f. the existence of an “author of the course and constitution of nature. (iii) But there are also differences between the two realms. with the deists. because it starts with a hypothesis that Butler himself would consider contrary to fact. but rejected special revelation. then indeed it should be given up. be given up. and he tried to show that fact by supplementary arguments. c. Argument for immortality: (i) We survive many other changes in life. we may be expected to survive death (continuity). He assumes. in the name of God. Empiricist.” d. but that is different. and we must take account of those as well (“principle of discontinuity”). analogously. See earlier discussions. 8. probabilist. (2) Does every argument have to prove the whole of Christian theism? I think not.” (i) VT: clear statement of autonomy. He seeks primarily to refute deism. . b. But one could argue that if a doctrine were really contrary to reason (as defined by God). let the Scripture. “Reasonable use of reason:” “Let reason be kept to. d. which granted a form of general revelation. “probability is the very guide to life. Joseph Butler (1692-1752) a.” e. (i) Reasons for belief in Christianity are the same sorts of reasons that we use to prove conclusions about the natural world (“principle of continuity”). Analogy (i) Aquinas insists that our language about God is analogical in the sense of being non-literal. neutrality. and if any part of the Scripture account of the redemption of the world by Christ can be shown to be really contrary to it. His chief method: to show analogies between general and special revelation.
uncontrolled. more an error of presentation than of substance. fact.” but also as a hypothesis to be tested by logic. (iii) Butler is right to say that we must often make decisions on the basis of probability. h.27 g. unknown by God. not theoretical. and that failure weakens his approach. Speaks of Scripture as a “presupposition. A careful examination of the Bible reveals that it passes these stringent examinations summa cum laude.” (ii) JF: (A) Not wrong in every sense to test Scripture by reason. and they will deserve a rational man’s assent. “Bring on your revelations! Let them make peace with the law of contradiction and the facts of history. Edward J. and personal experience. but even traditional Arminians believe that God foreknows and permits everything that comes to pass. JF: We need to make a clearer distinction between evidence and argument. Carnell does not make that distinction (though I think he would grant it). Butler is Arminian. I suppose. VT. . and therefore unintelligible). Background in their personal relationship. a. (E) “Requires the destruction of Christianity…” over the top.” (i) VT: neutralist. But here he accuses Carnell of Kantianism for making the same assertion. (i) JF: VT gives no evidence of this.” (D) Carnell’s error is. not the brutishness of facts as such. VT himself says that Scripture “meets every legitimate demand of reason. 9.” He agrees with Hodge that reason may legitimately judge revelation. admitted this. But must we always bring up that issue to inquirers? (C) “Bring on your revelations…” can be evaluated like Butler’s “Let reason be kept to. His principle of discontinuity affirms human ignorance. (ii) Butler’s epistemology is practical. indeed. Carnell’s method “requires the destruction of Christianity” and leads to “the rejection of the whole body of his Christian beliefs. VT: Butler’s “probability” denies the clarity of revelation. (B) But VT adds that Christians and non-Christians use reason in different ways. Carnell (1919-1967). VT: Butler presupposes “brute fact” (uninterpreted facts: uncreated. (ii) Our use of that evidence in argument is fallible and may deserve to be accepted only as probability. perhaps. (i) The evidence for the biblical God is clear and warrants certainty.
." and Carnell's "Bring on your revelations. Unfortunately. fact. It is also important to communicate effectively with our age. Through the history of apologetics. 10. and therefore as the ultimate standard of truth. In Van Til's view. it has often failed to communicate to them the full antithesis between Christian and non-Christian presuppositions. the history of apologetics furnishes us with many useful rational tools. he misleadingly insists on presenting these concerns as matters of theological substance. including theistic proofs. Thus his own communication is hindered. these appeals are not wrong. Butler's "Let reason be held to. To show the illegitimacy of such an appeal. Nevertheless. as Van Til does with the language of idealism.. Van Til's observations often address most cogently the questions of communication. Such appeals do not in themselves violate any biblical principle. a non-Christian thinker. 8.." and (b) Christians often legitimately use the language of non-Christian thinkers to make biblical points. 6.28 10. He should not have done this without also presenting evidence that these appeals were made on an unscriptural basis. Christians have.. contrary to Van Til's "extreme antithetical formulations. with some inconsistency. For (a) nonChristians do sometimes speak truth. evidential arguments. Nor should we interpret other writers in the worst sense possible. and subjective adequacy in various ways to confirm the truth of scripture. Rather. 5. Conclusions on the Traditional Method 1. we should not mislead inquirers by formulations. Van Til does sometimes refer to these appeals as if they were in themselves evidence of compromise. which in the present cultural context suggest an autonomous use of reason. 3. Christians have appealed to logic. probabilities. In our apologetic work today. Van Til renounces fideism. Aquinas's distinction between faith and reason. including bad in the best and good in the worst. 11. The strongest criticism of the apologetic tradition is that in its zeal to persuade non-Christians. Nevertheless. and human subjectivity. we should give them the benefit of the doubt. we should not overestimate the importance of our own insights at the expense of others. however literally true. as we would wish others to give that benefit to us. appeals to logic." are examples of such misleading formulations. or is influenced by. the view that faith must be blind or irrational. in subordination to scripture itself. Fideism denies or ignores the . At the same time. honored Scripture as God's infallible word. 2. but they must be carried out in a scriptural way. 4. 7. it is not sufficient to show that the apologist's language resembles. Review of some “basics” about Van Til’s argument for Christianity: (1) There is an "absolutely certain proof" of Christian theism (Chapter Fourteen). ignoring entirely the dimension of communication. as Van Til has sometimes done. that history contains both good and bad. The history of apologetics does not reveal the existence of a "traditional method" which uniformly presupposes human rational autonomy and which we must today reject in toto. "Innocent until proven guilty" is a valid principle of theological debate. Rather.. as it is of civil law. 9.In judging our predecessors and contemporaries in the field of apologetics.
Indeed. . a chaos. Reviewing my own responses to these principles: (1) I have suggested that we distinguish between the certainty of the evidence for Christian theism. (8) Our argument should claim absolute certainty for its conclusion. (2) and (3) I agree with enthusiasm. (7) We should always seek to prove Christian theism "as a unit. (2) All reasoning. Fourteen. Our argument should never conclude merely that a god exists (Chapter Nineteen). (4) I agree. (3) Therefore. but I resist the literal use of Van Til's more extreme formulations of the antithesis between Christians and unbelievers. as the unbeliever does. p. including apologetic reasoning. (5) Agreed. made somehow intelligible by purely abstract logical principles based on the autonomous thought of man (Chapters Five. we should seek to overturn the very foundations of his thinking (Chapters Eighteen through Twenty-One). Reasoning is never religiously neutral (Chapters Seven. Rather. (9) We should not produce arguments that purport merely to supplement the unbeliever's knowledge. He is not a neutral or unbiased inquirer. which are fallible and often uncertain. Twelve. for example. that we should not separate the "that" from the "what--" trying to prove that God is without establishing what God we are talking about. Christian theism is the only rational position to hold. never mere "probability" (Chapter Twenty). with the proviso that we be permitted to vary our approach depending on the nature of our audience and the specific questions being discussed. 293) discuss facts and logic without challenging the unbeliever's "philosophy" of fact and logic (Chapters Five. (4) Our reasoning must take account of the noetic effects of sin and common grace. Twenty-One). Twelve. Fourteen). we should never ourselves appeal. to "abstract logic" or "brute fact" (Chapters Twenty. who exercises absolute and total rule over the world through exhaustive foreordination. and our human arguments for Christian theism. But we should not "endlessly" (CTK. (6) We may freely use logical arguments and present evidences for the truth of scripture. Van Til makes this distinction but ignores some of its important implications. revelation which provides a rational basis for faith. His own account of the matter correctly requires us also to take account of true statements made by unbelievers. tri-personal God. must presuppose divine revelation." This means. our reasoning must presuppose the self-contained. Certainly. creation. Nine and Ten). We should reckon on the fact that the unbeliever's intent is to suppress the truth (Chapters Fifteen through Seventeen). which is absolute. (5) He suppresses the truth by substituting for Christian-theism a dialectic of rationalism and irrationalism: the world is uncreated and therefore without meaning and structure.29 clarity of revelation. and Seventeen). and providence (Chapters Four through Six). Not every apologetic confrontation requires an explicit discussion of epistemology. (6) Agreed.
(i) Broad and narrow circles. Montgomery’s “Shadoks” and “Gibis:” each has his own Bible. a. In this sense. (9) If we reject the idea of "extreme antithesis" (see (4)). Nevertheless. etc. The unbeliever knows the truth. Van Til is not interested in proving merely “a” god. The Conclusion: that intelligible predication presupposes the biblical God. it follows that one function of apologetics is to supplement that truth. (8) See (1) above. We may appeal to facts. So VT prefers to call the process “spiral” rather than “circular. but the God of the Bible. Transcendental argument: an argument establishing the conditions for the possibility of knowledge. It shows us how the various elements of biblical truth cohere. experience. (ii) So one could expand the parable to include “Shadok facts” and “Gibi facts. rationality. and God can reach him. election. b. B. we are not required by Scripture to prove the entire biblical doctrine of God in a single syllogism. but not “brute” or “neutral” facts. Van Til’s argument is circular in the sense that it proves its conclusion using methods that depend on the truth of the conclusion: proving the Bible by biblical methods. Holy Spirit. It is legitimate in some cases. or Spiral Argument 1. as Montgomery suggests. Circularity. and/or meaning. .” c. but would merely be different languages expressing the same thing. C. then we must take account of elements of truth in unbelieving thought. to use arguments which claim only probability. 3. If they were. but it needs to be qualified. b. On that assumption. creation. But how much detail does this require? I presume it includes at least God’s attributes. To some extent it is legitimate to prove one fact about God at a time. Trinity.30 (7) There is some truth in this principle. This is not to deny the importance of "overturning the foundations of unbelieving thought. The paranoid analogy. or as if the nature of God is not clearly revealed. Does the argument enable us to learn anything new? a.” 4. d. 2." for the elements of truth in unbelieving thought are at variance from its foundational commitment. Does this circularity make communication impossible between believer and unbeliever? a. with care not to distort the whole in expounding the parts. any argument for a system that includes an epistemology or standard of truth will be circular in this sense. We should not reason as if the nature of God is indeterminate. sovereignty. Christianity and unbelief are not parallel in the way Montgomery’s two parties are parallel. 2. Reasoning by Presupposition: Transcendental Method 1. The process of learning premises from Scripture and nature to use in these arguments gives us new information. they would not be opposed. even unavoidable.
(i) My survey of the history of apologetics shows that this is not the case. certainly it also shows that God is the necessary ground of intelligibility.31 providence. I would argue further that these can be seen as aspects of a transcendental argument. nothing exists. VT: positive arguments assume that reality is intelligible apart from God. indeed some that look like the arguments of the tradition. e. one must include subsidiary arguments. and other sorts of arguments. We seek. Perhaps it is best to speak of a transcendental direction or goal. A reductio aims at showing the alternative view is absurd. (i) A causal argument has a transcendental thrust.” a “reductio” rather than a straight proof. The Logical Model a. rather than negative. b. rather than a transcendental argument. 3. d. So transcendental arguments are not as distinct as VT believes from causal. why shouldn’t a transcendental argument be direct? c. And if that is true. f. Certainly at least the “second step” of VT’s strategy (below) is positive. to show the conclusion that the biblical God is the ground of intelligibility. VT insists that the argument should be “indirect” rather than “direct. (iii) How can we tell when an argument presupposes the intelligibility of reality apart from God? Maybe not from . like causal and teleological arguments. Do Van Til’s arguments actually prove this much? b. rather than as an alternative to it. g. (ii) Similarly. teleological. We saw earlier that VT is wrong to dismiss causal and teleological arguments. But he never actually argues this point. But actually this one argument is highly complex. So I ask. If God is the source of all being. It says that if God doesn’t exist. But this is a tall order. by many kinds of arguments. teleological and ontological arguments. I suspect that to show everything VT claims to show in the transcendental argument. Van Tillians have sometimes given the impression that the transcendental argument represents a simplification of apologetics: in place of the many complicated arguments of traditional apologetics. we now have only one. Does Van Til’s argument rule out all alternatives? Idealism? Theistic romanticism (love without justice)? Islam? c. d.” “negative” rather than “positive. (ii) Positive and negative arguments are equally subject to this danger. he is the source of intelligibility as well.
b. motion. “Why I Believe in God. 6. 4. and chance (Schaeffer). They take for granted that predication is possible without God. The Practical Strategy (VT’s “Two Steps”) a. time.? Then this strategy would be counterproductive. VT sometimes mistakes spiritual issues for methodological ones. for if he did. of course! Note that this is a positive argument. not a reductio. 4. (i) Question: does this involve adopting all his rationalizations. 8. 523-24. d. the same. Non-theistic (impersonal) spiritualists. Facts. Are these the only resources? JF: I think we may use theistic arguments. VIII. 3. to show that they destroy all intelligibility.) 1. Materialists. Islam. “Epistemological loafers. Traditional Apologetics (above) B. laws. but its categories are abstract. So agnosticism is trapped in the rationalist-irrationalist dilemma. who think there is no need to make a decision about God. b. a. making a universal negative statement: for them the Christian God doesn’t exist. Adopt the unbeliever’s presuppositions for the sake of argument. rather than concrete. subjects are “just there.32 anything in the argument itself. (ii) So VT emphasizes that in this step we are still reasoning analogically. So their rationality is based on irrationality.” 7. etc. but in the heart of the arguer. Idealism: seeks to interpret everything by eternal categories. Karl Barth . (iii) So at this point we are showing the unbeliever what his system looks like on the basis of ours. 2. c. History of Philosophy (above) C. Show him how the Christian presuppositions account for intelligibility—on Christian presuppositions. Agnostics. Practical Resources: How do you actually argue with somebody? (From VT’s “argument samples.” skeptics unwilling to trust rational discussion: with these we may have to be content to give testimony. who believe everything can be explained by matter. traditional evidences as well. b. No way of bringing facts and laws together. Van Til as Critic A. D. So unreliable. They have decided already. a. he would govern their thought and life.” Chapter 24 of Frame’s CVT. other non-Christian religions: see Bahnsen.” not the result of any plan or rational ordering. 5.
a. (i) Geschichte has a historisch aspect. Live in thankfulness. 3. Summary of Van Til’s Critique 1. Barth's view of the "indirect identity" between revelation and scripture permits human beings to disagree with the teachings of scripture. etc. (iv) But in Christ as Geschichte. 2. the real events. free in it and from it. Barth's doctrine of God is irrationalist (or "nominalistic" as Van Til sometimes says): God. c. Same for the doctrine of "participation. =Geschichte. for Barth. control. d. . Note equations: Geschichte = Christ =God =the event of salvation = revelation = humiliation = exaltation = cross and Resurrection = return = Virgin Birth. following his death. Geschichte: events in their total meaning. (iii) Man is what he truly is only in Christ. Revelation is always in the present. so his salvation is assured. God is identical to his work in Jesus Christ. touches it equally at all points. (i) So he is both the electing God and the elect man. (A) In him. (ii) In Geschichte. f. Historie: the facts of the world as the neutral historian sees them. (ii) Revelation is Geschichte. is "wholly other. but it is far more than Historie. 4. God is wholly revealed (no secret decree behind Christ). saving Resurrection is not to be found in Historie. (iii) So God is wholly hidden in his revelation. It too is Geschichte. It is also rationalistic: God is wholly revealed in Christ. g." although Barth uses it to avoid the idea of a direct identity between man and God. Christ’s being is his work of saving all men." able to change into the opposite of himself. manipulate revelation. (B) His humiliation is exaltation and vice versa. No temporal transition. Barth's view of the "indirect identity of all men in and with God in Christ as Geschichte" has pantheistic overtones. His identification of Christ with his work of saving all men has an inescapable universalistic implication. 2. he is freed from time. (ii) But the true. contrary to scripture itself. We never possess. even though Barth seeks to avoid that by an (irrational) appeal to the freedom of God. b. Christ as Geschichte. Events in Historie merely point to revelation. So the gospel becomes: You are already in Christ. although Barth seeks to guard against them.33 1. e. (=universalism?) Sin an “impossible possibility. God’s eternal presence enters time. (i) Christ appeared to his disciples in Historie.
Like VT’s “full bucket difficulty. after all Barth's criticisms of propositional revelation!) the fact that they are already in Christ.” f. “Ontological impossibility of sin” because the creator of all is holy and good. To speak of the "ontological impossibility of sin" and "sin as chaos" (Das Nichtige) turns ethics into metaphysics. Christ is both the savior of the elect and the ultimate judge of the wicked. though this movement made ample provision for the subjective reception of the Word. d. rather than the “more sympathetic” one. in which temporal distinctions do not exist. But Barth opposes Reformed orthodoxy. 7. (iii) Denies that there is a temporal movement from God’s wrath to his grace in man’s response to the preached Word. b. 4. “Wholly hidden” means that God is incomprehensible. Like Kierkegaard. and that his victory over evil is eternally assured. (ii) Denies pretemporal election and reprobation of individuals. “God becoming the opposite of himself” simply means that God enters history and seeks glory there. Scripture does teach that God determines the final destinies of human beings through his eternal decrees. but events in that history do not themselves bring salvation. 9. No revelation until it actually grasps the hearer (= what orthodox call revelation plus illumination). Contrary to Barth. . A more sympathetic reading: a. Rhetoric against “possessing” the Word of God: vs. but in Geschichte. To speak of God as both "hidden" and "revealed" in revelation is to deny to revelation any clear content to which human beings are unambiguously subject.Barth's gospel is essentially different from that of Scripture: Barth would announce to men (a "propositional" message. Calendartime history partakes of Geschichte as an aspect of it and a pointer to it. That consideration favors Van Til’s approach. Resulting orthodox critique of Barth: (i) Denies the orthodox view of biblical authority. 8. not in events of calendar time such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. c. e. But can you solve that spiritual problem by a metaphysical construction? g. One cannot state a priori that grace will save all people. the problem of reconciliation into the problem of overcoming finitude.34 5. rather than urging them to repent and believe as God's grace removes them from the sphere of wrath to the sphere of grace. 3. cocksure theology. Salvation actually occurs. but they do not save unless accompanied by a divine work of grace (Geschichte). To say this is not to think of human destiny apart from Christ. “wholly revealed” means that revelation in Christ is sufficient. So the saving events occur in Historie. 6.
to analyze them and their interrelations. JF: Some ambiguities in Barth. Statements about these spheres: (i) Proceed from “lower” to “higher. we distiguish various aspects of the world. Summary of Dooyeweerd’s Philosophy a.35 5. (i) numerical (ii) spatial (iii) kinetic (iv) energy (v) biotic (vi) feeling (vii) logic (viii) history (ix) symbolism-language (x) social rules (xi) economic (xii) aesthetic (xiii) judicial (xiv) moral (xv) faith c. higher retrocipate the lower. (v) There are analogies among the spheres: lower anticipate the higher. right. So philosophers have been tempted to choose one sphere and absolutize it as a complete description of the world (idolatry). modern philosophy) (iv) creation-fall-redemption (Christian) . A logical being must also have all the capacities of the spheres below the logical. (iii) The higher presuppose the lower. but Van Til’s reading of him (despite the strenuous objections of Berkouwer and others) is certainly responsible. and. Herman Dooyeweerd 1. D.” (ii) Every object “qualified by” one of these. b. In theoretical thought. Sharp distinction between pretheoretical experience and theoretical thought. There is a possibility that Barth himself was not entirely clear in his own mind. VT rarely considers that possibility in the thinkers he criticizes. (iv) But everything participates in every sphere as subject or object. Ground-motives in the history of philosophy: (i) form-matter (Greeks) (ii) nature-grace (Scholastics) (iii) nature-freedom (Kant. Barth is not a teacher to be trusted. 6. Certainly. d. most likely.
Dooyeweerdians 8. In its central meaning. Francis Schaeffer. Van Til’s Successors A. 4. JF: Inadequate view of Scripture and its relation to human life. Kenneth Gentry C. though in its central meaning (creationfall-redemption) it addresses all of life. Jerram Barrs. Nicholas Wolterstorff. Alvin Plantinga. the question of antithesis and common ground. The Theonomists 1. William Dennison 3. Dooyeweerd denies that specific philosophical ideas can be “derived from” Scripture. the Word in its central meaning. Henry Krabbendam 2. Van Til’s Critique a. sees “states of affairs” as they really are. Richard Pratt 4. despite his denial of Dooyeweerd’s starting point. Greg Bahnsen 2.” . 3. Os Guinness. 2. God. Michael Horton B. Scott Oliphint 5. a Roman Catholic criticinterpreter. though the whole philosophical enterprise should be “controlled by” Scripture. Robert D. Vern Poythress 4. “Reformed epistemology. f. Whitcomb 5. Westminster Seminary 1. and the human heart. Others 1. Herbert Schlossberg 9. Michael Butler 3. JF: again. Kelly James Clark. John C. transcend the modal order. precisely? IX.36 e. VT: what is the difference. The “movement mentality” among Dooyeweerdians. Jay Adams and the Nouthetic Counseling Movement 7. Knudsen 2. it has no conceptual content. Dooyeweerd thinks that Robbers. addresses only the faith-aspect of reality. Scripture as a conceptual-linguistic object. Udo Middelmann. William Edgar 3. Stephen Spencer 6. Ranald Macaulay 10. b.
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