A Reformed View of Apologetics, Part 1

Editor’s Note: In these posts, I have tried to offer a simple introduction to Presuppositional apologetics. Many in our day are unaware of the incredible influence of Professor Cornelius Van Til. These posts serve to distinguish the Reformed View of apologetics from Thomistic approaches and to encourage Christian thinkers to self-consciously presuppose God’s existence in every apologetic encounter.

Just as Calvinism distinguishes itself from other systems of thought in the area of cultural transformation,[1] so too, does Calvinism differ itself in the area of epistemology.[2] The superiority of the Reformed tradition over other philosophical approaches to epistemology is even clearer when we examine the foundation of their thinking.

We are how we reason; we reason how we were made to reason. Though Christian humanity is filled with dignity, we are also filled with sin. This is what some call the “noetic effects of the fall.” Simply put, our minds are in the “valley of the blind.”[3] Our new humanity rescues us from our autonomous epistemology. It is for this very reason that we are to think as God intends us to think.

180px-cornelius_van_til.jpgThe Reformed tradition differs substantially from Roman Catholic, Arminian, and atheistic thought.[4] All three of these systems begin their reasoning process from an autonomous framework. They all follow a Thomistic[5] approach to reason, and hence, do not begin as God intends them to begin. God’s intention is that the Christian begin his thinking with God’s counsel as the presupposition of all reasoning. The consequences of denying God’s counsel as a presupposition to all thought is disastrous. As Van Til summarizes:

Romanism and Arminianism[6] have virtually allowed that God’s counsel need not always and everywhere be taken as our principle of individuation. This is to give license to would-be autonomous man, permitting him to interpret reality apart from God.[7]

The Reformed thinker cannot fathom reality apart from God’s revelation. On the other hand, autonomous man cherishes-for the sake of reason-non-Christian presuppositions. Our standing before God is one of gratitude. We are grateful that God has redeemed our minds to think His ways and not ours. As Van Til powerfully concludes:

The Reformed believer knows that he himself has been taken out of a world of misinterpretation and place in the world of truth by the initiative of God.[8]

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[1] See my articles on Abraham Kuyper on the Abraham Kuyper archive list.

[2] Epistemology refers to “how we know things.”

[3] This is the language used by Cornelius Van Til.

[4] For instance, consider atheist George Smith’s methodology. In his debate with Professor Bahnsen he stressed that his philosophy is Aristotelian. This form of reasoning was later picked up by Thomas Aquinas.

[5] By Thomistic, I mean the works of Thomas Aquinas, who strongly emphasized the use of natural reason to come to theistic conclusions.

[6] Arminianism is a system of doctrine that teaches that man has the free will to choose or reject God, and his salvation is dependent on a cooperative effort.

[7] Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. pg. 7.

[8] Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. pg. 7.

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