At 12 Central/1Eastern, I will be interviewing Joe Torres on presuppositional apologeticsat Trinity Talk.
Joe summarizes our interview as follows:
On Thursday, July 2nd, I’ll be discussing the topic of presuppositional apologetics on Trinity Talk with Uri and Jarrod.
Uri and I have known each other for several years now. We’ve worked together and attended seminary together. Now he’s a pastor, and i’m a professor. We have our theological disagreements, but we both love discussing them as iron sharpens iron.
In the interview we’ll be talking about something that’s view close to our hearts, a robust, powerful, and God-glorifying way of defending the faith. Here’s a sample of the kind of questions we’ll discuss:
a) What is apologetics?
b) What is presuppositional apologetics?
c) How does presuppositionalism differ with other apologetic positions?
d) How does a presuppositional apologetics answer charges from atheism?
The charge that Cornelius Van Til was a fideist has come from many camps. Clark Pinnock (now an open theist), leveled many attacks some decades ago attempting to discredit the proliferation of favorable responses to Presuppositionalism in the Reformed community. But again, Pinnock, Geisler, and others were blinded by their semi-Pelagian assumptions. In 1984, the first Reformed response to Presuppositionalism emerged. A triad of authors: Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley wrote Classical Apologetics. The book traces the history of philosophy, apologetic methodologies, and provides what they consider “a reconstruction of Natural Theology.” The latter part of the book devotes itself to a critique of Van Til’s apologetic.
The central charge against Van Til is that he was a fideist; one who has thrown away reason in exchange for emotions and faith. In a section entitled Between Two Fideisms, the authors assert that presuppositional thought “has boldly rejected the traditional theistic proofs and Christian evidences.” The authors, in one sense, define well the different starting points of the classical and presuppositional approach. The classical approach believes that the ultimate starting point is human autonomy, whereas, Van Til argued that God is the ultimate starting point. In light of this affirmation, critics of Van Til argue that his disciples believe in blind faith, and hence the charge of fideist. However, Van Til never denied the use of logic or rationality. In fact, as he argued in his Introduction to Systematic Theology: “The gift of logical reason was given by God to man in order that he might order the revelation of God for himself” (256). So, it is not that Van Til and his disciples deny logic or reason, it is that they deny a certain use of logic or reason. The authors of Classical Apologetics misunderstand the nature of proof and evidence. It is perfectly legitimate to use evidence and proofs for God’s existence, but they must be used properly; against the background of the nature of God.
 According to Professor Frame, Sproul is an honorary Presuppositionalist because he affirms the need to assume God in a theistic sense. In my opinion, Sproul has softened a bit to Van Til’s ideas in the last ten years, though still a strong advocate of autonomous reasoning. Gerstner, who has gone to be with the Lord, was truly the father of Classical Apologetics in the Reformed tradition. He was highly influential in R.C.’s thoughts.Sproul, Gerstner, & Lindsley. Classical Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984. Ibid. 185.
One of the assertions of a Reformed view of apologetics is that apart from God’s revelation, man cannot account for anything, or as Van Til once put it: “…the atheists cannot account for accounting.” It is the “voluntary revelation” of a gracious God that leads us to think His thoughts after Him. Once again Van Til:
He must therefore be known for what He is, and known to the extent that He is known, by authority alone.
The Christian Reformed apologist can rightly boast that his system or method for apologetics endeavor is far superior to his opponent. The Christian argues presuppositionially; God is the all in all of apologetic encounter. Though our apologetic is superior, there is a humbling sense when we acknowledge that we are solely dependent on God’s grace in revelation for our interpretation of the world.
When we spouse this position, some may say that it is theologically immature to assume things before we enter into a formal discussion. However, the reality is that no one enters into a discussion neutrally. We all reason presuppositionally! For the Thomist, “human reasoning” is his presupposition; for the Reformed thinker, God is the presupposition. Van Til summarizes this:
Psychologically, acceptance on authority precedes philosophical argument; but when, as epistemologically self-conscious grown-ups, we look into our own position, we discover that unless we may presuppose such a God as we have accepted on authority, the Moment will have no significance.
 Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. pg. 8. Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. pg. 8-9.
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, so too, does Calvinism differ itself in the area of epistemology. 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.” 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.
The Reformed tradition differs substantially from Roman Catholic, Arminian, and atheistic thought. All three of these systems begin their reasoning process from an autonomous framework. They all follow a Thomistic 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 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.
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.
 See my articles on Abraham Kuyper on the Abraham Kuyper archive list.
 Epistemology refers to “how we know things.”
 This is the language used by Cornelius Van Til.
 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.
 By Thomistic, I mean the works of Thomas Aquinas, who strongly emphasized the use of natural reason to come to theistic conclusions.
 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.
 Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. pg. 7.
 Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. pg. 7.
In the late 1940’s, Professor Cornelius Van Til wrote a series of articles for the Westminster Theological Journal. The articles analyzed Abraham Kuyper’s1 view of Common Grace. It was in a sense a brief analysis of Kuyper’s great three-volume work on Common Grace published in the Netherlands. As a philosopher and a Dutchman, Van Til was amply qualified to deal with this topic. The book is a helpful overview of the Kuyper’s position, but also a recapitulation of the debates that ensued in the Christian Reformed Church in the early 1920’s.
This subject is particularly pertinent to Van Tillian philosophy since as Van Til states:
The question of where he may find a point of contact with the world for the message that he brings is a matter of grave concern to every Christian minister and teacher.2
Inherent in VanTillian (or Presuppositional) thinking is the idea of the “starting point” or “presupposition” of discourse with the unbeliever (unbelief). If common grace is after all common to all, then a point of contact is therefore established.
Van Til’s concern at the outset is to ensure the reader that the interpretation of facts differs depending on how one views the philosophy of history. Some attempt to look through facts as brute concepts—brute facts, as some may assume. Nevertheless, Van Til claims that the “believer and the unbeliever differ at the outset of every self-conscious investigation.”3 Philosophers continue to debate the nature of epistemology4 and their consequences for philosophical discourse. Even in the Reformed tradition there is strong disagreement over the starting point of investigation. Some will claim that reason is the starting point5 and from there we may come to an objective conclusion. Van Til, however, argued strongly that the starting point of Christian philosophy is the counsel of God. For instance, according to Van Til:
Current scientific description is not merely explanation, but it is definitely anti-Christian explanation.6
Hence, Van Til’s philosophy of history understands un-Christian thought to be at all points in contradiction with the nature of reality. Reality, finds itself only in the Christian worldview; objectivity is by definition a Christian property, since objectivity needs a metaphysical entity to make sense of the data. The modern scientist will always and continually ascribe to the mind of man their discoveries and their conclusion, on the other hand, the Christian thinker will never attribute glory and honor to autonomous creatures, but always to God himself. God is the starting point of history, since He alone is the Creator and Sustainer of history.
The unbeliever cannot begin his investigation with a Christian worldview. The believer cannot begin his investigation with an unchristian worldview. The two are diametrically opposed. One seeks to sustain an anti-God proposition, while the other seeks to bring into submission all things to the Lordship of Christ. As Van Til appropriately concludes:
…the believer and the non-believer, are epistemologically self-conscious and as such engaged in the interpretative enterprise, they cannot be said to have any fact in common.7
Though epistemologically they are different, it must be mentioned that in Kuyperian view of common grace, there is a sense in which there are elements of commonality among believer and unbelievers, thereby providing certain venues for proper public discourse. For instance, both were created by God in His image and both are part of the same God-created universe. However, unless the unbeliever operates within a Biblical framework, his philosophy will always be by nature anti-Trinitarian.8
For two previous articles on Abraham Kuyper go here. [↩ back]
Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. pg. 1. [↩ back]
7:08Am One of the advantages of rising at 5:30AM is the enjoyment of beginning a new day ahead of over 70% of the population. A fresh start and a fresh walk in the empty streets. I have some Kuyper and Van Til reading to do after work this morning.Here is a glorious reference from my sermon’s text yesterday: And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
To paraphrase Cornelius Van Til: “If there is no autonomy then only theonomy.” Though Dr. Van Til had the philosophical issue of neutrality in mind rather than ethical dispute, he makes an eternally valid point that has affected many thinkers of this persuasion.
When Judge Alito answers the Judiciary Committee and with all seriousness says that his religion has nothing to do with his judging, then this is the first sign of autonomous thinking. Man by inclination always objectifies his reasoning on the basis of himself as standard. The absurdity of such thinking is that though they may believe God, at the same time they claim themselves as gods. Van Til’s point is that only God is the author of reason and only God establishes patterns of thought and logic. This is the reason political stupidity is rampant in Washington: because they are all gods of their own. And when their “godness” is the authority then why need a religion? Religion serves only to fill gaps of guilt and blame. So autonomy and political stupidity are closer than one may think. After all, “the fool says in his heart there is no god,” but the politician says in his heart I am god.
This is based on a discussion on the Gordon Clark v. Van Til debate in the OPC in the 1940’s. For further background see my paragraph entitled: Futile Disputes, and peruse through the comments for context.
Dear brother, let me write once again in order to further our dialogue. I get the impression that you have not read Gordon Clark, or further, that you are not familiar with the Clark v. Van Til debate. If you are not, I would recommend reading selected portions of John Frame’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God for a great summary. To facilitate let me list you a few of Frame’s reasons for similarity in God’s and man’s thought in defense of Dr. Clark. Remember, Dr. Clark wanted to avoid any form of skepticism for the Christian. In other words, if man could not think as God thinks then we have no certainty to rely upon. John Frame is not defending all of Clark’s theses, but he is concerned to accentuate some validity in Clark’s “propositions” (no pun intended).
Here are at least three ways in which man thinks God’s thoughts after him. see DKG pg.26 1) Divine and Human thought are bound to the same standard of truth. This, even Van Til agreed on, proving that he and Clark simply talked passed each other (as Professor Frame pointed out in class). “God’s thoughts are self-validating; man’s are validated by God’s. Thus they are both validated by reference to the same standard, divine thought”(26 – DKG).
2) “Divine and Human thought may be about the same things, or as philosophers say, they may have the same “objects.” When a man thinks about a rose and when God thinks about it (God is always thinking about it since He is eternally omniscient), they are thinking about the same thing.”
3) “It is possible for man’s beliefs, as well as God’s, to be true. A true belief that will not mislead. God’s beliefs do not mislead Him, and true human beliefs do not mislead human beings… if there is no truth, or if man’s truth is “wholly different,” wholy disanalogous, from God’s, then knowledge is impossible.”
So you see, it is sufficiently plausible to assume analogy upon God and man’s knowledge for knowledge to be justifiable, and of course, I would defend on the basis of Frame’s analysis that it is sufficiently plausible to assume disanologies between God and Man as Van Til affirmed.
I hope we can continue to discuss this matter.