A. The Doctrines of Christian Theism vs. Humanism
B. The Unbeliever's Ethical Confrontation with the Scriptural World and-Life view
A. Day-to-Day Activity in the Life of the Unbeliever
B. The Unbeliever's Confrontation with the Scriptural World and-Life view
A. Rejection of Empirical Observation and Investigation
B. Rejection of Historical Evidences
C. Rejection of Reasoning and Argumentation with Non-Christians
D. Affirmation of "Fideism."
Contrary to the beliefs of some students, the apologetical approach of Josh McDowell admits the existence of a wall of presuppositional thought in the hearts of unbelievers which blocks the reception of the evidences for the truth of Christianity.
Contrary to the beliefs of some students, the apologetical approach of Cornelius Van Til admits the existence of objective evidences and their important role in the Christian witness.
While attending a secular college, three books were of inestimable value to me in my evangelistic efforts. These books were Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, The Defense of the Faith, by Cornelius Van Til, and The Institutes of Biblical Law, by R. J. Rushdoony. Although, being a Calvinist, I had heard that McDowell's theology was more "Arminian" than I might prefer, I felt that there was no real tension between the three books.
Upon making contact with the Simon Greenleaf School of Law, however, I began to pick up student feelings that there was a great conflict between "presuppositionalism" and "evidentialism." Beliefs were imputed to McDowell and Van Til that I had never read, and in fact seemed contrary to things I had heard both men say.
Upon re-reading both schools of thought, it appears that there is no reason for all-out war, and that differences are not as great as similarities.
For many today, the study of history is incorporated with the ideas that there is no God, miracles are not possible, we live in a closed system, and there is no supernatural. With these presuppositions they begin their "critical, open, and honest" investigation of history. What these men have done is to rule out the resurrection of Christ even before they start an historical investigation of the resurrection.
These presuppositions are not historical biases but, rather, philosophical prejudices.
Their approach to history rests on the "rationalistic presupposition" that Christ could not have been raised from the dead. Instead of beginning with the historical data, they preclude it by "metaphysical speculation."
McDowell quotes Montgomery (who, he says, was the one who stimulated his thinking about history), who says,
- Kant conclusively showed that all arguments and systems begin with presuppositions; but this does not mean that all presuppositions are equally desirable.
[S]cientistic A PRIORI and circular reasoning often replace solid empirical analysis."
Burrows [who] exposes the cause of much excessive unbelief: "The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural."
On this thought, Griffith Thomas (Christianity is Christ, Moody Press) says, "If, therefore, we are to allow the scientific doctrine of the uniformity and continuity of nature to bar the way, we shall inevitably come to the conclusion that miracles are impossible, and from this would follow, as it usually does follow, the conclusion that a miraculous Christ is impossible. The question is thus really decided on a priori grounds before the evidence is even looked at."
The role of anti-theistic presuppositions is even more prominent in McDowell's MORE Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Virtually the entire book is given over to proving that it is "the humanistic view that often determines the results of the radical critics."
McDowell exposes the importance of anti-Christian presuppositions in the Documentary Hypothesis and in Form Criticism.
Chapter One is devoted to an analysis of "The Presupposition of Anti-supernaturalism." In this chapter,
Clark Pinnock clearly describes the problem: "Until he (the naturalist) will admit the possibility of a theistic world, no amount of evidence will convince modern man that the Resurrection is not absurd."
No matter how vehement an opponent of "presuppositionalist" apologetics he may be, nearly all "evidentialist" apologists are familiar with the story of the man who thought he was dead. This story, apparently originating in the fertile mind of John Montgomery, recalls efforts by doctors to present factual evidence that dead men do not bleed. But upon being stuck with a pin and bleeding, the facts were quickly disposed of to allow the presupposition full sway. McDowell quotes Montgomery as he gives the moral of the story:
This parable illustrates that if you hold unsound presuppositions with sufficient tenacity, facts will make no difference at all. . . . The man in the parable not only thought he was dead, but in a very real sense, he was dead because facts no longer meant anything to him.
The Bible, of course, tells us that the unsaved are "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1), which brings the truth of this parable home in a powerful way. At this point, Van Til might ask, "Will it then profit us to give him more evidence?"
McDowell concludes the chapter in summary:
The anti-supernaturalist bases his thinking on the presupposition that God has not intervened in history. Therefore he rejects evidence indicating the supernatural no matter how convincing.
This analysis seems to accord with Van Til's view that to merely present fact after fact without confronting the unbeliever's presuppositionally-rooted desire to live in death
is bound to lead to self-frustration on the part of the traditional apologist. Let us watch him for a moment. Think of him first as an inductivist. As such he will engage in "historical apologetics". . . . In general he will deal with the "facts" of the universe in order to prove the existence of God. He cannot, on his position, challenge the assumption of the man he is trying to win. That man is ready for him. Think of the traditional apologist as throwing facts to his non-Christian friend as he might a ball. His friend receives each fact as he might a ball and throws it behind him into a bottomless pit. The apologist is exceedingly industrious. He shows all the evidence for Christianity, for instance, for the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ. Let us think of his friend as absolutely tireless and increasingly polite. He will then receive all these facts and toss them behind him in the bottomless pit of pure possibility.
You see that the unbeliever who does not work on the presupposition of Creation and Providence is perfectly consistent with himself when he sees nothing to challenge his unbelief even in the fact of the resurrection of Christ.
Van Til thus criticizes the traditional apologist for not taking due account of the role of presuppositions in apologetics:
[T]he Christian apologist should never seek to be an inductivist only. He should present his philosophy of fact with his facts. He does not need to handle less facts in doing so. He will handle the same facts but he will handle them as they ought to be handled.
But the careful reader of McDowell does not ignore "the presuppositions of anti-supernaturalism," and would not fall under Van Til's criticism.
The evidence clearly and objectively points to Jesus Christ as Resurrected Lord. We must submit to Him. But McDowell points out that this is precisely why some do not: "[S]ome people reject the clear evidence because of moral implications involved." In other words, if Jesus is Lord, then I have to obey Him (John 15:14). I would have to give up promiscuous sex, high finance, and power-grabbing. This is unacceptable to many unbelievers. McDowell quotes the extremely revealing remarks of Aldous Huxley:
I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. . . . For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.
Anti-theistic presuppositions are rooted in a desire to be liberated from Biblical Law, which is, of course, the central theme of Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law.
Thus, we should find no tension between the Lordship-emphasis of Rushdoony, the Scriptural Presuppositionalism of Van Til, and the evidential apologetic of McDowell. Inconsistencies should always be covered in love (1 Corinthians 13:5-7).
It is true, of course, that if unbelievers were consistent with their presupposition of ultimate meaninglessness and chaos, they could have no knowledge. By God's grace, however, no man is a consistent unbeliever. He does have legitimate knowledge, which he obtains on "borrowed capital."
But when the unbeliever is explicitly asked to come to terms with the Lordship of Christ, he tries with ever greater effort to be consistent to his pretended autonomy. Van Til thus urges that we confront the unbeliever with the facts of God's Creation and evidence from His history.
Sad to say the traditional Christian apologist has not even asked his unbelieving friend to see the facts for what they really are. He has not presented the facts at all. That is, he has not presented the facts as they are according to the Christian way of looking at them and the Christian way of looking at them is the true way of looking at them. Every fact in the universe is what it is by virtue of the place that it has in the plan of God. He must therefore present the facts of theism and of Christianity, of Christian theism, as proving Christian theism because they are intelligible as facts in terms of it and in terms of it alone.
Thus, since every fact is what it is by virtue of God's creation, and His creation bears continual and unavoidable testimony to it's Maker (Romans 1:18-23; Psalm 19:1-4), Van Til
would therefore engage in historical apologetics. Every bit of historical investigation, whether it be in the directly Biblical field, archaeology, or in general history, is bound to confirm the truth of the claims of the Christian position. But I would not talk endlessly about facts and more facts without ever challenging the non-believer's philosophy of fact. A really fruitful historical apologetic argues that every fact is and must be such as proves the truth of the Christian position.
A. Van Til is opposed to empirical investigation, and he rejects empirical epistemology, thus giving a veto to any inductive approach.
While Van Til would not employ an inductive approach alone,
The Christian position is certainly not opposed to experimentation and observation. . . . [I]t is quite commonly held that we cannot accept anything that is not the result of a sound scientific methodology. With this we can as Christians heartily agree.
B. Van Til thinks it wrong to appeal to historical defenses of the Christian faith and does not think a philosophy of Christian evidences which employs historical evidence is needed. Like Barth, Van Til is "allergic to Christian evidences."
But we have already seen (quote at note 23) that Van Til is not opposed to historical apologetics. He adds,
Historical apologetics is absolutely necessary and indispensable to point out that Christ arose from the grave, etc. . . . In addition to showing that Christ actually arose from the grave and that the facts recorded in the Scripture are as they are recorded as being, insofar as this can be ascertained by historical research, we must show that the philosophy of fact as held to by Christian theism is the only philosophy that can account for the facts.
C. Van Til cuts off any interchange with non-Christian thinkers, assumes that all discussion is meaningless and impossible, and denies the possibility of rational exchange.
But since no non-Christian is consistent with his presupposition of chance, it does not surprise us to hear Van Til say,
It is thus in the mixed situation that results because of the factors mentioned . . . that cooperation between believers and unbelievers is possible. Men on both sides can, by virtue of the gifts of God that they enjoy, contribute to science. . . . [T]he argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity can as readily be observed to be true by non-Christians as by Christians.
Stated another way, some have said that Van Til perilously approximates the Barthian apologetic position that "belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it." 
But surely dependence upon the Spirit for apologetic success does not rule out human action. Van Til would say as much:
Scripture teaches us to speak and preach to, as well as to reason with blind men, because God, in Whose Name we speak and reason, can cause the blind to see.
D. Van Til's apologetic is aligned with "irrational fideism," holding that "truth in religion is ultimately based on faith rather than on reasoning or evidence," and contending that "faith needs no defense" because "that would be a slight to the Holy Spirit."
Only a mis-reading of Van Til's writings could prompt someone to suggest that Van Til was a fideist. Concerning reason and faith, he says,
Knowledge and faith are not contradictories, but complementaries. . . . Reason and revelation should not be contrasted as two sources of knowledge.
On the other hand, not all "evidentialists" deny that unbelievers will mangle all facts and evidences as long as they seek to avoid the crown rights of King Jesus.
Montgomery has called attention to the traditional three-fold division of theological study: Dogmatics, apologetics, and ethics. If Van Til emphasizes the role of systematic theology in our apologetics, and Rushdoony emphasizes the application of Biblical Law in apologetic "cultural critique," certainly the archaeological and historical work being done by evidential apologists would only be complemented by the work from the other two branches; there should be no "competition" or tension.
It is my prayer that apologists from the "presuppositionalist" and "evidentialist" schools will in the future work in harmony, so that in our unity people will know that Christ is sent by the Father (John 17:21).
Vine & Fig Tree Home Page
1. Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, San Bernardino: Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc., 1972, p. 8 (emphasis ours).
2. McDowell, idem., (emphasis his).
3. McDowell, idem.
4. McDowell, p. 9.
5. McDowell, p. 68, (emphasis his) where Montgomery is referring to archeological dating methods.
6. McDowell, p. 69. See also the testimony on pp. 283-84.
7. McDowell, p. 131. See also Wescott's quote on p. 143.
8. Josh McDowell, MORE Evidence that Demands a Verdict, San Bernardino: Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc., 1975, p. iv.
9. McDowell, MORE, pp. 51-83.
10. McDowell, MORE, pp. 4, 8-10, 37.
11. McDowell, MORE, pp. 3-16 (emphasis in graphics, p. 3).
12. McDowell, MORE, p. 6.
13. McDowell, MORE, p. 15.
14. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, Phila.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 3d ed., 1967, p. 204.
15. Van Til, Defense, p. 205.
16. McDowell, MORE, chap. 1, pp. 3-16.
17. McDowell, MORE, p. 112.
18. McDowell, Evidence, p. 12. Huxley's admission is what Pinnock calls a "moral unmasking" of the pseudo-intellectual excuses the unbeliever maintains in order to justify lawlessness. As Rushdoony points out throughout his Institutes, the issue at stake is lordship. Pinnock is right, therefore, when he says, "In Christian apologetics, as in theology, the law is preached before the gospel in order that the unregenerate man will be unmasked before the demands of a holy God. . . . The scandal of the gospel is not its alleged immunity from proof. Its offense lies in its moral unmasking of the sinner, not in its supposed untruthfulness" (Clark Pinnock, Set Forth Your Case, Chicago, Moody Press, 1967, pp. 30, 13).
As Pinnock was influenced by Francis Schaeffer, who was in turn influenced by both Rushdoony and Van Til, we are not surprised to see Rushdoony quoted at some length (e.g., at 121-22, from his summary-analysis of the philosophy of Cornelius Van Til). Pinnock thus moves us from facts to presuppositions, and then from there to the ethical demands of Kingdom citizenship, where we find the deepest motivating force for those anti-Christian presuppositions. This is why Rushdoony's extension of Van Til's presuppositionalism into the personal and social applications of Biblical Law is so vital (R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973).
As we shall see, unfortunately, Pinnock later abandoned his leanings toward the "Christian Reconstruction" perspective (as well as Biblical inerrancy). Subsequently, however, Pinnock has re-embraced inerrancy and other good things.
19. Clark Pinnock, "The Philosophy of Christian Evidences," in Jerusalem and Athens, E.R. Geehan, ed., Phila.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1977, p. 425.
20. Pinnock, ibid., p. 423.
21. And Van Til certainly concurs here:
The first objection that suggests itself may be expressed in the rhetorical question, 'Do you mean to assert that non-Christians do not discover truth by the methods they employ?' The reply is that we mean nothing so absurd as that (The Defense of the Faith 1955 ed., p. 120).
We are well aware of the fact that non-Christians have a great deal of knowledge about this world which is true as far as it goes. That is, there is a sense in which we can and must allow for the value of knowledge of non-Christians (An Introduction to Systematic Theology, class syl., reprinted 1966, p. 26).
[N]on-Christian thinkers in general, and non-Christian scientists in particular, may discover much that is true about the universe that is made by God" (The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel, L.J. Grotenhuis, 1953, p. 9).
We readily allow that non-Christian science has done a great work and brought to light much truth. . . .We gladly recognize the detail work of many scientists as being highly valuable " (Christian-Theistic Evidences, class syl., 1961, p. 69).
The world may discover much truth without owning Christ as Truth. . . . So modern theology may discover much truth" (The Case for Calvinism, Phila: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1964, p. 148).
The issue is inconsistency (Van Til calls it "common grace"). Pinnock describes it like this: "It is difficult to live with the implications of the belief that in the beginning matter created the heavens and the earth, whether scientifically, philosophically, or morally. And [the unbeliever] does not live with them, but daily cheats against his presuppositions. . . . For all men live in God's world and cannot succeed in their attempt to root all things back into chance. At some point they cheat, and live as if the gospel were true" (Case, pp. 110, 123).
22. Van Til, Defense, 1967 ed., pp. 204-205.
23. Van Til, ibid., p. 199. The Bible contains the clearest declaration of God's activity in history.
However, Scripture does not stop there. It does not suggest that those who have not been exposed to the light of historical revelation exist in some kind of theological limbo. On the contrary it boldly asserts that all men everywhere are always confronted with the facts of God's existence (Ps 19:1; Ro 1:18-25). It has been observed that nowhere does Scripture attempt a deductive argument for the existence of God like those of Thomas Aquinas, for example. [F]or the Bible the deepest proof of God's existence is just life itself. The knowledge of God and man's knowledge of himself are closely intertwined.
Paul taught too that the natural order witnesses to the existence of an infinite personal God (Ro 1:19-20). The world is stamped with His trademark. It is impossible, the apostle states, to avoid the conclusion that an almighty power exists apart from the visible order. Man's condition of low visibility is not due to the absence of evidence for God's existence, but to his own blindness, which is related to the sin problem. Unbelief is. . .due to man's willful autonomy and refusal to bow before the living God. He is without excuse" (Case, p. 108-110).
24. Pinnock, "Evidences," pp. 421, 422.
25. Clark Pinnock, Biblical Revelation: The Foundation of Christian Theology, Chicago: Moody, 1971, p. 38.
26. Van Til, Evidences, pp. 62, ii. See also A Survey of Christian Epistemology, den Dulk, 1969, pp. 7, 120, 9, 10.
Now this approach from the bottom to the top, from the particular to the general is the inductive aspect of the method of implication. The greater the amount of detailed study . . . the more truly Christian will the method be. It is important to bring out this point in order to help remove the common misunderstanding that Christianity is opposed to factual investigation. . . . By an immediate starting point is meant the place where the knowledge of facts must begin. It is of course quite consistent with a theistic position to say that we must start with the 'facts' as that term is understood ordinarily. . . . All agree that the immediate starting point must be that of our everyday experience and the 'facts' that are most close at hand. . . . But the favorite charge against us is that we are. . .employing the deductive method. Our opponents are thoughtlessly identifying our method with the Greek method of deduction. . . . We need only observe that a priori reasoning, and a posteriori reasoning, are equally anti-Christian, if these terms are understood in their historical sense. . . . On the other hand, if God is recognized as the only and the final explanation of any and every fact, neither the inductive nor the deductive method can any longer be used to the exclusion of the other.")
27. Pinnock, "Evidences," p. 420.
28. Pinnock, ibid., p. 425.
29. Pinnock, Revelation, p. 42. See also p. 48. (the statement Pinnock makes in the context of caviling against Van Til: "Faith is not destroyed by having a historical ground.")
30. Thom Notaro has gathered the often misunderstood as well as the neglected material Van Til has contributed on the legitimacy and role of evidences within presuppositional apologetics (Van Til and the Use of Evidence, Phila.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1980).
31. Van Til, Systematic, pp. 146, 147). See also Epistemology, p. xiii.
As Christians we have a very definite philosophy of history. For us, history is the realization of the purposes and plans of the all-sufficient God revealed through Christ in Scripture. And if this is the case we are naturally persuaded that in history lies the best proof of our philosophy of human life."
The following quotes help fill in Van Til's view of history and factual evidences:
"We dare not say that nature and history lend themselves quite as well to the non-Christian as to the Christian interpretation" (Common Grace, Phila.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1947, p. 94).
"Christianity is an historical religion. It is based upon such facts as the death and resurrection of Christ. The question of miracle is at the heart of it. . . . We may say, then, that we seek to defend the fact of miracle, the fact of providence, the fact of creation, and therefore, the fact of God. . . . (W)e are seeking to defend Christian theism as a fact. And this is really the same thing as to say that we believe the facts of the universe are unaccounted for except upon the Christian-theistic basis. . . . We shall, in each case, have to point out the explanations offered by non-Christian views are no explanations at all inasmuch as they cannot relate the facts discussed to all other facts that must be taken into account" (Evidences, pp. i, ii).
That Van Til does not recoil from the evidence within the cosmic or historic order with which we could answer unbelievers (Pinnock, "Evidences," p. 424 (cf. 422f.)) is seen in this quote from Evidences (p. 61):"Our further study of the factual evidence in the matter is. . .a corroboration of our assertion."
"Nor is it to disparage the usefulness of arguments for the corroboration of the Scripture that comes from archeology. It is only to say that such corroboration is not of independent power" (Introduction to The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, by B.B. Warfield, ed. S.G. Craig, Phila.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1948, p. 37).
"Man has round about him the clearest possible evidence of the power and divinity of God. . . . God has never left Himself without a witness to men. He witnesses to them through every fact of the universe from the beginning of time. No rational creature can escape this witness" (Defense (1955), p. 172).
"There is objective evidence in abundance and it is sufficiently clear. Men ought . . . to come to the conclusion that God exists" (Grace, p. 49).
"The real question is, therefore, into whose schematism the facts will fit. As between Christianity and its opponents the question is whether our claim that Christianity is the only schematism into which the facts will fit is true or not" (Evidences, p. 40).
32. Pinnock, "Evidences," p. 422.
33. Pinnock, ibid., p. 423.
34. Pinnock, ibid., p. 424.
35. Van Til, Defense (1955), p. 192. In addition, the following statements are helpful:
It will be necessary for us to insist that our opponents make reasonable to us this claim that men can have no knowledge of ultimate things. Unless they are able to do this they have no right to their attitude of carelessness. So then, we are necessarily led once more into a dialogue . . . because God is Himself a completely rational God and has created us in His image, there is every reason to believe that He will make argumentation effective. . . . There is then even in the consciousness of the non-regenerate a formal power of receptivity. It is this that enables him to consider the Christian theistic position and see that it stands squarely over against his own, and demands of him the surrender of his own position. . . . It is not, then, as though the clear recognition of the fundamental ethical difference between the regenerate and the non-regenerate consciousness implies that there is a two-fold truth, or that we must use one type of argument for one type of consciousness and another type of argument for the other type of consciousness. It is exactly the deep conviction that there is metaphysically only one type of consciousness, and that the non-regenerate and the regenerate consciousness are but ethical modifications of this one fundamental metaphysical consciousness, that leads us to reason with unbelievers. And it is exactly because of our deep conviction that God is one and truth is therefore one, that we hold that there is only one type of argument for all men. All the recognition of the deep ethical difference does is to call attention to this very fact that it is God Who must make this one truth effective in the hearts of men . . . . Having before us all the factors that enter into the knowledge situation, and having on the basis of them concluded in the preceding chapter that it is necessary to reason with those who believe differently than we do . . . (Epistemology, pp. xiv, 197, 198, 200).
Christians cannot allow the legitimacy of the assumptions that underlie the non-Christian methodology. But they can place themselves upon the position of those whom they are seeking to win to a belief in Christianity for the sake of the argument. And the non-Christian, though not granting the presuppositions from which the Christian works, can nevertheless place himself upon the position of the Christian for the sake of the argument. . . . The natural man is quite able intellectually to follow the argument that the Christian offers for the truth of his position. He can therefore see that the wisdom of this world has been made foolishness by God. Christianity can be shown to be, not 'just as good as' or even 'better than' the non-Christian position, but the only position that does not make nonsense of human experience" (A Christian Theory of Knowledge, Phila.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1969, pp. 18, 19).
He [the non-Christian] can follow a process of reasoning intellectually. He may even have a superior intellect. But of himself he always makes the wrong use of it ("Introduction," p. 39).
Looking at the matter thus allows for legitimate cooperation with non-Christian scientists (Common, p. 44).
36. Pinnock, "Evidences," p. 422.
37. Compare Pinnock's remarks elsewhere: "All our pleading and argument will do nothing to budge [the unbeliever] from his usurped throne of self-worship" (Set Forth Your Case, Chicago: Moody Press, 1967, p. 17), and: "The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is essential to genuine faith. . ." (p. 66). Yet we are not surprised to hear him say, "Because we cannot do everything does not imply we are to do nothing" (Id.).
38. Van Til, Systematic, p. 30, emphasis ours. Further thoughts:
The distribution of God's grace depends in the last analysis upon His sovereign will, but it is mediated always through fully responsible image-bearers of God ("Nature and Scripture," in The Infallible Word, ed., Stonehouse and Woolley, Phila.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1946, p. 265).
If one really saw that it is necessary to have God in order to understand the grass that grows outside his window, he would certainly come to a saving knowledge of Christ, and to the knowledge of the absolute authority of the Bible. It is true, we grant, that it is not usually in this way that men become true Christian theists, but we put it this way in order to bring out clearly that the investigation of any fact whatsoever will involve a discussion of the meaning of Christianity. . . . It is well to emphasize this fact because there are Fundamentalists who tend to throw overboard all epistemological and metaphysical investigation and say that they will limit their activities to preaching Christ. But we see that they are not really preaching Christ unless they are preaching Him for what He wants to be, namely, the Christ of cosmic significance. Nor can they even long retain the soteriological significance of Christ if they forsake His cosmological significance (Epistemology, p. 207).
This does not mean that we hold creation or providence to be merely a matter of revelation in the sense that they are not rationally defensible. On the contrary, we hold that though we must, as sinners, get these doctrines from the Bible, they are indeed rationally defensible. With them it is as with the rest of the Bible teaching (Evidences, p. 98).
We can start with any fact at all and challenge 'our friends the enemy' to give us an intelligible interpretation of it. Since the non-theist is so heartily convinced that univocal reasoning is the only possible kind of reasoning, we must ask him to reason univocally for us in order that we may see the consequences. . . . What we shall have to do then is to try to reduce our opponent's position to an absurdity. Nothing less will do. . . . We must point out to them that univocal reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we must meet our enemy on their own ground. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary (Epistemology, pp. 204, 205).
39. Pinnock, "Evidences," p. 425.
40. Pinnock, ibid, p. 423.
41. Pinnock, Revelation, p. 39.
42. Van Til, Epistemology, pp. 109, 123. We should note that Van Til criticizes those who
saw no way of harmonizing the facts of the Christian religion with the "constitution and source of nature." They gave up the idea of a philosophical apologetics entirely. This fideistic attitude comes to expression frequently in the statement of the experiential proof of the truth of Christianity. People will say that they know that they are saved and that Christianity is true no matter what the philosophical or scientific evidence for or against it may be. . . . But, in thus seeking to withdraw from all intellectual argument, such fideists have virtually admitted the validity of the argument against Christianity. They will have to believe in their hearts what they have virtually allowed to be intellectually indefensible (Evidences, p. 37).
Moreover, it is only if the Christian 'system' be set over against the non-Christian system that unbelief can be effectively challenged. Reformed thinking claims that Christianity is reasonable ("Introduction," p. 49).
If facts may not be separated from faith, neither may faith be separated from facts. . . . [W]e thus press the objective validity of the Christian claim at every point (Common Grace, pp. 70, 95).
And no Christian apologetic can be based upon the destruction of rationality itself (Evidences, p. 50).
The argument for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity is objectively valid. We should not tone down the validity of this argument to the probability level. . . . [I]n itself the argument is absolutely sound. Christianity is the only reasonable position to hold. It is not merely as reasonable as other positions; it alone is the natural and reasonable position for man to take. By stating the argument as clearly as we can, we may be the agents of the Spirit in pressing the claims of God upon men (Common Grace, p. 62).
43. Pinnock, Revelation, p. 42.
44. Re: Bare Authority
It might seem that there can be no argument between them. It might seen that the orthodox view of authority is to be spread only by testimony and by prayer, not by argument. But this would militate directly against the very foundation of all Christian revelation, namely, to the effect that all things in the universe are nothing if not revelational of God. Christianity must claim that it alone is rational. . . . The Christian is bound to believe and hold that his system of doctrine is certainly true and that other systems are certainly false ("Introduction," p. 38).
In other words, the question of the identity of Scripture could not be discussed without asking about the truth of the content of which it speaks. The that and the what overlap. Unless we conjoin the message of the Scripture, the latter becomes an abstraction. . . . [W]e are not to separate the fact of Scripture from the nature of Scripture. The identification of the fact of Scripture is an identification accomplished by the setting before us of the content of Scripture, the system of truth centering in the ideas of God as self-contained and of His plan for the universe which controls whatsoever comes to pass. The identity is not that of an unknown quantity. Faith is not blind faith. . . . [T]he idea of Scripture as self-attesting is involved in the fact that in it we have the message of redemption for man. . . . It is through the heavenly content of the Word that God speaks of Himself. Faith is not blind faith; it is faith in the truth, the system of truth displayed in the Scriptures. . . . [T]he Bible tells the story of God's redemptive work for man. This work is accomplished through Christ, the Son of God, Who is also completely human. The Word tells us of the person and work of Christ. But Christ Himself tells about the Word as being authoritative because it is the Word of God. . . . Thus the Christ as testifying to the Word and the Word as testifying to the Christ are involved in one another. . . . It is Christ Whose voice the church hears in Scripture (A Christian Theory of Knowledge, Phila.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1969, pp. 31, 32, 26, 33, 30).
It is plain from what has been presented of Berkouwer's view on Scripture as found in his earlier work that for him the idea of an infallible Scripture and the content of Christian teaching are involved in one another. This is the proper Biblical teleology of history and Berkouwer sets it squarely against the modern view, including that of Barth (The Sovereignty of Grace, Phila.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1969, p. 58, cf. Epistemology, p. 12).
Therefore, submission to the inSpiration of Scripture for Van Til is not based on a bare authority claim; the content or truth of Scripture cannot be rightly separated from its form and authority.
45. Re: Bare Experience
Van Til is well-known as an ardent critic of the Crisis Theology of "encounter" as well (cf. The New Modernism, 1946, Christianity and Modern Theology, 1955, Christianity and Barthianism, 1965, The Confession of 1967: Its Theological Background and Ecumenical Significance, 1967, all titles Phila: P&R).
Moreover, Van Til has already been quoted in his opposition to any obscurantism in defending the inspiration of Scripture by ignoring empirical attacks (cf. CTK, p. 35).)
As noted, Van Til criticizes those who hold to) "the experiential proof of the truth of Christianity. . . . They will have to believe in their hearts what they have virtually allowed to be intellectually indefensible" (Evidences, p. 37).
Van Til criticizes a theologian because he had "made too sharp a separation between revelation and the work of the Spirit in accepting it. . . . Revelation is always authoritative testimony. . . . Therefore it also has the full ground for certainty in itself. . . . [T]he Holy Spirit testifies to the system of truth revealed in Scripture" (Systematic, p. 59).
[T]he Reformed view of Scripture is unique and stands diametrically opposed to every form of mystical degradation of Scripture [which] brings the 'Spirit' in tension with the written Word (Sovereignty, pp. 62f.).
An evangelical, that is a virtually Arminian, theology makes concessions to the principle that controls a 'theology of experience'. . . . And to the precise extent that evangelicalism makes these concessions in its theology does it weaken its own defense of the infallible Bible ("Introduction," p. 67).
It is important to keep these things in mind, in view of the all-too-common practice on the part of Christian apologists to make a hard and fast distinction between the field of religion and the field of science. The assumption of this division is that as Christians we need only to claim that we know about heavenly things, and that scientists, whether Christian or non-Christians, know about earthly things. In this way, apologists hope to gain a free territory for religion. It is obvious, however, that such an attempt is foredoomed to failure (Systematic, p. 83).
A religious experience is not held separate from matters of truth for Van Til:
[I]t is also the Spirit of God that must give man the ability to accept the truth as it is presented to him in apologetical reasoning. . . . It is true further that for acceptance of that revelation it is again upon the testimony of the Spirit that we must depend. And this testimony brings no direct personal information to the individual. It works within the mind and heart of the individual the conviction that the Scriptures are the objective Word in the sense described ("Introduction," pp. 39, 34).
Is it fair to conclude that Van Til does not base his apologetic upon any bare experience claim? The self-attesting Word must be kept in conjunction with the Spirit according to Van Til; together they are the basis for the claim that Christianity alone is rational, and their authority can be spread by argument. (Cf. "Introduction," p. 38).
46. John W. Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1978, p. ix.
47. McDowell, MORE, pp. 6-7.
Vine & Fig Tree Home Page
Converted to HTML Tuesday, February 03, 1998, 1:34:10 PM