Everything would be utterly unintelligible

How could unbelievers, unbelievers just because they have already rejected God’s revelation in the universe about them and within them by a philosophy of chance and of human autonomy, ever concede that the claims of the New Testament writers with respect to their inspiration by God is true? The criterion they employ will compel them to deny it. It is their criterion that must be shown to involve a metaphysics of chance. Then, if the Spirit opens their eyes, they will see the truth.

… Christ does ask the natural man to judge with respect to the truth of his claims. But then he asks them to admit that their own wisdom has been made foolishness with God. Only the Christian theory of knowledge, based as it is upon the absolute authority of the Word of God speaking in Scripture, makes communication of any sort possible anywhere between men. Without this presupposition men would have no integrated selves and the world would be a vacuum. Without this presupposition of the Christian theory of being there would be no defensible position with respect to the relation of men and things. Neither men nor things would have discernible identity. There would be no science and no philosophy or theology, for there would be no order. History would be utterly unintelligible. Finally, without the presupposition of the Christian theory of morality there would be no intelligible view of the difference between good and evil. Why should any action be thought to be better than any other except on the supposition that it is or is not what God approves or disapproves? Except on the Christian basis there is no intelligible distinction between good and evil.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture p.61-62

  (Bahnsen p.116-117)

Every thought captive

It is therefore the Christ of the Scriptures, the self-attesting and self-explaining Christ whom young ministers must learn to present in all his saving grace to all men everywhere.

Person-to-person confrontation with him takes place by means of, not in spite of, the Scriptures as the finished revelation of Christ.

How can we call Jesus our Lord and then refuse to make every thought, even thought itself, captive to the obedience of his Word as he has spoken it and continues to speak it, in the Scriptures? How shall we, and men in general, profit from his redemptive acts, if we do not take him and his acts to be what he himself tells us that they are?

Shall we seek access to Christ through the Holy Spirit, and insult the Word which the Spirit inspired?

Shall we first interpret ourselves, our finitude, our sin, our evil plight, in terms of criteria taken from ourselves or from the world and then turn to Jesus Christ for help in time of need?

– Cornelius Van Til, The Great Debate Today p.6-7

The Christian Story


As then the Christian builds his view of man, he does so unashamedly on the basis of the Christian story. This story is the story of the covenant. Man was created as a covenant-keeper, but he soon became a covenant-breaker. When we say he became a covenant-breaker, we mean by that that all men after Adam through the fall of Adam, the first man, came into the world as covenant-breakers (Rom 5:12). Here human choice is so significant that the action of the first man colors the nature of the actions of all later men. All later men are under the wrath and curse of God because of Adam’s rejection of the word of God’s love and command. And they daily add to their sinfulness by their constantly renewed disobedience. But then come the glad tidings of the grace of God in Christ. He who thought it not robbery to be called equal with God because he was God humbled himself to the death, even the death of the cross. And he who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism p.120

The two step approach

Since on the Reformed basis there is no area of neutrality between the believer and the unbeliever, the argument between them must be indirect. 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.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.18

Borrowed capital

In Calvinism more than in any other form of Protestantism the message of Christianity is clearly presented as a challenge to the wisdom of the world. The natural man must not be encouraged to think that he can, in terms of his own adopted principles, find truth in any field. He must rather be told that, when he finds truth, even in the realm of the “phenomenal,” he finds it in terms of principles that he has “borrowed,” wittingly or unwittingly, from Christianity. The fact of science and its progress is inexplicable except upon the presupposition that the world is made and controlled by God through Christ and that man is made and renewed in the image of God through Christ.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism p.106-107

The recognition of bankruptcy

The truth Paul brings requires response, the response of repentance; and repentance is the work of the whole man. Paul’s truth is ‘existential.’ He who rejects it virtually commits suicide both intellectually and morally.

Yet Paul also knows that sin is of such a nature as to make men prefer intellectual and moral suicide to the truth of God in Christ. Repentance means the recognition of bankruptcy. It involves the suppliant’s attitude begging for mercy, for pardon, for life. It means fleeing from the city of destruction and pressing on to the celestial city even when Mr. Worldly Wise Man and all his friends are going in the other direction. It means bearing the offence of the cross. Will any of the wise of the world accept his gospel and repent?

– Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.5-6

Beginning from above

[The Reformed method] begins frankly ‘from above.’ It would ‘presuppose’ God. But in presupposing God it cannot place itself at any point on a neutral basis with the non-Christian. Before seeking to prove that Christianity is in accord with reason and in accord with fact, it would ask what is meant by ‘reason’ and what is meant by ‘fact.’ It would argue that unless reason and fact are themselves interpreted in terms of God they are unintelligible. If God is not presupposed, reason is a pure abstraction that has no contact with fact, and fact is a pure abstraction that has no contact with reason. Reason and fact cannot be brought into fruitful union with one another except upon the presupposition of the existence of God and his control over the universe.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.18

Now he stands on his feet

When the sinner has by God’s grace in Christ received this new light and this new power of sight then he sees all things in their proper relationships. Formerly he stood on his head while now he stands on his feet. Formerly he referred all things to himself as the final point of reference. Now he refers all things to God his Creator, and to Christ his redeemer as the final point of reference. His conversion was a Copernican revolution. It was not accomplished by steps or stages. It was an about-face. Before his conversion he looked away from the God and the Christ of Scripture. After his conversion he can’t see a fact in the world that he does not wish to deal with to the glory of God. The words of Paul, ‘Whether ye eat, or drink, or do anything else, do all to the glory of God,’ are now his motto. Deeply conscious of his continued sinfulness he is, none the less, now, in the core of his being, a lover instead of a hater of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thoughtp.35-36

The two opposing principles

In view of the facts mentioned above we shall have to concern ourselves first and primarily with the two opposing principles of interpretation. The Christian principle of interpretation is based upon the assumption of God as the final and self-contained reference point. The non-Christian principle of interpretation is that man as self-contained is the final reference point. It is this basic difference that has to be kept in mind all the time. It will be difficult at times to see that such is actually the case. The very fact that by God’s common grace fallen man is ‘not as bad as he could be’ and is able to do that which is ‘morally good’ will make the distinction between two mutually exclusive principles seem an extreme oversimplification to many.

In fact, it is in spite of appearances that the distinction between the two principles must be maintained. The point is that the ‘facts of experience’ must actually be interpreted in terms of Scripture if they are to be intelligible at all. In the last analysis the ‘facts of experience’ must be interpreted either in terms of man taken as autonomous, or they must be interpreted in terms of God. There is no third ‘possibility.’ The interpretation which takes the autonomous man as self-interpretive is an ‘impossible possibility.’

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.44-45

Accounting for counting

They can’t account for counting… Einsteen couldn’t count. I mean he has no philosophy that accounts for the idea that one fact is different from another fact. And if one fact isn’t different from another fact, you can’t count. There has to be some difference between potato one and potato two. Suppose that you are in a coal bin on a dark December night, and you’re looking for a black cat that isn’t there and you are blind… As Hegel said, “this is the night in which all cows are black and all cats are grey.” There is no differentiation.

I’m trying to bring this point home to you, for your consideration. You should not be afraid of any non Christian philosophy. We should not be apologetically presenting our position as though it were just as good as, or better, or a whole lot better. That’s not the issue. The issue is quite the opposite. Ours is alone the basis on which anything can be said intelligently about anything. And if you grant it that the other fellow could even find one fact and distinguish it from another fact, you’re making a fatal concession because then you are admitting that he can predicate to some extent. And if he can predicate intelligently to some extent then there isn’t any reason why he shouldn’t predicate all the way down and account for reality in a way that is as good yours, or maybe even better than yours. Then you are on this better or worse. You’re on probability and improbability.

– Cornelius Van Til, ‘Christ and Human Thought: Church Fathers Part 2‘ from 35:44