Absolute Personality

What we have discussed under the attributes of God may also be summed up by saying that God is absolute personality. The attributes themselves speak of self-conscious and moral activity on the part of God. Recognizing that for this intellectual and moral activity God is dependent upon nothing beyond his own being, we see that we have the Reformed doctrine of the personality of God. There were no principles of truth, goodness or beauty that were next to or above God according to which he patterned the world. The principles of truth, goodness, and beauty are to be thought of as identical with God’s being; they are the attributes of God. Non-Christian systems of philosophy do not deny personality to God, at least some of them do not, but, in effect, they all agree in denying absolute personality to God. As Christians we say that we can be like God and must be like God in that we are persons but that we must always be unlike God in that he is an absolute person while we are finite persons. Non-theists, on the other hand, maintain that though God may be a greater person than we can ever hope to be yet we must not maintain this distinction between absolute and finite personality to be a qualitative one.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.33

The Incomprehensibility of God

… The church has embedded into the heart of its confessions the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God. God’s being and knowledge are absolutely comprehensive; such knowledge is too wonderful for man; he cannot attain unto it. Man was not created with comprehensive knowledge. Man was finite and his finitude was originally no burden to him. Neither could man ever expect to attain to comprehensive knowledge in the future. We cannot expect to have comprehensive knowledge even in heaven. It is true that much will be revealed to us that is now a mystery to us but in the nature of the case God cannot reveal to us that which as creatures we cannot comprehend; we should have to be God ourselves in order to understand God in the depth of his being. God must always remain mysterious to man.

The significance of this point will appear more fully when we contrast this conception of mystery with the non-Christian conception of mystery that is current today even in Christian circles. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian conception of mystery may be expressed in a word by saying that we hold that there is mystery for man but not for God while the non-Christian holds that there is either no mystery for God or man or there is mystery for both God and man.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.35

Defense as Witness to Christ

The following is Van Til’s response to Fred Howe’s contribution to ‘Jerusalem and Athens’.

You are certainly right in saying that I did not, in the discussion among Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black, make any sharp distinction between witnessing to and defending the Christian faith. I am not convinced by the evidence from Scripture which you cite that any sharp distinction between them is required or even justified. My defense of the truth of Christianity is, as I think of it, always, at the same time, a witness to Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We do not really witness to Christ adequately unless we set forth the significance of his person and work for all men and for the whole of their culture. But if we witness to him thus then men are bound to respond to him either in belief or disbelief. If they respond in disbelief they will do so by setting forth as truth some “system of reality” that is based on the presupposition of man as autonomous. I must then plead with them to accept Christ as their Savior from the sin of autonomy, and therewith, at the same time, to discover that they have been given, in Christ, the only foundation for intelligent predication.

Cornelius Van Til, Jerusalem and Athens p.452
(HT: Nate Sonner, Christian Worldview Discipleship)

The Impossibility of the Contrary

We must therefore give our opponents better treatment than they give us. 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. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.205

Head-on Collision

The implication of all this for Christian apologetics is plain. There can be no appeasement between those who presuppose in all their thought the sovereign God and those who presuppose in all their thought the would-be sovereign man. There can be no other point of contact between them than that of head-on collision. The root of both irrationalism and rationalism is the idea of the ultimacy of man. If this root is not taken out, it will do little good to trim off some of the wildest offshoots of irrationalism with the help of rationalism, or to trim off some of the wildest offshoots of rationalism with the help of irrationalism.

Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.19

The Transcendental Method

It is not as though we already know some facts and laws to begin with, irrespective of the existence of God, in order then to reason from such a beginning to further conclusions. It is certainly true that if God has any significance for any object of knowledge at all, the relation of God to that object of knowledge must be taken into consideration from the outset. It is this fact that the transcendental method seeks to recognize.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.201

Science Presupposes God

Perhaps most of the great discoveries of science have been made by those who are not Christians. But such discoveries could not have been made unless the universe is what the Christian says it is, namely, created and controlled by God. There would be no order in nature and no rationality of relationships to be found anywhere in the universe had not God made them. Therefore the possibility of science itself presupposes the truth of the Christian concept of God. When, then, the non-Christian scientist discovers truth, this is not because of, but in spite of, his own theory of being and of knowledge.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.9

Calvin and Van Til on the Authority of Scripture

John_Calvin_by_Holbein“If we truly want to help men’s consciences so that they are not gripped by perpetual doubt, we must derive the authority of Scripture from a higher source than human reasoning, evidence or conjecture. We must, that is, base it on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

Although Scripture’s own majesty is enough to command our reverence, it really begins to affect us only when it is sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Being illumined by his power, we no longer believe on the strength of our own or of others’ judgment that Scripture is from God. Above and beyond all human judgment we conclude without question that it is given to us from the mouth of God himself, through the ministry of men. It is as if, in Scripture, we beheld with our own eyes the very essence of God. We cease, therefore, to look for proofs and probabilities on which to base our judgment; instead, we subject our judgment and intellect to Scripture, as to a source so high as to rule out the need for judgment. Not because we are like some who thoughtlessly embrace unfamiliar things only to tire of them once they become better known; but because we are very sure that in Scripture we have the unassailable truth. Nor because we are like the ignorant who are in the habit of surrendering their minds to superstition; but because we feel that in Scripture the express power of deity is displayed, kindling in us the desire to give conscious and willing obedience more powerfully than if only human will or knowledge were involved.

This, then, is a conviction which does not require reasons. Nevertheless it is also a knowledge which is based upon a very sound reason, since our mind has a firmer and surer place to rest than in any set of reasons. It is, finally, a feeling which can only spring from heavenly revelations. Here I am talking of nothing else than what every believer experiences in himself, except that my words do not do justice to so worthy a theme, and are most inadequate as an explanation.

Unless we have a higher and firmer certainty than any human judgement can provide, there is no point proving the authority of Scripture by rational argument: it cannot be established on the basis of the church’s consent nor can it be confirmed by other evidences. For if this foundation is not first laid, it is bound to remain in abeyance. Once, however, we obediently accept Scripture as we should, and place it beyond all doubt, the reasons which before were not strong enough to impart certainty to our hearts will now appear as valuable aids.”

– John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. p.20-21 (John White’s translation of 1541 version)

*

intro4“The implication of what has been said is this: If Christians ask non-Christians merely to accept the gospels or some other part of Scripture as historically trustworthy documents, they are allowing the legitimacy and efficacy of the principle of autonomy. They are allowing that it is possible intelligently to identify and set in order the elements of human experience in history by means of the principle of autonomy. But if this were true, if by the principle of autonomy such identification and ordering could take place, there is no need for the idea of God speaking to men. It is just because man cannot speak intelligently to himself without God and because the sinner has sent God out of his life that God in condescending grace comes back to him. But he asks men to accept him at his word for what he is, the indispensable presupposition of all intelligent human predication.

It is in consonance with this approach that the Reformed Confessions assert that our final acceptance of the Scriptures as the Word of God rests upon the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. All the indications of the divinity of Scripture would lose their effectiveness and would indeed accomplish the very opposite of what they are meant to accomplish if they were taken out of their relation of dependence upon the testimony of the Holy Spirit. These indications do, of course, objectively show the Scriptures to be the Word of God. The whole Bible in all respects shows itself objectively to be the Word of God. The majesty of its style, the harmony of its parts and other such things, all indicate the Scriptures to be the Word of God. Prophecies fulfilled and miracles performed, the works as well as the words of Christ, all that Scripture contains, shows its divinity. The record of these works and words of the Christ is ipso facto as a record identified by God as the Word of God. But the acceptance of both the Christ and his word, both the personal word and the spoken word, comes by virtue of one and the same act of submission and surrender. And this act of surrender and faith comes in consequence of the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

This testimony of the Holy Spirit is therefore not a new revelation of God that would in turn need a new testimony for its corroboration. Nor does it work apart from the objective evidence of the divinity of Scripture. It appeals to man as made in the image of God with full ability to see and understand the significance of his deeds. It speaks to this same man as the sinner with utter inability to understand spiritually and to respond obediently to the demands of the gospel. It speaks to him through the content of the Bible and only through the content of the Bible. It actually convinces the sinner and practically convicts him of sin and of judgment. It compels him to believe that which he knows he ought to believe but which because of the perverseness of his will and the darkness of his mind he otherwise cannot believe, namely, that the Bible is the Word of God and what it contains is the system of truth as given to man by God.”

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.228-229

The Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit

Continuing on from ‘The Necessity of God’s Condescending Grace

It is in consonance with this approach that the Reformed Confessions assert that our final acceptance of the Scriptures as the Word of God rests upon the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. All the indications of the divinity of Scripture would lose their effectiveness and would indeed accomplish the very opposite of what they are meant to accomplish if they were taken out of their relation of dependence upon the testimony of the Holy Spirit. These indications do, of course, objectively show the Scriptures to be the Word of God. The whole Bible in all respects shows itself objectively to be the Word of God. The majesty of its style, the harmony of its parts and other such things, all indicate the Scriptures to be the Word of God. Prophecies fulfilled and miracles performed, the works as well as the words of Christ, all that Scripture contains, shows its divinity. The record of these works and words of the Christ is ipso facto as a record identified by God as the Word of God. But the acceptance of both the Christ and his word, both the personal word and the spoken word, comes by virtue of one and the same act of submission and surrender. And this act of surrender and faith comes in consequence of the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

This testimony of the Holy Spirit is therefore not a new revelation of God that would in turn need a new testimony for its corroboration. Nor does it work apart from the objective evidence of the divinity of Scripture. It appeals to man as made in the image of God with full ability to see and understand the significance of his deeds. It speaks to this same man as the sinner with utter inability to understand spiritually and to respond obediently to the demands of the gospel. It speaks to him through the content of the Bible and only through the content of the Bible. It actually convinces the sinner and practically convicts him of sin and of judgment. It compels him to believe that which he knows he ought to believe but which because of the perverseness of his will and the darkness of his mind he otherwise cannot believe, namely, that the Bible is the Word of God and what it contains is the system of truth as given to man by God.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.228-229

The Necessity of God’s Condescending Grace

The implication of what has been said is this: If Christians ask non-Christians merely to accept the gospels or some other part of Scripture as historically trustworthy documents, they are allowing the legitimacy and efficacy of the principle of autonomy. They are allowing that it is possible intelligently to identify and set in order the elements of human experience in history by means of the principle of autonomy. But if this were true, if by the principle of autonomy such identification and ordering could take place, there is no need for the idea of God speaking to men. It is just because man cannot speak intelligently to himself without God and because the sinner has sent God out of his life that God in condescending grace comes back to him. But he asks men to accept him at his word for what he is, the indispensable presupposition of all intelligent human predication.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.228