Man’s mind is derivative

The one great defect of the Roman Catholic and the Arminian view is, as noted, that it ascribes ultimacy or self-sufficiency to the mind of man. Romanism and Arminianism do this in their views of man as stated in their works on systematic theology. It is consistent for them, therefore, not to challenge the assumption of ultimacy as this is made by the non-believer. But Reformed theology, as worked out by Calvin and his recent exponents such as Hodge, Warfield, Kuyper and Bavinck, holds that man’s mind is derivative. As such it is naturally in contact with God’s revelation. It is surrounded by nothing but revelation. It is itself inherently revelational. It cannot naturally be conscious of itself without being conscious of its creatureliness. For man self-consciousness presupposes God-consciousness. Calvin speaks of this as man’s inescapable sense of deity.

For Adam in paradise God-consciousness could not come in at the end of a syllogistic process of reasoning. God-consciousness was for him the presupposition of the significance of his reasoning on anything.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.113

Removing the enemy’s foundation

We have already indicated that the best apologetic defense will invariably be made by him who knows the system of truth of Scripture best. The fight between Christianity and non-Christianity is, in modern times, no piece-meal affair. It is the life and death struggle between two mutually opposed life and world-views. The non-Christian attack often comes to us on matters of historical, or other, detail. It comes to us in the form of objections to certain teachings of Scripture, say, with respect to creation, etc. It may seem to be simply a matter of asking what the facts have been. Back of this detailed attack, however, is the constant assumption of the non-Christian metaphysics of the correlativity of God and man. He who has not been trained in systematic theology will often be at a loss as to how to meet these attacks. He may be quite proficient in warding off the attack as far as details are concerned, but he will forever have to be afraid of new attacks as long as he has never removed the foundation from the enemy’s position.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.23-24

Present the full significance of the gospel

Unless man presupposes the God and the Christ of the Scriptures, he cannot identify himself, nor any fact of his world, or even relate any fact to any other fact.

Predication is meaningless except upon the presupposition of the truth of Christianity. The unbeliever can intellectually understand this. It is the task of the Christian apologist to present the absolute contrast between predication carried forth upon Christian premises and predication carried forth on the premise of human autonomy. Roman Catholicism and Arminianism fail to present men with the full significance of the gospel because they do not challenge the starting point and the methodology of the unbeliever. Those who hold the Reformed Faith in theology can be of inestimable blessing to the unbeliever if, instead of following the Romanist and the Arminian, they apply the principles of their theology to the method of their apologetics.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.272

He is not what he thinks he is

The conception of man as entertained by modern thought in general cannot be assumed to be the same as that set forth in Scripture. It is therefore imperative that the Christian apologist be alert to the fact that the average person to whom he must present the Christian religion for acceptance is a quite different sort of being than he himself thinks he is. A good doctor will not prescribe medicines according to the diagnosis that his patient has made of himself. The patient may think that he needs nothing more than a
bottle of medicine while the doctor knows that an immediate operation is required.

Christianity then must present itself as the light that makes the facts of human experience, and above all the nature of man himself, to appear for what they really are. Christianity is the source from which both life and light derive for men.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.92

God must be back of everything

Now, in fact, I feel that the whole of history and civilization would be unintelligible to me if it were not for my belief in God. So true is this, that I propose to argue that unless God is back of everything, you cannot find meaning in anything. I cannot even argue for belief in Him, without already having taken Him for granted. And similarly I contend that you cannot argue against belief in Him unless you also first take Him for granted. Arguing about God’s existence, I hold, is like arguing about air. You may affirm that air exists, and I that it does not. But as we debate the point, we are both breathing air all the time. Or to use another illustration, God is like the emplacement on which must stand the very guns that are supposed to shoot Him out of existence.

– Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God.

We need not flatter ourselves

For we need not flatter ourselves that even if the non-theist be shown that his position is self-contradictory in the sense that it contradicts his own assumptions and breaks to pieces his own law of contradiction, he will turn from his ways of himself. Instead, he will conclude that man must remain in such complete irrationality, rather than turn to analogical reasoning. The miracle of regeneration has to occur somewhere, and all that we are arguing for is that we must ask where it is that the Holy Spirit will most likely perform this miracle. And then there can be no doubt but that the likelihood is in favor of that place where the non-theist has to some extent seen the emptiness and vanity of his own position.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.208

Each man is on the move

Thus we have the “relative good” in the “absolutely evil” and the “relatively evil” in the “absolutely good.” Neither the “absolutely evil” nor the “absolutely good” are epistemologically as self-conscious as they will be in the future. God’s favor rests upon the reprobate and God’s disfavor rests upon the elect to the extent that each lacks epistemological self-consciousness. In neither case is it God’s ultimate or final attitude, but in both cases it is a real attitude. As there is an “old man” in the believer, so there is an “old man” in the unbeliever. As there are the remnants of sin in the believer, so there are the remnants of the image of God in the unbeliever. And as the “old man” in the believer does not, in the least, detract from his status as believer, so the “old man” in the unbeliever does not, in the least, detract from his status as unbeliever. Each man is on the move.

– Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel p.109

Incidental agreement

Even the non-regenerate have by virtue of common grace some remnant of what should be though it is not, the general consciousness of mankind. Accordingly, it happens that there is an incidental agreement on many matters of the moral life. It is in a general sense true that everyone holds murder to be wrong. But the agreement is no more than incidental. A theist holds murder to be wrong because it violates the justice of God. A non-Christian holds murder to be wrong because it is not in the best interest of the human race. According to theism, the idea of justice has its foundation in the nature of God. According to Pragmatism, the idea of justice is a historical development in the consciousness of the race. Accordingly, there is nothing that the two conceptions of justice have in common except the name. “What is morally wrong” is therefore not a phrase into which everybody spontaneously pours the same thought content. The agreement on this matter then between theists and antitheists, in addition to being merely incidental, is also merely formal and abstract. This formal and abstract agreement we expect because man, by virtue of his creation in God’s image, cannot be metaphysically alienated from God, however much he may be ethically alienated.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.190

Creatures have no private chambers

We have seen that since the fall of man God’s curse rests upon nature. This has brought great complexity into the picture. All this, however, in no wise detracts from the historical and objective perspicuity of nature. Nature can and does reveal nothing but the one comprehensive plan of God. The psalmist does not say that the heavens possibly or probably declare the glory of God. Nor does the apostle assert that the wrath of God is probably revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Scripture takes the clarity of God’s revelation for granted at every stage of human history. Even when man, as it were, takes out his own eyes, this act itself turns revelational in his wicked hands, testifying to him that his sin is a sin against the light that lighteth every man coming into the world. Even to the very bottom of the most complex historical situations, involving sin and all its consequences, God’s revelation shines with unmistakable clarity. “If I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there” (Ps 139:8). Creatures have no private chambers.

– Cornelius Van Til, Nature and Scripture (Infallible Word p.278-279)

Mutually exclusive totality-visions

It appears then that if there is to be any intelligible encounter between the Christian and the non-Christian, it must be in terms of the two mutually exclusive visions that each entertains. To appeal to the law of contradiction and/or to facts or to a combination of these apart from the relation that these sustain to the totality-vision of either, the believer or the unbeliever, is to beat the air. It is well to say that he who would reason must presuppose the validity of the laws of logic. But if we say nothing more basic than this, then we are still beating the air. The ultimate question deals with the foundation of the validity of the laws of logic. We have not reached bottom until we have seen that every logical activity in which any man engages is in the service of his totality-vision.

It is also well to say that we must follow the facts wheresoever they may lead us. But again we should note that all research into the realm of fact, on the part of any man, is in the service of his totality-vision. The self-authenticating man assumes that if the Christian story were true, then the scientific enterprise would be meaningless. Free scientific inquiry, he assumes, requires that there be no pre-interpretation of facts in terms of the Christian story. On the other hand, the Christian holds that the idea of free scientific inquiry is unintelligible except upon the presupposition of the truth of the Christian story.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism p.137