We must take Christ at his word

According to Calvin, God’s revelation to man is always and everywhere clear. It is sin that makes men pervert the revelation of God. It is because men are sinners that their “theology” is evil. Sin makes man spurn the love of God and merit his wrath, thus every man, says Calvin, is walking in the way of death. His is a downward journey on the staircase that leads to eternal separation form God. But God in his grace has sent his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be the redeemer of the world. He himself tells us about his work of redemption. He who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. He gives us his Spirit so that, though of ourselves we would spurn this redemption, he enlightens our minds and quickens our hearts to receive it. Thus redemptive revelation, as well as foundational revelation, is self-authenticating. We must take Christ at his word. If we do so, then our reason will truly be set free. Then we can anew enter upon the task of glorifying God in science and in art, in philosophy and in worship. And then we are on the staircase that leads to his presence in glory forevermore.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism p.23


Transcendence and immanence

The incommunicable attributes of God stress his transcendence and the communicable attributes stress his immanence. The two imply one another. A Christian notion of transcendence and a Christian notion of immanence go together.

It is not a sufficient description of Christian theism when we say that as Christians we believe in both the transcendence and the immanence of God while pantheistic systems believe only in the immanence of God and deistic systems believe only in the transcendence of God. The transcendence we believe in is not the transcendence of deism and the immanence we believe in is not the immanence of pantheism. In the case of deism transcendence virtually means separation while in the case of pantheism immanence virtually means identification. And if we add separation to identification we do not have theism as a result. As we mean a certain kind of God when as theists we speak of God, so also we mean a certain kind of transcendence and a certain kind of immanence when we use these terms. The Christian doctrine of God implies a definite conception of the relation of God to the created universe. So also the Christian doctrine of God implies a definite conception of everything in the created universe.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.32

[John Frame’s ‘Rectangle of Opposition’ is a device used throughout his writings to show the antithesis between the biblical view of transcendence and immanence on the left side and the non-biblical view on the right. The diagonal lines represent direct contradictions, while the horizontal lines represent the similarity of language used in the two positions. The vertical line on the left represents the consistency of the biblical view whereas the vertical line on the left represents the tension within the non-biblical view.]

The Bible speaks of everything

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work, but it also tells us who God is and where the universe about us has come from. It tells us about theism as well as about Christianity. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the word of God that you can separate the so-called religious and moral instruction of the Bible from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.

– Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics p.19
(The Defense of the Faith p.29)

Receptively reconstructive

This insistence on neutrality is highly significant. Neutrality in method is not a mere matter of course, a hallmark of ordinary intelligence. It is imposed upon the metaphysical relativist. He cannot choose to be prejudiced or biased; he must be neutral. Therefore he too is biased and prejudiced, in favor of neutrality. Neutrality is implied in the supposition of the open universe. If the universe is open, the facts new to God and man constantly issue from the womb of possibility. These new facts will constantly reinterpret the meaning of the old. Our method then must be basically synthetic; God’s method is also synthetic. He too must wait to see what the new facts may bring. God can do no more than man. He cannot interpret the meaning of reality to man since he has not yet interpreted reality for himself. Therefore man must interpret for himself and must be neutral; his thought is creatively constructive.

The Theist, on the other hand, cannot be neutral. His conception of God makes him biased. He holds that for God the facts are in: God knows the end from the beginning. He admits that facts may emerge that are new to man; he knows they are not new to God. History is but the expression of the purpose of God. As far as the space time universe is concerned the category of interpretation precedes that of existence. Man’s interpretation must, therefore, to be correct, correspond to the interpretation of God. Man’s synthesis and analysis rest upon God’s analysis. Strictly speaking, man’s method of investigation is that of analysis of God’s analysis. We are to think God’s thoughts after him; our thought is receptively reconstructive.

– Cornelius Van Til, Christianity and Idealism.
(Bahnsen. p.702)

Against better knowledge

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9780875527895The non-regenerate man seeks by all means to “keep under” this remnant of a true theistic interpretation that lingers in his mind. His real interpretative principle, now that he is a covenant-breaker, is that of himself as ultimate and of impersonal laws as ultimate. It is he himself as ultimate, by means of laws of logic that operate independently of God, who determines what is possible and probable. To the extent, then, that he proceeds self-consciously from his own principle of interpretation, he holds the very existence of God, and of the creation of the universe, to be not merely improbable, but impossible. In doing so he sins, to be sure, against his better knowledge. He sins against that which is hidden deep down in his own consciousness. And it is well that we should appeal to this fact. But in order to appeal to this fact we must use all caution not to obscure this fact. And obscure it we do if we speak of the “common consciousness” of man without distinguishing clearly between what is hidden deep down in the mind of natural man as the revelation and knowledge of God within him and what, in rejecting God, he has virtually adopted as being his final interpretative principle.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.82-83

The charge of circular reasoning

And this brings up the point of circular reasoning. The charge is constantly made that if matters stand thus with Christianity, it has written its own death warrant as far as intelligent men are concerned. Who wishes to make such a simple blunder in elementary logic, as to say that we believe something to be true because it is in the Bible? Our answer to this is briefly that we prefer to reason in a circle to not reasoning at all. We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning that is possible to finite man. The method of implication as outlined above is circular reasoning. Or we may call it spiral reasoning. We must go round and round a thing to see more of its dimensions and to know more about it, in general, unless we are larger than that which we are investigating. Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about him any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of opposition to Christianity. Reasoning in a vicious circle is the only alternative to reasoning in a circle as discussed above.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.12

Sola gratia

The apostle Paul tells us that there are two and only two kinds of people in this world. There are those who, because of their fall in Adam, serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator, and there are those who, because of their redemption from the fall through Jesus Christ, have learned to serve God their Creator and Christ their Redeemer rather than the creature.

Men of the second group are not, of themselves, any better than men of the first group. It is not because of superior wisdom found in themselves that they of the second group have learned to serve and to worship God. It is, rather, because they have been born of the Spirit, born from above, that they would now dedicate themselves and their all to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Sovereignty of Grace p.7

Preach to the blind

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. Jesus told Lazarus while dead to arise and come forth from the grave. The prophet preached to the dead bones in the valley till they took on flesh. So our reasoning and our preaching is not in vain inasmuch as God in Christ reasons and preaches through us. Once we were blind; God reasoned with us, perhaps through some human agency, and we saw.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.69

The proper framework

VANTIPAULAWe must set the message of the cross into the framework into which Paul set it. If we do not do so, then we are not really and fully preaching Jesus and the resurrection. The facts of Jesus and the resurrection are what they are only in the framework of the doctrines of creation, providence and the consummation of history in the final judgment. No man has found this framework unless he has been converted from the other framework through the very fact of the death and resurrection of Jesus as applied to him by the Holy Spirit and His regenerating power. It takes the fact of the resurrection to see its proper framework and it takes the framework to see the fact of the resurrection; the two are accepted on the authority of Scripture alone and by the regenerating work of the Spirit. Half-way measures therefore will not suffice; the only method that will suffice is that of challenge of the wisdom of the world by the wisdom of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, Paul at Athens. 

Antithetical starting points

In this excerpt from the lecture series ‘Christ and Human Thought‘, Van Til stresses the importance of recognising that a starting point, method, and conclusion are always involved with one another. There is no neutrality in the starting point and method that both Christians and non-Christians use to come to their conclusions. Fundamental to the Christian position is a philosophy of fact that is not shared by the non-Christian. Every fact is a created fact and is in accordance with the providence of God. Van Til also gives a brief outline of what Greg Bahnsen has described as the ‘two-step procedure’. We stand on the non-Christian position for argument sake to show that it leads to absurdity. We then invite the non-Christian to stand on our position to show how it, and it alone, accounts for reality.

The excerpt is taken from the lecture ‘Christ and Human Thought: Church Fathers, part 2‘ from around 24:50.