Knowledge by Authority

We accept this God upon Scriptural authority. In the Bible alone do we hear of such a God. Such a God, to be known at all, cannot be known otherwise than by virtue of His own voluntary revelation. He must therefore be known for what He is, and known to the extent that He is known, by authority alone. We do not first set out without God to find our highest philosophical concept in terms of which we think we can interpret reality and then call this highest concept divine. This was, as Windelband tells us, the process of the Greeks. This has been the process of all non-Christian thought. It is from this process of reasoning that we have been redeemed. On such a process of reasoning only a finite god can be discovered. It has been the nemesis of the history of the theistic proofs that this has been so frequently forgotten. Are we then left with a conflict between Faith and Reason? Have we no philosophical justification for the Christian position? Or are we to find a measure of satisfaction in the fact that others too, non-Christian scientists and philosophers as well as ourselves, have in the end to allow for some mystery in their system?

To all this we must humbly but confidently reply by saying that we have the best of philosophical justification for our position. It is not as though we are in a bad way and that we must seek for some comfort from others who are also in a bad way. We as Christians alone have a position that is philosophically defensible. The frank acceptance of our position on authority, which at first blush, because of our inveterate tendency to think along non-Christian lines, seems to involve the immediate and total rejection of all philosophy—this frank acceptance of authority is, philosophically, our very salvation. Psychologically, acceptance on authority precedes philosophical argument; but when, as epistemologically self-conscious grown-ups, we look into our own position, we discover that unless we may presuppose such a God as we have accepted on authority, the Moment will have no significance. The God that the philosophers of the ages have been looking for, a God in whom unity and diversity are equally ultimate, the “Unknown God,” is known to us by grace. It has been the quest of the ages to find an interpretative concept such as has been given us by grace.

– Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel p.14

Philosophical Apologetics

Following on from The Foundation of Historical Apologetics:

yhst-81483472662466_2189_1292894“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. And these two things must be done in conjunction with one another. Historical apologetics becomes genuinely fruitful only if it is conjoined with philosophical apologetics. And the two together will have to begin with Scripture, and argue that unless what Scripture says about itself and all things else of which it speaks is true, nothing is true. Unless God as an absolutely self-conscious person exists, no facts have any meaning. This holds not only for the resurrection of Christ, but for any other fact as well.”

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.242-243

The Foundation of Historical Apologetics

Historical apologetics is absolutely necessary and indispensable to point out that Christ arose from the grave, etc. But as long as historical apologetics works on a supposedly neutral basis it defeats its own purpose. For in that case it virtually grants the validity of the metaphysical assumptions of the unbeliever. So in this case, a pragmatist may accept the resurrection of Christ as a fact without accepting the conclusion that Christ is the Son of God. And on his assumptions he is not illogical in doing so. On the contrary, if his basic metaphysical assumption to the effect that all reality is subject to chance is right, he is only consistent if he refuses to conclude from the fact of Christ’s resurrection that he is divine in the orthodox sense of the term. Now, though he is wrong in his metaphysical assumption, and though, rightly interpreted, the resurrection of Christ assuredly proves the divinity of Christ, we must attack him in his philosophy of fact, as well as on the question of the actuality of the facts themselves. For on his own metaphysical assumptions the resurrection of Christ would not prove his divinity at all.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.242

The Clash Between Different Systems of Truth

vtThe objections against the phenomena of Scripture would therefore be legitimate if those who make them could show us the positive foundation on which they are standing. This foundation should enable them to explain the facts in terms of a system of truth other than that which is offered in the Bible. This point will later concern us more fully. For the moment, the difference between the final point of reference of the Christian and the final point of reference of the non-Christian is indicated so as to make plain that no discussion of “fact” can be said to settle final issues unless it takes this difference into consideration. The Christian’s belief in the Bible as the Word of God is involved in, and is an expression of, his belief in the triune God as the only final point of reference in all human predication. The Christian holds to the authority and finality of the Bible not because he can clearly, that is exhaustively, show the coherence of every fact with every other fact of Scripture. He rather holds to this doctrine of Scripture because, unless he does, there is no resting point for the search of facts anywhere.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.36

Van Til’s Proposal for Apologetic Methodology

My proposal, therefore, for a consistently Christian methodology of apologetics is this:

1. That we use the same principle in apologetics that we use in theology: the self-attesting, self-explanatory Christ of Scripture.

2. That we no longer make an appeal to “common notions” which Christian and non-Christian agree on, but to the “common ground” which they actually have because man and his world are what Scripture says they are.

3. That we appeal to man as man, God’s image. We do so only if we set the non-Christian principle of the rational autonomy of man against the Christian principle of the dependence of man’s knowledge on God’s knowledge as revealed in the person and by the Spirit of Christ.

4. That we claim, therefore, that Christianity alone is reasonable for men to hold. It is wholly irrational to hold any other position than that of Christianity. Christianity alone does not slay reason on the altar of “chance.”

5. That we argue, therefore, by “presupposition.” The Christian, as did Tertullian, must contest the very principles of his opponent’s position. The only “proof” of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no possibility of “proving” anything at all. The actual state of affairs as preached by Christianity is the necessary foundation of “proof” itself.

6. That we preach with the understanding that the acceptance of the Christ of Scripture by sinners who, being alienated from God, seek to flee his face, comes about when the Holy Spirit, in the presence of inescapably clear evidence, opens their eyes so that they see things as they truly are.

7. That we present the message and evidence for the Christian position as clearly as possible, knowing that because man is what the Christian says he is, the non-Christian will be able to understand in an intellectual sense the issues involved. In so doing, we shall, to a large extent, be telling him what he “already knows” but seeks to suppress. This “reminding” process provides a fertile ground for the Holy Spirit, who in sovereign grace may grant the non-Christian repentance so that he may know him who is life eternal.

– Cornelius Van Til, My Credo (Jerusalem and Athens) p.20-21
(Bahnsen p.729-730)


We Cannot Be Empiricists

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9781596389236The second point on which Butler’s empiricism was inconsistent was in its relation to his conception of the “Author of nature.” We have hinted at this point in the previous chapter. The matter may be put as follows: If an “Author of nature” is really presupposed it will control the nature of reasoning that one employs. If we may presuppose an “Author of nature,” the facts are created by him. That means we cannot be empiricists, in the sense in which Butler takes empiricism and in the sense in which Hume takes empiricism. If an “Author of nature” is presupposed, all the facts of the “course and constitution of nature” are bound together by the mind of God. Then human minds are made by God. This means that we can never be a priorists in the Cartesian sense of the term. Our minds can never legislate future possibility and probability because this future possibility and probability lies in the control of God. Yet it means that human minds may speak of universal connection between ideas and things. There is an entirely reasonable expectation that the constitution and course of nature will be the same in the future as it has been in the past because of the rationality of God that is back of it. Even so it should be remembered that God may at any time send His Son to change the constitution and course of nature. The point is that only that will happen in the future which will be in accord with the program of God. We can contrast this position with that of Hume by saying that for Hume the basic concept of thought is bare possibility, while for one who holds to an “Author of nature” the basic concept of thought should be God’s complete rationality. Butler failed to see this basic alternative. We may agree with him when he rejects a priorism of the Cartesian sort, but we cannot agree with him when he substitutes for it an empiricism of an uncritical sort.

– Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Evidences p.41-42

A Complete Reversal

In the light of the narrative which Paul brought, the wisdom of the Greeks was not merely inadequate; it was sinful. Man had originally been made perfect. He had then in Adam broken the covenant that God had made with him. [Rom 5:12] He was now a covenant-breaker and, as such, subject to the wrath of God. Having such a view of the nature of man Paul did not merely plead for a ‘complete system,’ for the recognition of the ‘spiritual dimension’ as well as the material. He did not want merely to add the idea of the personal confrontation with Jesus Christ to that of the impersonal study of the laws of nature. In short, he did not ask for the privilege of erecting an altar to the living God, Creator of heaven and earth, next to the altars to gods that have been born of human minds. He pleaded for, and in the name of his Lord required of men, a complete reversal of their point of view in every dimension of life. The entire house of their interpretation of life had to be broken down. Many of the building blocks that they had gathered could no doubt be used, but only if the totally new architectural plan that Paul proposed were followed.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.3-4

The Authority of Christ in Science

If man does not own the authority of Christ in the field of science, he assumes his own ultimate authority as back of his effort. The argument between the covenant-keeper and the covenant-breaker is never exclusively about any particular fact or about any number of facts. It is always, at the same time, about the nature of facts. And back of the argument about the nature of facts, there is the argument about the nature of man. However restricted the debate between the believer and the non-believer may be at any one time, there are always two world views ultimately at odds with one another. On the one side is a man who regards himself as being unable to find an intelligible interpretation of experience without reference to God as his Creator and to Christ as his Redeemer. On the other side is the man who is certain that he cannot find any such an interpretation. He assumes that there resides with him the power to make a universal negative statement about the nature of all reality.

The scientist who is a Christian therefore has the task of pointing out to his friend and colleague, who is not a Christian, that unless he is willing to stand upon the Christian story with respect to the world which has been redeemed through Christ, there is nothing but failure for him. Scientific effort is utterly unintelligible unless it is frankly based upon the order placed in the universe of created facts by Christ the Redeemer.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture

Confrontation at the Service Station

The Reformed apologist throws down the gauntlet and challenges his opponent to a duel of life and death from the start. He does not first travel in the same direction and in the same automobile with the natural man for some distance in order then mildly to suggest to the driver that they ought perhaps to change their course somewhat and follow a road that goes at a different slant from the one they are on. The Reformed apologist knows that there is but one way to the truth and that the natural man is travelling it, but in the wrong direction. The service stations along the highway will service cars going in either direction. And as there are seemingly more cars going in the wrong direction than there are going in the right direction, the upkeep of the road will be supplied largely by those going in the wrong direction. Speaking together at one of these service stations, two travellers going in opposite directions may be in perfect agreement when they eulogize the turnpike on which they are travelling and the premium quality of gasoline which they are getting. But like Bunyan’s Christian the Reformed apologist will tell his friend that the way he is going leads to the precipice. He points to the signs made by the builder of the road which all point the opposite way from that which his friend, the natural man, is going. And when the reply is made by the natural man that he has been very successful in his trip so far, and that he too has been following signs, signs which point in the direction in which he is moving, the Reformed apologist will wipe out such of these signs as are near at hand and will challenge his friend to wipe out any of the signs he has ignored.

The Roman Catholic and the Arminian apologist would not be in a position to wipe out any of the signs that point in the wrong direction. An Arminian apologist meeting the natural man as both stop at one of the service stations is in a strange predicament. Since he is a Christian he should really speak to the natural man about the fact that he is following the wrong signs. His belief in creation demands of him that he warn his new acquaintance against following the wrong signs. But since he himself holds to a measure of autonomy for man and since this undermines his own belief in creation, he can at best say to his friend that it is doubtful which signs are right. Then as far as his “neutral” apologetic method is concerned, the Arminian, in the interest of getting his friend to go in the right direction, admits that the signs that point in the wrong direction are right. He himself goes in the wrong direction for some distance too with the natural man. He fully agrees with the natural man when together they start on their wrong course and he still fully agrees on the way to the city of destruction. Then suddenly he puts on the brakes and turns around, expecting that his friend will do the same. Thus in the whole business he has dishonored his God (a) by practically admitting that his revelation is not plain and (b) by himself running away from God in his interpretation of natural revelation and in his subjection of supernatural revelation to the illegitimate requirements of the natural man. Meanwhile he has failed in his purpose of persuading the natural man to go in the right direction. The Roman Catholic and Arminian views of theology are compromising; in consequence the Roman Catholic and the Arminian method of apologetics is both compromising and self-frustrative.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.135-136

The Antithesis in History

Augustine of course stood squarely for the Pauline principle, having told us that the whole of history consisted of one deadly, no-give, no-take combat between two “cities,” that of God and that of man, the “citizens” of the former kingdom being in basic disagreement with those of the latter on the respective questions of the beginning, the middle, and the end of history. To be sure, citizens of the kingdom of God must not press upon those of the kingdom of man what Jesus said to the Pharisees, namely, that they be of their father, the devil, since only Jesus knew the heart of man. Thus, His followers may speak only of the two opposing principles activating men. Similarly, it is not possible for them to predict in each instance whether a certain individual belongs to one kingdom or the other, as history is never and nowhere a finished product. Nonetheless, there are two main and exclusive tendencies in it: men are in their hearts either for or against the Christ whom Paul preached, and what is in their hearts will usually find expression in the sympathies manifested by their actions.

– Cornelius Van Til, Who Do You Say That I Am p.33-34