The Elephant of Naturalism

If one maintains a soteriological theory in which the “natural man” is conceived of as able of his own accord to seek the truth because he has a true insight into his sorrowful condition, one cannot but become antitheistic epistemologically, in the sense that he must think of certain facts as existing in such a way that man can have knowledge of them without having knowledge of the true God. If no one can come to the Father but by Christ, and no one can say Christ to be Lord except through the Spirit, it is equally possible or equally impossible for man to come into contact with the Father or the Son or the Spirit. If one maintains that he can approach Christ of his own accord even if he is a sinner, he may as well say that he can approach the Father too. And if one can say that he knows what the fact of sin means without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, he may as well say that he can know other facts without reference to God. In fact he may as well say that he can know any and every fact without reference to God. If one fact can be known without reference to God there is no good reason to hold that not all facts can be known without reference to God. When the elephant of naturalism once has his nose in the door, he will not be satisfied until he is all the way in.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.77


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 inadequacy of Arminianism

Just so, from the Reformed point of view, all so-called “evangelical” non-Reformed theologies (all those which, although non-Reformed, hold to what J. I. Packer calls the “evangelical equation” of Scripture with the Word of God, such as orthodox Lutheranism, traditional Arminian-Wesleyanism, and synergistic fundamentalism), which have an inadequate view of sovereign grace, have also an inadequate view of Scripture. A God who cannot control history because of countless men with wills not fully dependent on his own can only make salvation a bare “possibility.” Christ might have died in vain. Being “free,” all men might refuse to exercise their supposedly “God-given-freedom” to “draw their check for ‘eternal life’ put in the Bank of Heaven for all men.” God’s plan, to call out a people for himself, might never have been realized. Needless to say, every major teaching of Scripture excludes such a “scheme.” God is God. Christ finished the work of salvation for his own. Only those “in Christ” from the foundation of the world died with Christ on the cross. Christ saved his sheep; he did not just make their salvation “possible.” The emphasis, therefore, on human autonomy in non-Reformed evangelical theology not only plays havoc with the scriptural message of salvation by grace alone, but distorts the doctrine of Scripture itself by finding the ultimate exegetical tool in the subjective experience of human freedom and by denying to Scripture and the Holy Spirit the power, authority, and necessity of invading the souls of men. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God do not change men, men first agree to be changed! For this reason no non-Reformed theology can properly be called a “theology of the Holy Spirit.” A theology which loses the right to be called a “theology of the Holy Spirit” loses also the right to be called “a theology of the Word of God.” It is no wonder, therefore, that G. C. Berkouwer speaks of the “isolation of the Reformed view of Scripture.”

– Cornelius Van Til, My Credo (Jerusalem and Athens) p.9