Dependence upon God

wtsphotos_box2_people_corneliusvantil021-2

“Reformed theology holds to the self-sufficiency of God without compromise. It therefore rejects every form of human autonomy. Only on the assumptions of divine self-sufficiency and man’s complete dependence upon God can the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian points of view be clearly made out. Only thus can the issue be clearly drawn. The non-Christian assumes that man is ultimate, that is, that he is not created. Christianity assumes that man is created. The non-Christian assumes that the facts of man’s environment are not created; the Christian assumes that these facts are created. The Christian has derived his convictions on these matters from Scripture as the infallible Word of God. As self-explanatory, God naturally speaks with absolute authority. It is Christ as God who speaks in the Bible. Therefore the Bible does not appeal to human reason as ultimate in order to justify what it says. It comes to the human being with absolute authority. Its claim is that human reason must itself be taken in the sense in which Scripture takes it, namely, as created by God and as therefore properly subject to the authority of God.”

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.14-15

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

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)

 

Revelation of the Sovereign God

Van_Til1The doctrine of Scripture as self-attesting presupposes that whatsoever comes to pass in history materializes by virtue of the plan and counsel of the living God. If everything happens by virtue of the plan of God, then all created reality, every aspect of it, is inherently revelational of God and of his plan. All facts of history are what they are ultimately because of what God intends and makes them to be. Even that which is accomplished in human history through the instrumentality of men still happens by virtue of the plan of God. God tells the stars by their names. He identifies by complete description. He knows exhaustively. He knows exhaustively because he controls completely.

It is of such a God the Bible speaks. So it is once again a matter of moving about in circles. It is impossible to attain to the idea of such a God by speculation independently of Scripture. It has never been done and is inherently impossible. Such a God must identify himself. Such a God, and only such a God, identifies all the facts of the universe. In identifying all the facts of the universe he sets these facts in relation to one another.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.28

The Testimony of the Holy Spirit

calvinbavinck

It is by the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit that the Scripture can be seen to be the self-attesting Word of God. For sin is that by which men seek to interpret facts apart from the revelation of God. The sinner seeks a criterion of truth and knowledge independent of the revelation of God. The sinner wants to test that which presents itself as the revelation of God by a standard not itself taken from this revelation. He complains of the circular reasoning that would be involved in accepting the word of Scripture about the nature of Scripture. So then, to overcome this hostile attitude of the sinner it is necessary that the Holy Spirit convict him of his sin in not accepting the Bible as the Word of God. The miracles, the prophecies fulfilled, the symmetry of its parts, etc., will all be misinterpreted because interpreted by the wrong standard, unless the Spirit convicts and convinces the sinner that he is dealing with the Word of God.

“For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded.” (John Calvin, Institutes 1:7.4)

It should be noted that this view of Scripture thinks of God as here and now speaking to men through his Word. “Scripture is not a dry tale or an old chronicle, but it is the ever living, ever youthful Word which God at the present time and always sends out to his people. It is the ever continuing speech of God to us.” (Herman Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatick, vol. I)

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.33-34

(The Bavinck quote can be found in the John Vriend translation of Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena p. 384)

The Final Reference Point

vtStress has been laid on the fact that the Bible speaks of the Word of God as self-contained. That is, the Bible is the Word of him who, as Creator-Redeemer alone can identify himself. God in Christ identifies himself in terms of himself because he exists exclusively in terms of himself. There is no non-being over against him that influences him. There are no laws of logic above him according to which he must measure his own internal consistency. This God of the Bible is, therefore, the final reference point for predication of his rational creatures. They, and with them all things in the universe, must be explained in terms of him, and he is never wholly comprehensible to them. Therefore no fact in the universe is ever wholly comprehensible to them.
They therefore need to live by authority. They have to be told who they are and what the things of the universe mean in relation to themselves and finally in relation to God. God’s supernatural revelation is presupposed in all successful rational inquiry on the part of man.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.41

Man’s Stamp of Approval

The traditional method had explicitly built into it the right and ability of the natural man, apart from the work of the Spirit of God, to be the judge of the claim of the authoritative Word of God. It is man who, by means of his self-established intellectual tools, puts his “stamp of approval” on the Word of God and then, only after that grand act, does he listen to it. God’s Word must first pass man’s tests of good and evil, truth and falsity. But once you tell a non-Christian this, why should he be worried by anything else that you say. You have already told him he is quite all right just the way he is! Then the Scripture is not correct when it talks of “darkened minds,” “wilful ignorance,” “dead men,” and “blind people!” With this method the correctness of the natural man’s problematics is endorsed. That is all he needs to reject the Christian faith.

– Cornelius Van Til, My Credo (Jerusalem and Athens) p.11

The self-attestation of Scripture

In the first place it must be affirmed that a Protestant accepts Scripture to be that which Scripture itself says it is on its own authority. Scripture presents itself as being the only light in terms of which the truth about facts and their relations can be discovered. Perhaps the relationship of the sun to our earth and the objects that constitute it, may make this clear. We do not use candles, or electric lights in order to discover whether the light and the energy of the sun exist. The reverse is the case. We have light in candles and electric light bulbs because of the light and energy of the sun. So we cannot subject the authoritative pronouncements of Scripture about reality to the scrutiny of reason because it is reason itself that learns of its proper function from Scripture.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.130

Christianity alone is rational

It is utterly impossible that there should be trustworthy witnesses to the incarnate Word unless these trustworthy witnesses are trustworthy because they are the servants of the self-attesting God, speaking through the Son of God. This is only to say that any identification of any fact can take place in terms of the truth of the Christian religion alone. It is but to say that Christianity alone is rational. It is but to say that if one leaves the foundation of the presupposition of the truth of the Christian religion one falls into the quagmire of the utterly irrational. No intelligent predication is possible except on the basis of the truth, that is the absolute truth of Christianity.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.252