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

Man’s Response to Revelation

6618151Calvin makes a sharp distinction between the revelation of God to man and man’s response to that revelation. This implies the rejection of a natural theology such as Aquinas taught.

He makes a sharp distinction between the responses to God’s revelation made by:

(a) man in his original condition, i.e., Adam before the Fall;
(b) mankind, whose “understanding is subjected to blindness and the heart to depravity” (Inst. II.i.9)
(c) those that are “taught of Christ” through Scripture and whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and the Defense of Christianity & My Credo p.24

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

Everyone has an a priori

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9780875527895No human being can escape making an assumption about the nature of possibility at the outset of his investigation. All men have a priori assumptions in terms of which they approach the facts that confront them. The Christian frankly admits that his a priori is the assumption of the existence of the ontological Trinity, the temporal fiat creation of the universe, and man’s creation in the image of God. The non-Christian has a different sort of a priori. Every non-Christian has an a priori. And the a priori of every non-Christian is different, radically different, from that of the Christian.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.198

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)


Philosophers who Crucify Reason

Non-christian thinkers have for centuries usurped the term philosophy. They claimed to be the only ones that followed the facts and operated by principles of reason. They pretended and still pretend to do that which every honest man who opens his eyes and uses his intellect ought to do. As a matter of fact on any but the Christian, and more specifically the Calvinist view, facts are meaningless and reason operates in a vacuum. On any but the Christian basis man, using this reason, is a product of Chance and the facts which he supposedly orders by the “law of contradiction” are also products of Chance. Why should a “law of contradiction” resting on Chance be better than a revolving door moving nothing out of nowhere into no place? Only on the presupposition that the self-contained God of Scripture controls all things, can man know himself or anything else. But on this presupposition the whole of his experience makes good sense. Thus a truly Christian philosophy is the only possible philosophy. Other philosophies are or should be called such by courtesy. Those who crucify reason while worshipping it; those who kill the facts as they gather them, ought not really to be called philosophers.

Insisting upon “reason” as the test of truth they have completely divorced the operation of “reason” from the turmoil of fact. They cannot find coherence in anything on their principle. Fear, nothing but fear in the dark, remains.

– Cornelius Van Til, Christian Philosophy

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 Full-Orbed Life


Here we reach the highwater mark of present day antitheistic thought. Our opponents maintain not only that they do not know anything about the nature of reality but that nobody else can possibly know anything about it. The present day scientist is often not the humble seeker after truth but the militant preacher of a faith, and the faith that he preaches is the faith of agnosticism. It is this point to which we have seen all things come. The face of science and philosophy today is, with rare exceptions, set squarely against Christianity and the Theism that serves it as a foundation.

What else, then, can we do but take the sword as well as the trowel? We are driven to a defense of our faith. The full-orbed life, that which the world has sought in vain, is in our possession. We have an absolute God in whose fellowship we have even now the full-orbed life. We have an absolute God who alone can give meaning to all our strivings for advancement. We have an absolute God who alone can guarantee that that which we have in principle now will be fully realized hereafter.

– Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education: The Full-Orbed Life. 


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