Missing the Train by a Minute

“Just as it is not at all a matter of indifference whether a man be a murderer or a respectable citizen, even though from the point of view of Christianity both will be lost forever unless brought to Christ, so it is not a matter of indifference whether a man have a high or a low form of non-Christian interpretation. It is true that a man who misses a train by a minute has missed it as well as the one who has missed it by an hour, yet we give a great deal more credit to the man who missed it only by a minute than to the man who missed it by an hour. We rejoice when men are “not far from the kingdom of heaven” even though they are not in the kingdom. But all this only brings out the more strikingly the fact that the sinner’s knowledge frustrates itself. Knowing God as well as he does, that is, coming-in the form of his interpretation so near to the truth, he yet refuses to accept the truth in its full significance. It is of this self-frustration that Paul speaks particularly in Romans 1:18–21:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness: because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse: because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened.”

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.165


The Inescapable Revelation of God

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9780875527895“The sinner’s problem from his point of view is to cast doubt upon this evidence, to make it appear as though the evidence were not clear. With the rich man who lifted up his eyes in torment, it is the effort of every man to put the blame for his failure to serve God upon the elusive character of the evidence for God’s existence. If he could rightly say that God has to be diligently searched for, that he might possibly be hidden in some remote corner of the earth, or moon or Jupiter, then he would have an excuse for his ignorance. Following Paul, the Reformed theologian, and he alone, will stress the inescapable character of the revelation of God.”

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.268

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)


The God of the Philosophers

Men in general are, therefore, truth suppressors. They are not those who are first of all without knowledge of the truth. They are indeed such, if one thinks of the knowledge that must come from Scripture. But they are first of all truth possessors, or truth-knowers, who have, by sinning, become truth suppressors. Having taken to themselves the right to define the nature of God and of themselves, they have mingled the idea of their new god with that of the God they know by virtue of their creation. In their natural theology, that is, in what, as sinful men, they set forth as their view about God, they never state the truth without adulteration. They do not completely succeed in suppressing the truth, but they never assert the truth without an overwhelming admixture of error. The god of the philosophers is never their Creator and the Creator of the universe. He is always of necessity bound up with his creation. Hence sinful unregenerate men never worship the true God as they ought. In practice they do not know him because when they think of him they, of necessity, think falsely of him; they always degrade him to the level of the creature.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought. 

Escape Mechanisms

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9780875527895Moreover, all men everywhere, deep down in their hearts know that the world is created by God. At bottom they know that by all their attempts at explanation of nature they are suppressing within themselves the testimony of the real creator of the universe. The more self-conscious men become with respect to the real meaning of their own position the more clearly do they realize that their systems are escape-mechanisms by which sinners seek to hide the truth from themselves.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p. 182

Van Til on Romans 1

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who [hold down] the truth in unrighteousness: because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse: because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. [Rom 1:18–21]

We shall not attempt to give an exegesis of this most difficult passage. It may suffice to call attention to the following matters. In the first place we observe that Paul says that men do actually in some sense see the truth. We do not do justice to this passage by merely saying that all men or most men believe in a god or believe that God probably exists. Paul says that the revelation of the only existing God is so clearly imprinted upon man himself and upon his environment that no matter how hard he tries he cannot suppress this fact. As psychologically active self-conscious creatures they must see something of the truth. They hold down the truth, to be sure, but it is the truth that they hold down. Nor is it that this truth is objectively placed before them only in nature and in the make-up of man. It is, to be sure, on this that Paul does lay the emphasis. But knowledge is also in man in the sense that his subjective reaction to that which he sees shows some acquaintance with the truth. The invisible things of God are perceived (kathoratai). Knowing God (gnontes ton theon), they have not glorified God. In the second place, it is primarily in this fact that men know and do not live up to what they know that Paul sees the greatest folly. Though they knew God, yet they glorified him not. They hold down the truth that is in them as well as round about them. It is in this immediate connection that Paul speaks of the revelation of God’s wrath. He says that God’s wrath is displayed on men just because they hold down the truth in unrighteousness. It is true that God’s wrath is displayed on whatever form unrighteousness may take, but it is specifically mentioned here that God displays his wrath because men hold down the truth.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.165-166

The Complexity of the Natural Man

Not as though he is in every sense self-conscious of his own adopted principle. In practice the natural man is much better than his principle. He does not fully live up to his principle. He is not a finished product. He is restrained by the non-saving grace of God from “being as bad as he can be,” and as bad as he will be when his principle has full control of him.

In practice, therefore, the man of the street is a complex individual. He is first the creature made in the image of God. He was represented in Adam at the beginning of history. In Adam he broke the covenant of God. He is now in principle opposed to God. He is dead in trespasses and sins. He is wholly polluted in all the aspects of his being. So far as he lives from this principle he will not because he cannot, and he cannot because he will not, accept the overtures of the grace of God unless by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit he is made alive from the dead. But he does not live fully from his principle. Therefore he does not react in the exclusively negative way that we would expect him to, if we look at the principle that ultimately controls him. Like the prodigal of the scriptural parable he cannot forget the father’s voice and the father’s house. He knows that the father has been good and is good in urging him to return. Yet his principle drives him on to the swine trough. On the one hand he will do the good, in the sense of that which externally at least is in accord with the will of God. He will live a “good” moral life. He will be anxious to promote the welfare of his fellow men. In all this he is not a hypocrite. He is not sufficiently self-conscious to be a hypocrite.

It is therefore of the utmost importance to distinguish between what the natural man is by virtue of his adopted principle and what he still is because of the knowledge of God as his creator that he has within him and because of the non-saving grace by which he is kept from working out his principle to the full and by which he is therefore also able to do the “morally good.”

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.225-226

Suppression of the Truth

As children of Adam they have always made and continue to make the effort required to cover-up the truth about themselves and God. They see every fact as other than it really is. By means of their literature—drama, poetry, and philosophy—they try to prove to themselves that the world is not the estate of God and that they are not made in his image. Both Jew and Gentile have blinded themselves to the true state of affairs about themselves and their world—about their past, their present and their future. Not being creatures of God, they could not have sinned against such a one. They do not need, therefore, the atoning death of Christ for the remission of their sins. As Stephen said of the Jews, so also it must be said of the Gentiles, that they have always resisted the Holy Spirit—to their own damnation.

– Cornelius Van Til, My Credo (Jerusalem and Athens) p.7

Collision of methods

The Reformed apologist cannot agree at all with the methodology of the natural man. Disagreeing with the natural man’s interpretation of himself as the ultimate reference-point, the Reformed apologist must seek his point of contact with the natural man in that which is beneath the threshold of his working consciousness, in the sense of deity which he seeks to suppress. And to do this the Reformed apologist must also seek a point of contact with the systems constructed by the natural man. But this point of contact must be in the nature of a head-on collision. If there is no head-on collision with the systems of the natural man there will be no point of contact with the sense of deity in the natural man. So also, disagreeing with the natural man on the nature of the object of knowledge, the Reformed apologist must disagree with him on the method to be employed in acquiring knowledge. According to the doctrine of the Reformed faith all the facts of nature and of history are what they are, do what they do and undergo what they undergo, in accord with the one comprehensive counsel of God. All that may be known by man is already known by God. And it is already known by God because it is controlled by God.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.120-121


The sense of deity weighs him down

Fortunately the natural man is never fully consistent while in this life. As the Christian sins against his will, so the natural man “sins against” his own essentially Satanic principle. As the Christian has the incubus of his “old man” weighing him down and therefore keeping him from realizing the “life of Christ” within him, so the natural man has the incubus of the sense of deity weighing him down and keeping him from realizing the life of Satan within him.

The actual situation is therefore always a mixture of truth with error. Being “without God in the world” the natural man yet knows God, and, in spite of himself, to some extent recognizes God. By virtue of their creation in God’s image, by virtue of the ineradicable sense of deity within them and by virtue of God’s restraining general grace, those who hate God, yet in a restricted sense know God, and do good.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.65