Van Til on Agnosticism

cvtstreet1“With such as these it would seem that the point we should be most anxious to drive home is that in trying to be agnostic, and in trying to say that they have no need of metaphysics, they have already given one of the two possible answers to every question of epistemology that may be asked. They have, as a matter of fact, said that all the facts—or, in epistemological language, they have said that the object and the subject of knowledge—exist apart from God and are able to get along without God. They think they have said nothing at all about ultimate matters, while as a matter of fact they have in effect said everything that could be said about them, and, we believe, more beside. They have tried to be so modest that they did not dare to make a positive statement about anything ultimate, while they have made a universal negative statement about the most ultimate consideration that faces the mind of man. That this charge is fair is apparent from the consideration of the opposite. Suppose that the object and the subject of knowledge do not exist apart from God. Suppose, in other words, that the Christian theistic conception of philosophy is true. In that case, it is not only possible to know something about ultimate things, but in that case the knowledge of proximate things depends upon the knowledge of ultimate things. In that case, not a single fact can be known unless God is known.

What the present-day agnostic should do then is to make his position reasonable by showing that God does not exist. The burden of the proof is upon him. He claims, of course, that the burden of the proof is upon us when we hold that God exists. Yet this is clearly not the case, since his own position, to be reasonable, must presuppose the non-existence of God. If God does exist, man can know him, for the simple reason that in that case all knowledge depends upon him. Hence an agnostic position must first prove that God does not exist.

From these considerations it follows that agnosticism is completely self-contradictory. And it is self-contradictory not only upon the assumption of the truth of theism, but it is self-contradictory upon the assumption of the truth of antitheism, which is the assumption of agnosticism.”

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.212-213

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 Perspicuity of Scripture

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We should see exactly what is meant by the perspicuity of Scripture. It means that no human interpreter needs come between the Scriptures and those to whom it comes. It is opposed to clericalism. This does not mean that men who place themselves with us under the Scriptures, and who are ordained of God for the preaching of the Word, cannot be of service to us in the better understanding of Scripture. The perspicuity of Scripture is perfectly consistent with the Protestant teaching with respect to the task of the preachers of the Word, but it is directed against the Roman Catholic notion that no ordinary member of the Church may interpret Scripture for himself directly. The doctrine should therefore be definitely maintained against Romanism.

Perspicuity does not mean that every portion is equally easy to be understood. It means that with ordinary intelligence any person can obtain, without the intervention of priests, the main point of the things he needs to know.

“Fundamentalism” has sometimes abused this doctrine. Under the slogan of going back to the Bible, it often ignores the great insight into the truth of the Bible that the Church has already obtained in the generations past. This insight has been deposited in the creeds of the church. He who ignores the creeds under the slogan of going to the Bible does despite to the Spirit who has led the church into all truth.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.226-227

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 as Reinterpreter

… The thought activity of man’s consciousness as it was originally in paradise was genuinely revelational in the sense that the whole of the created universe of God is revelational of God. We deal here with the subject of human knowledge, that is, with the mind that knows. As we have seen, the relation of the human mind to objects of its knowledge is founded on the Logos of creation. We ought to note in addition to this that man was created the only self-conscious reinterpreter in this universe. Man was to gather up in his consciousness all the meaning that God had deposited in the universe and be the reflector of it all. The revelation of God was deposited in the whole of creation, but it was in the mind of man alone that this revelation was to come to self-conscious reinterpretation. Man was to be God’s reinterpreter, that is, God’s prophet on earth.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.129

All knowledge rests on revelation

As indicated in an earlier connection, man’s creation in God’s image involves (a) the fact that man’s ideal of knowledge should never be that of the comprehension of God, and (b) the fact that man’s knowledge is nevertheless true.

What we have now spoken of as the presuppositions of revelation are nothing more than the presuppositions of a truly Christian theistic theory of knowledge. God had in himself all knowledge from all eternity. Nothing could be added to his store of knowledge in any process of time. In accordance with his plan, or, as we may say, in accordance with his interpretation, all finite things were made. Hence, all knowledge that any finite creature of God would ever have, whether of things that pertain directly to God or of things that pertain to objects in the created universe itself would, in the last analysis, have to rest upon the revelation of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.119

Van Til on Natural Theology

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9780875527895Coming now to the knowledge that man in paradise would have of God, we must notice first of all that there man would be able to reason correctly from nature to nature’s God. But the meaning of this fact should be taken in connection with what we have said when discussing the true theistic conception of physics. We may perhaps best bring out what we mean by saying that man could originally reason from nature to nature’s God by contrasting it to what has usually been meant by that statement. In the first place, when men say that we can reason from nature to nature’s God, they usually take for granted that nature as it exists today is normal, and that the human mind which contemplates it is normal. This is not true. Nature has had a veil cast over it on account of the sin of man, and the mind of man itself has been corrupted by sin. Accordingly, we must not, now that sin has entered into the world, separate natural theology from theological psychology. After sin has entered the world, no one of himself knows nature aright, and no one knows the soul of man aright. How then could man reason from nature to nature’s God and get anything but a distorted notion of God? The sort of natural theology that the sinner, who does not recognize himself as a sinner, makes is portrayed to us in the first chapter of Romans.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.133

 

Revelation permutations

Man might receive revelation (a) about nature, (b) about man, and (c) about God. He might, moreover, receive such revelation from three distinct sources, that is, from three distinct immediate sources, namely, from nature, from man, and from God. The matter may be schematically presented as follows. Man might receive revelation:

A. About nature:

1. From nature        i.e., through physics
2. From self              i.e., through psycho-physics
3. From God             i.e., through theologico-physics

B. About man himself:

1. From nature        i.e., through physico-psychology
2. From self              i.e., through psychology proper
3. From God             i.e., through theologico-physcology

C. About God:

1. From nature        i.e., through natural theology
2. From self              i.e., through rational theology
3. From God             i.e., through theology proper

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.121-122

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If this has piqued your interest, I encourage you to read Van Til’s ‘An Introduction to Systematic Theology‘ where he develops each of these categories over several chapters. 

God confronts man everywhere

The main point is that if man could look anywhere and not be confronted with the revelation of God then he could not sin in the biblical sense of the term. Sin is the breaking of the law of God. God confronts man everywhere. He cannot in the nature of the case confront man anywhere if he does not confront him everywhere. God is one; the law is one. If man could press one button on the radio of his experience and not hear the voice of God then he would always press that button and not the others. But man cannot even press the button of his own self-consciousness without hearing the requirement of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel p.203

We must take Christ at his word

According to Calvin, God’s revelation to man is always and everywhere clear. It is sin that makes men pervert the revelation of God. It is because men are sinners that their “theology” is evil. Sin makes man spurn the love of God and merit his wrath, thus every man, says Calvin, is walking in the way of death. His is a downward journey on the staircase that leads to eternal separation form God. But God in his grace has sent his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be the redeemer of the world. He himself tells us about his work of redemption. He who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. He gives us his Spirit so that, though of ourselves we would spurn this redemption, he enlightens our minds and quickens our hearts to receive it. Thus redemptive revelation, as well as foundational revelation, is self-authenticating. We must take Christ at his word. If we do so, then our reason will truly be set free. Then we can anew enter upon the task of glorifying God in science and in art, in philosophy and in worship. And then we are on the staircase that leads to his presence in glory forevermore.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism p.23