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 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 Work Will Accomplish Its Purpose

Since it is upon God’s command that the work must be undertaken, it is God’s command that gives one the assurance that the work will accomplish its purpose. Looking at matters by themselves, it would be worse than useless to undertake reasoning with unbelievers. But it is the deep conviction of the total depravity of man that makes one throw his whole reliance upon God in all respects, and not the least in this question of reasoning with unbelievers. It is only he who deeply believes in the total depravity of man that can really preach with conviction that his work will not be in vain. Since he is convinced that the ethical alienation has been against God and against nothing else, he also knows that God is able to remove the ethical alienation. He, therefore, trusts that the Holy Spirit to whom, in the economy of redemption, the task has been assigned of convicting the world of judgment, will use the means of rational argumentation to accomplish his task. This hope is not inconsistent with the conception of the immediacy of the work of the Holy Spirit. That immediacy is complete. Our arguments taken by themselves effect nothing, while the Holy Spirit may very well convict without the use of our argument as he may convict without the use of our preaching. Yet because God is himself a completely rational God and has created us in his image, there is every reason to believe that he will make argumentation effective.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.196-197

Paul on the Areopagus

In his address on the Areopagus Paul proclaims the name of the resurrected Christ to the Gentile covenant-breakers, would-be fugitives from divine judgment. Paul does not place himself on their level in order with them to investigate the nature of being and knowledge in general, to discover whether the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob might possibly exist. He tells them straight out that what they claim not to know, he knows. He tells them that their so-called ignorance is culpable, for God is as near to them as their own selves. He tells them, therefore, to repent of their worship of idols, to turn to the living God, lest they stand without the robes of righteousness before the resurrected Lord Christ on the day of judgment.

… Paul knew that the Greeks could not identify themselves truly in terms of their philosophy. “Chaos” and “Old Night” were their only substitutes for what Paul told them of the origin and destiny of the world. They tried various combinations of ultimate rationality (unity) and ultimate chance (diversity) in terms such as “form” and “matter” to take the place of creation and providence, but to no satisfaction. Even so, Paul could not prove to the Greeks in their sense of the word “prove,” that what they believed was foolishness and what he believed was “good sense.” Paul could not adopt the principles of the “free” first Adam to “prove” the principles of the Second Adam. Paul recognized, as did his Greek audience, that his ideas were, all of them, foolishness to the non-Christian mind. The Greeks would not believe any single one of them, much less all of them in their proper relation to each other, unless by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit they were given eyes with which to see the whole truth of God in Christ. Paul knew that the natural man, like Xantippe who is said to have kept on clipping her fingers even though these fingers were all that was left of her above the water, will keep on saying that Christ is wrong and that Satan is right so long as he has breath except the Spirit in mercy give him light and life.

– Cornelius Van Til, My Credo (Jerusalem and Athens) p.7-8

 

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

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

Sola gratia

The apostle Paul tells us that there are two and only two kinds of people in this world. There are those who, because of their fall in Adam, serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator, and there are those who, because of their redemption from the fall through Jesus Christ, have learned to serve God their Creator and Christ their Redeemer rather than the creature.

Men of the second group are not, of themselves, any better than men of the first group. It is not because of superior wisdom found in themselves that they of the second group have learned to serve and to worship God. It is, rather, because they have been born of the Spirit, born from above, that they would now dedicate themselves and their all to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Sovereignty of Grace p.7

Preach to the blind

Scripture teaches us to speak and preach to, as well as to reason with blind men, because God, in whose name we speak and reason, can cause the blind to see. Jesus told Lazarus while dead to arise and come forth from the grave. The prophet preached to the dead bones in the valley till they took on flesh. So our reasoning and our preaching is not in vain inasmuch as God in Christ reasons and preaches through us. Once we were blind; God reasoned with us, perhaps through some human agency, and we saw.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.69

We need not flatter ourselves

For we need not flatter ourselves that even if the non-theist be shown that his position is self-contradictory in the sense that it contradicts his own assumptions and breaks to pieces his own law of contradiction, he will turn from his ways of himself. Instead, he will conclude that man must remain in such complete irrationality, rather than turn to analogical reasoning. The miracle of regeneration has to occur somewhere, and all that we are arguing for is that we must ask where it is that the Holy Spirit will most likely perform this miracle. And then there can be no doubt but that the likelihood is in favor of that place where the non-theist has to some extent seen the emptiness and vanity of his own position.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.208

What we have we have by grace

Van Til Color

Let us again remind ourselves that what has been said does not mean that Christians are in themselves wiser than are other men. What they have they have by grace. They must be all things to all men. But it is not kindness to tell patients that need strong medicine that nothing serious is wrong with them. Christians are bound to tell men the truth about themselves; that is the only way of bringing them to recognize the mercy, the compassion, of Christ. For if men are told the truth about themselves, and if they are warned against the false remedies that establish men in their wickedness, then, by the power of the Spirit of God, they will flee to the Christ through whom alone they must be saved.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.40