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

God has exhaustive knowledge

Following on from ‘They must have exhaustive knowledge,’ Van Til now gives the Bible believer’s response. 

In believing the Bible and its teachings as they do, traditional believers humbly offer their interpretation of life in the name of God, whose mind and thoughts are higher than man’s mind and thoughts. They do not claim to understand one fact in the phenomenal world exhaustively. They do not claim to understand the facts of nature exhaustively any more than they claim to understand miracles exhaustively. But they appeal to the Creator and Controller of the world as the One who, because of His creation and control of the world, does understand all things in it exhaustively. They admit the existence of mystery in all things for themselves but they do not admit the existence of mystery in anything for God. Accordingly, they do not pretend that they can reduce the relation of God to the world to a system that they themselves can exhaustively understand. They recognise gladly that all things end in mystery for them. But they hold that unless they may believe in the Bible and, therefore, in the God of the Bible, who controls whatsoever comes to pass, all things would end in ultimate mystery for them. They would rather admit relative mystery from the start and with respect to everything than claim virtual omniscience at the beginning and end with ultimate mystery at the last. They fear that such will be the case with those who claim to know the laws of the phenomenal world so well as to be able to say that God cannot have created it and does not control it.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.27-28

They must have exhaustive knowledge

On what positive ground, we ask, do men stand when they, with such confidence and assurance, reject the traditional view of Scripture? The confident rejection of this view is unintelligible unless those who make it have themselves offered something better. More than that, such a rejection is without meaning unless men can show that they themselves have a final interpretation of the facts of the phenomenal world to offer. How do men know that the doctrine of creation out of nothing is not true unless they themselves can take us back of ‘history’ and tell us what is there? Or unless they can assure us that nothing is there. Karl Barth may assure us that he cannot believe in a speaking serpent any more than can anyone else. How does he know that God has not created the physical and animal world? How does he know that the phenomenal world works according to impersonal laws and is therefore not accessible to special intervention on the part of God? Again, Barth may assure us that the idea of temporal creation must be rejected because it is not possible to think of it in a logically coherent fashion. In doing so he rejects historic Christianity because it does not meet the false test of eighteenth-century rationalism. As for his own system, he would not for all the world have its truth or falsity tried by such a test. But more important than this inconsistency is the point that men who say that creation cannot have happened, that Christ cannot have passed into the clouds toward heaven, must themselves claim omniscience. They must have such an exhaustive knowledge of the facts of the phenomenal world, and of the possibilities behind these facts, as to enable them to understand all their relations to all other facts both past and future. They must be sure of what does happen in ‘ultimate reality’ in order to be able to say that God does not have anything to do with the origin and control of the phenomenal world.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.26-27

Continued in ‘God has exhaustive knowledge.’

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

Challenging the Wisdom of this World

It is thus that God has made foolish the wisdom of this world in the modern day no less than He did in the day of Paul. Instead of accepting the favours of modern man, as Romanism and Arminianism do, we should challenge the wisdom of this world. It must be shown to be utterly destructive of predication in any field. It has frequently been shown to be such. It is beyond the possibility of the mind of man to bind together the ideas of pure determinism and of pure indeterminism and by means of that combination to give meaning to life. Either modern man will have to admit that he knows everything or else he will have to admit that he knows nothing. The only alternative to this is that he claims both absurdities at the same time.

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

Head-on Collision

The implication of all this for Christian apologetics is plain. There can be no appeasement between those who presuppose in all their thought the sovereign God and those who presuppose in all their thought the would-be sovereign man. There can be no other point of contact between them than that of head-on collision. The root of both irrationalism and rationalism is the idea of the ultimacy of man. If this root is not taken out, it will do little good to trim off some of the wildest offshoots of irrationalism with the help of rationalism, or to trim off some of the wildest offshoots of rationalism with the help of irrationalism.

Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.19

Science Presupposes God

Perhaps most of the great discoveries of science have been made by those who are not Christians. But such discoveries could not have been made unless the universe is what the Christian says it is, namely, created and controlled by God. There would be no order in nature and no rationality of relationships to be found anywhere in the universe had not God made them. Therefore the possibility of science itself presupposes the truth of the Christian concept of God. When, then, the non-Christian scientist discovers truth, this is not because of, but in spite of, his own theory of being and of knowledge.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.9

The recognition of bankruptcy

The truth Paul brings requires response, the response of repentance; and repentance is the work of the whole man. Paul’s truth is ‘existential.’ He who rejects it virtually commits suicide both intellectually and morally.

Yet Paul also knows that sin is of such a nature as to make men prefer intellectual and moral suicide to the truth of God in Christ. Repentance means the recognition of bankruptcy. It involves the suppliant’s attitude begging for mercy, for pardon, for life. It means fleeing from the city of destruction and pressing on to the celestial city even when Mr. Worldly Wise Man and all his friends are going in the other direction. It means bearing the offence of the cross. Will any of the wise of the world accept his gospel and repent?

– Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.5-6