Dependence upon God


“Reformed theology holds to the self-sufficiency of God without compromise. It therefore rejects every form of human autonomy. Only on the assumptions of divine self-sufficiency and man’s complete dependence upon God can the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian points of view be clearly made out. Only thus can the issue be clearly drawn. The non-Christian assumes that man is ultimate, that is, that he is not created. Christianity assumes that man is created. The non-Christian assumes that the facts of man’s environment are not created; the Christian assumes that these facts are created. The Christian has derived his convictions on these matters from Scripture as the infallible Word of God. As self-explanatory, God naturally speaks with absolute authority. It is Christ as God who speaks in the Bible. Therefore the Bible does not appeal to human reason as ultimate in order to justify what it says. It comes to the human being with absolute authority. Its claim is that human reason must itself be taken in the sense in which Scripture takes it, namely, as created by God and as therefore properly subject to the authority of God.”

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.14-15

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

Taking Total Depravity Seriously

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9781596385832It is therefore in Reformed thinking alone that we may expect to find anything like a consistently Christian philosophy of history. Romanism and Arminianism have virtually allowed that God’s counsel need not always and everywhere be taken as our principle of individuation. This is to give license to would-be autonomous man, permitting him to interpret reality apart from God. Reformed thinking, in contrast with this, has taken the doctrine of total depravity seriously. It knows that he who is dead in trespasses and sins lives in the valley of the blind, while yet he insists that he alone dwells in the light. It knows that the natural man receives not the things of God, whether in the field of science or in the field of religion. The Reformed believer knows that he himself has been taken out of a world of misinterpretation and placed in the world of truth by the initiative of God. He has had his own interpretation challenged at every point and is ready now, in obedience to God, to challenge the thinking and acting of sinful man at every place. He marvels that God has borne with him in his God-ignoring and therefore God-insulting endeavors in the field of philosophy and science as well as in the field of religion. He therefore feels compelled to challenge the interpretation the non-Christian gives, not merely of religion but of all other things as well.

– Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel p.12-13

Philosophical Apologetics

Following on from The Foundation of Historical Apologetics:

yhst-81483472662466_2189_1292894“In addition to showing that Christ actually arose from the grave and that the facts recorded in the Scripture are as they are recorded as being, insofar as this can be ascertained by historical research, we must show that the philosophy of fact as held to by Christian theism is the only philosophy that can account for the facts. And these two things must be done in conjunction with one another. Historical apologetics becomes genuinely fruitful only if it is conjoined with philosophical apologetics. And the two together will have to begin with Scripture, and argue that unless what Scripture says about itself and all things else of which it speaks is true, nothing is true. Unless God as an absolutely self-conscious person exists, no facts have any meaning. This holds not only for the resurrection of Christ, but for any other fact as well.”

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.242-243

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

The Perspicuity of Scripture


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

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

Science and the Bible

Dr. Albertus Pieters, when speaking on “Science and the Bible” says:

“The question of miracles lies outside the subject we propose to discuss in this paper, for the reason that modern science and the Bible are obviously entirely in harmony on that subject. The only thing that science can say about a real miracle, like the Virgin Birth or Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, is that it is impossible under the laws of nature; and this statement is made by the Christian with no less emphasis than by the scientist.”

Here it is forgotten that, though both the modern scientist and the Christian speak of and believe in natural law, they do not both mean the same thing by that term. The Christian thinks of natural law as God’s mode of operation of the facts in the created universe. God temporarily sets aside these laws, when he works miraculously. In contrast to this the scientist today conceives of natural law as a method of operation of the facts of the universe that somehow exists in its own right and by its own power. A “miracle” occurring in relation to this would be no more than once chance fact occurring in relation to other chance facts. In short, there is nothing but formal agreement between the scientist and the Christian on the question of miracle. The failure to see this has resulted in great damage. And all this has come about only because men have not clearly seen that special revelation is necessary to teach us the truth about creation as well as about salvation. In this way we arrive at false notions of salvation itself.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.196

Limits of Human Understanding

To say that Scripture testifies to itself and therefore identifies itself is to imply that it also identifies every fact in the world. That is to say the God of which the Scriptures speak is the God who makes the facts to be what they are. There can therefore be no fact which is ultimately out of accord with the system of truth set forth in Scripture. Every fact in the universe is what it is just because of the place that it has in this system.

Moreover, to say that every fact in the world is what it is because of its place in the system of truth set forth in Scripture, is to establish the legitimacy of the Christian principle of discontinuity. The system of truth set forth in Scripture cannot be fully understood by the creature. The point here is not merely that creatures who are sinners are unwilling to believe the truth. The point is further that man as finite cannot understand God his Maker in an exhaustive manner. As he cannot understand God exhaustively, so he cannot understand anything related to God in an exhaustive way, for to understand it we would have to penetrate its relation to God and to penetrate that relation we would have to understand God exhaustively.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.35-36