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Archive for November, 2009

R. Scott Clark made waves within the “Reformed” circle by suggesting that those who do not hold to the original Reformed Confessions are not truly Reformed. He thinks that Reformed Baptist or Calvinist Baptist is an oxymoron. He continues with his satires, Spurgeonist Paedobaptist, Mercedes, Hondas, etc to make his case. Upon learning his theological beliefs, R. Scott Clark does not believe in the 6-day Creation and rejects theonomy. When press on these two issues, our own SlimJim rose to the occasion like a warrior would in his arguments, yet with gentleness and respect to an older man.

This is a good example of a younger man and a final year seminary student dialoging with an older man, a Church History Professor and a dean of WS. SlimJim argues that R. Scott Clark is the one that is not truly Reformed for not holding to the confessions! If a person steals some of the Honda parts and assemble his car with it would it still be a Honda, Dr. Clark? =) Stay tune …….

Dr. Haykin, a Church History Professor of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary responded in an important clarification on R. Scott Clark’s question/assertion on why there was no Baptist at the Synod of Dort. Because “Baptists who embraced Calvinistic soteriology did not exist at the time of the Synod of Dort, hence they could not have been there.”

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Is R. Scott Clark truly Reformed according to his own reasoning? Or is it according to his own standard of the Confession, a caricature and a wannabe of the “Reformed” faith?

This is my comment over at his blog and Scott’s comment.  The only addition from the original is my own comment here in RED.  I’ve hyperlinked some of my comments to show that I’m trying to use his words and ideas.

Someone at my church has given Dr. Clark’s book “Recovering the Reformed Confession” as an early Christmas gift, so I do want to see his ideas flesh out more.

******

SLIMJIM, on November 28th, 2009 at 1:29 am Said:

Dr. Clark,

How do you respond to a theocratic confessionalists who read your comment:

“As you know the mainstream of confessional Reformed Presbyterian and Reformed churches have revised the WCF and the BC to eliminate the theocratic language. Of course you may not agree with those actions but they are historic facts.”

And then argue that you are not REFORMED in the following manner:

R. Scott Clark has no right to misuse the term “Reformed”. When exactly did the word “Reformed” come to denote both “believes in the historic Reformed view of the Establishment Principle vis a vie the Civil Government & Church” and “denies the historic Reformed view of the Establishment Principle vis a vie the Civil Government & Church”? If we, who have the original lease on the word since the 1540s, don’t consent then how is it not theft?

There is a connection between the word “Reformed” and a certain set of doctrines and practices. I don’t think that folk who reject those doctrines and practices are entitled to re-define that word.Just because there are 490,000 revisionaries in this country the fact of numerical superiority doesn’t give them a right to redefine us or the adjective “Reformed.”

I anticipated this criticism and answered it in the book, Recovering the Reformed Confession. The short answer is that there were internal tensions between our confession of the uniqueness of the Israelite state and implicit claim that post-canonical states could fulfill the same theocratic role. The collapse of Christendom gave us an opportunity to re-think theocracy. The same thing happened with geocentric astronomy. The collapse of geocentrism gave us opportunity to re-think how we understood the intent of Scripture.

In neither case has the actual THEOLOGY changed. The substance of the Reformed faith is unchanged but we are more consistent now. Our approach to astronomy is more consistent now with our confession of the condescension of God in revelation.

On this see Machen’s essay on “Creeds and Doctrinal Advance”

http://genevaredux.wordpress.com/2009/11/14/your-weekly-machen-fix-the-creeds-and-doctrinal-advance/

There’s are several sections in the book on this.

Look, we get it in the neck from the biblicists for being static. We get it in the neck from theocrats and fundamentalists (on geocentrism) for maturing.

This isn’t proof that we were right about these issues but given the quality of the criticisms, I can live with the tension.

Dr. Clark,
Thank you for your response as it gives me more of an idea of where you are coming from. I must admit it’s rather intriquing but I must also be honest that I do have some questions about all of this.

Assuming the theocratic confessionalist position, I can see how someone from that camp respond to you in their defense using the same line of reasoning as you have employed, and insist that Dr. Clark is not truly “Reformed”:

1.) “I anticipated this criticism and answered it in the book, Recovering the Reformed Confession. The short answer is that there were internal tensions between our confession of the uniqueness of the Israelite state and implicit claim that post-canonical states could fulfill the same theocratic role.”

A Theocrat Confessionalist Response: I appreciate this, of course, but it doesn’t really advance the discussion much except to suggest that mainstream Presbyterians have tried to hide from what the Confession really says. Is it a legitimate observation that there were internal tensions within the confession? Sure, and so we get it in the neck from some who use the label “Reformed” who are not theocratic for being static. This isn’t proof that we were right about these issues but given the quality of the criticism, I can live with the tension. Afterall, the Confessions themselves contain that tension. If you don’t like someone’s tension don’t go change it and say you are one of them.

2.) “The collapse of Christendom gave us an opportunity to re-think theocracy.”

A Theocrat Confessionalist Response: But does that grant people to throw out any concept of theocracy out of someone else’s confession and then squat on being “Reformed” when they are not?

You can claim historical development til you’re blue in the face but those of us Theocrats are truly Reformed since we still confess the SAME FAITH we confessed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Popular abuse of an ecclesiastical term doesn’t change the essential meaning of that term.

3.) “In neither case has the actual THEOLOGY changed. The substance of the Reformed faith is unchanged but we are more consistent now.”

A Theocrat Confessionalist Response: This is the most interesting part of your response. You state that actual theology has not changed (from the Confessions?) in the first sentence then the next you state that the you and those in your camp are more consistent (consistent to what? to the Confessions? internally consistent within your own beliefs?) now. And in what ways are you more consistent, in faith (theology) and practice? Do note that your theology has changed from those who are truly Reformed by the absence of theocratic doctrines. Theocratic beliefs are theological in character, so to change this belief and call yourself Reformed is actually making a change away from the original Confessions that is theological in nature (unless you have a different taxonomy of theology than I am assuming). You state that “we are more consistent now,” but are you assuming “we” (including you) to be those who are Reformed? Surely this seem to be question begging, for how can you be Reformed if you do not hold to the first through the last articles? You are right that “the substance of the Reformed faith is unchanged,” even though 499,000 people hijack the term “Reformed” but now we (the 1,000 theocrats) are more consistent with rediscovering the rich heritage of our Reform Confession.

4.) “Look, we get it in the neck from the biblicists for being static. We get it in the neck from theocrats and fundamentalists (on geocentrism) for maturing.”

A Theocrat Confessionalist Response: Doesn’t this dilemma arise from the fact that those of your camp have set up quite an arbitrary choice of calling yourself Reformed and then decide what stays and what goes from the confession? You selectively are static with some aspects of the Reformed Faith but then deviate from it in some areas. Can you be arbitrary and pick and choose what you want to believe and not believe from the Confessions? Sure, don’t misrepresent me I believe you are entitled to your own beliefs but that does not give you the right to call yourself “Reformed”.

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This guy has visited Seminary and sat in a class next to me

It’s the greatest story ever told.
A God pursues foes whose hearts turned cold.
The greatest story ever told.
Restoring all that the enemy stole.
The greatest story ever told.
The glory of Christ is the goal, behold.
The greatest story ever told.
It’s the greatest.

Alright check it: let’s go back in time, brethren. Divine lessons always keep your mind guessing. The glory of the Triune God is what I’m stressing. The origin of humankind was fine. Blessings were plenteous. God is amazingly generous. Crazy benefits in a state of innocence. God told the man what he could taste was limited. Not long after came our nemesis in Genesis. He scammed well, man fell, damned to hell. The whole human race—he represented it. Fooled by the serpent, man through his work, woman through birth—even the earth ruled by the curses. But instead of a wake immediately. God said her Seed would be the One to crush the head of the snake. Yo, wait what is this? Whoa, a gracious gift! In Jehovah’s faithfulness He clothed their nakedness. This was so they would know their Savior’s kiss and bliss. But first, many growing pains exist suffering in the worst form, ugly deeds. Eve’s firstborn seed made his brother bleed. Indeed things got progressively worse. Every section of the earth is been affected by the curse. And though God’s judgments against sin were gory, praise the Lord! It’s not the end of the story.

Next scene: man’s sin was extreme. God gets steamed, man gets creamed. The Lord is so Holy that He drowned them in the water. Fire in the valley of slaughter – Sodom and Gomorrah. But at the same time, He’s so gracious and patient that from one man He created a whole nation. Eventually enslaved by the mentally depraved, they cried out to the only One with the strength that He could save. He brought them out with signs and wonders – satisfied their hunger. Then He appeared on Mount Sinai in thunder. Where He laid down the law for God-ruled government. Commonly referred to as the Mosaic covenant. Sin was imputed. So for man to know he’s unrighteous, God instituted animal sacrifices. This was to show our constant need for atonement. And when it came to sin, the Lord would never condone it. And when His people disobeyed and went astray, He raised up prophets and kings to lead them in the way. But they would get foul with their idolatry—wet and wild prophecy—send them into exile. To take their punishment like a grown man. Then with His own hand He placed them back in their homeland. And while in their forefather’s land they dwelt, they awaited the arrival of Emmanuel.

After 400 silent years filled with sighs and tears. In Bethlehem the Messiah appears. God in the flesh—Second Person of the Trinity. At thirty begins His earthly ministry. Baffling cats with accurate, exact facts and back-to-back miraculous acts. A stumbling block to the self righteous. But the humbled—His flock, said “There’s no one else like this.” He came from heaven to awake the numb. Demonstrated His power over nature, son. A foretaste of the Kingdom and the age to come. But the reason He came was to pay the sum for the depths of our wickedness, our wretched sinfulness. Bless His magnificence! He is perfect and innocent. Yet He was wrecked and His death. He predicted it. Next He was stretched, paid a debt that was infinite. He said that He finished it. Resurrected so the elect would be the recipients of its benefits. Through faith and penitence we get to be intimate. His grace is heaven sent, it never diminishes. Now the Holy Spirit indwelling is the evidence for heaven’s future residents who truly represent Jesus, the Author, Producer, Director, and Star of a story that will never, ever end!

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CLICK HERE FOR PART II

A hallmark of Presuppositional Apologetics is it’s claim that their is no such thing as religious neutrality.  Religious neutrality is an impossible position for both the Christian and the Non-Christian.  Christians ought to submit to the Lordship of Christ even in the area of the intellect and apologetics, and failure to do so is an ethical situation between the believer and the Lord. Calling the situation what it is, when believers engage in religious neutrality they are in disobedience to the Lord.

Similarly the nonbeliever can not be religiously neutral either.  Yet some unbelievers in their encounter with Presuppositional Apologetics would fight tooth and nail with much hostility against the Christian faith and still assume that their position is religiously neutral! They do not like the Presuppositional Apologetics stance which openly states that unbelievers have become enemies of God because their sins have made them hostile in every aspect of their being, whether heart, soul and mind.  Some unbelievers would try to argue that prior to their knowledge to Christianity, they were religiously neutral towards Christianity.  Can a position of religious neutrality ever exist?  Let us look at one such atheist who insist he is religiously neutral in light of three statements he made:

“My position is one of neutrality until you offer such an outlandish claim.”

My position, which is one of a lack of belief in a god, is one I came to at an early age after seeing that people REALLY did believe in gods.”

I’m in the unique position to have not been poisoned with dogma and indoctrination and can see that all of these religions have followers who KNOW theirs is the only one true god.”

What are we to make of his statements?  Some observations to note:

1.) The first statement he made was “My position is one of neutrality until you offer such an outlandish claim.” Here he claims that prior to hearing the claims made by Christians, his position was “one of neutrality” before the Christians “offer such an outlandish claim” that God exists.  Yet, what woke him up from his slumber of neutrality?  The claim that God exists, which he finds as an “an outlandish claim”.  Of course the proposition “God exists” is not an outlandish claim to those who are Christians.  Clearly, the Christian and this fellow atheist have different standard of determining what is and is not an “outlandish claim.”  In order for this atheist to rule something as outlandish (in this case, God exists), the standard determining what is and is not an “outlandish claim” has to be assumed first because it is his measuring stick of what is “outlandish.”  Yet this atheist measuring stick (which rules the claim God exists as an “outlandish claim”) is not neutral towards Christianity.  This hostile standard (being not neutral) was assumed by this individual prior to the Christian “offer” of the claim to the atheist that God exists.  Therefore, how can this atheist original position really be neutral to begin with when all along he presupposed a standard that is predisposed towards ruling out the claims of God and Christianity as”outlandish” ?

2.) The second statement further demonstrates how this atheist’s position can not be neutral.  It states, “My position, which is one of a lack of belief in a god, is one I came to at an early age after seeing that people REALLY did believe in gods.” By taking the position that “lack of belief “in God, he has already taken a position contrary to Christianity.  His position is not neutral towards Christianity since it is antithetical towards Christianity: Though he feels that he has a “lack of belief” in God, on the contrary the Bible claims that all people know God and His nature though they suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-21).

3.) Not only is the atheist not religiously neutral as statement two indicates, it is just as important to observe the atheist’s bizarre reasoning. His position is described in his own words  as “a lack of belief in a god.” He himself stated that he arrived at his conclusion “which is one of a lack of belief in a god” was the result of “after seeing that people REALLY did believe in gods.”  One has to ask the question of whether or not “seeing that people REALLY did believe in gods” is really a good reason to conclude “a lack of belief in a god.”  Observing that people “REALLY” (to use his own words and emphasis) do believe in God or “gods” only tells us something sociologically concerning people’s beliefs rather than the ontological status of God Himself.  The guy’s reasoning does not follow.

4.) The reasoning behind the atheist’s second statement is also self-refuting to his position.  For the sake the argument, if one granted the atheist the benefit of the doubt that he “REALLY” does believe in the position he stated, then assuming his twisted reasoning the readers should have “a lack of belief in” the atheist’s position.  This is to illustrate the absurdity of the atheist’s reasoning.

5.) The third statement is another indication of how this atheist’s position is not religiously neutral.  He stated, “I’m in the unique position to have not been poisoned with dogma and indoctrination and can see that all of these religions have followers who KNOW theirs is the only one true god.” Speaking of his own atheistic position, he writes that he is  “in the unique position” unlike Christianity or other religion of having a better understanding of religion.  Such attitude is the hallmark of arrogance rather than religious neutrality.  He then condescendingly say that he “have not been poisoned with dogma and indoctrination” assuming that religious followers have.  An air of irreligious superiority is surely not a trait of religious neutrality.

6.) Even with the third statement’s air of superiority, of how the atheist is in an “unique position to have not been poisoned with dogma and indoctrination,” he seem to import into his thinking the typical indoctrination of other atheists on the internet bragging about Atheism’s intellectual superiority and a self-induced naive dogma more than he realized.  Supposedly as a result of this “unique position”, the atheist has the unique ability to “see that all of these religions have followers who KNOW theirs is the only one true god.”” This atheist has assumed rather naively that only from his vantage point does one realize that various religions have followers who claim to know that it’s only their faith and gods are true.  It is incredibly narrow-minded to think that atheism is the only position to have seen this, after all Christian apologists have witnessed to people of other faiths and encounter those who claim to know their faith is the only true one.  Christians (including this author) recognize this.

CONCLUSION

There is no neutrality with the God of the Bible.  Religious Neutrality is impossible and is really a moral issue since it is a denial of God.  Those who do not acknowledge God who has given so much to His Creatures are sinning when they don’t praise and thank Him.  There is no religiously neutral zone to avoid and hide from God.  Come to Him, and confess your sins.  God has sent Jesus Christ to die for the sins of those who will trust in Him with their lives and believed that God has  resurrected Him on the third Day.

CLICK HERE FOR PART IV

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Psalm 148:7

Praise the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,

Look at the Census of Marine Life Image Gallery: http://www.coml.org/imagegallery/

God’s beautiful creation below

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Purchase:  Amazon

Great book, this is the third book that Doug Wilson wrote in addressing the New Atheists. This time, Wilson responds to Christopher Hitchen’s work, “God is not Good: How religion poison everything”. In Wilson’s response, he is witty and insightful. In apologetics, attention to detail is important and Wilson has the compacity of analyzing Hitchens. You will be reading this and be laughing. “God is” is a a good source of illustrations for dialogues in apologetics, and a great example of Presuppositional Apologetics applied. Though Wilson is writing this from the perspective of the Van Tillian’s camp, Wilson writes this book without resorting to the typical VanTillian lingo, a breath of fresh air for some and less intimidating for those who might not be as familar with Van Til’s framework. In comparison with the first book Wilson wrote on atheism, “Letter from a Christian Citizen”, in which Wilson responds to the Atheist Sam Harris, I thought this particular work was not just the repetition of a previous book applied to another atheist. Rather, Wilson seem to have taken his literary gift and sore to new heights and original illustrations.

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A SYLLABUS ON CORNELIUS VAN TIL’S HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT AND CONTRIBUTION TO PRESUPPOSITIONAL APOLOGETICS[1]

  1. Introduction: Why I Believe in God, and why this syllabus?
    1. Question of the purpose of this syllabus
      1. As part of a more in-depth church syllabus lecture on apologetics, it might be asked why a biographical historical/theological approach to the father of Presuppositional Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til is needed?
      2. However, the question must be rephrased to the following: “Does Van Til himself thinks there is a relationship between his background (biographical, theological and otherwise) and his apologetics methodology?”

b. The importance of the booklet Why I Believe in God and its insight in answering the question

  1. It has been identified by John Frame as Cornelius Van Til’s best writing[2]
  2. It is the only work of Van Til addressing nonbelievers.[3]
  3. This is a concise summary of Van Til’s apologetics.
  4. According to Greg Bahnsen it is “a profound and readable illustration of the ‘transcendental’ argument for the truth of the Christian worldview”[4],
  5. The pamphlet, Why I Believe in God, illustrates the application of the apologetics of Van Til in non-technical terms.[5]
    1. This work is a model of how Van Til sees his apologetics would be applied.
    2. Thus, it’s insight, if any, would be important to answering the question.
    3. In Van Til’s own words decades later,

“In this pamphlet I tried to point out in simple terminology why I believe in the God of the Bible, the God of historic Reformed theology. The God I believe in is the triune God of the Bible. I believe in this God because He himself has told me in the Bible who He is, what I am, and what He, in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, has done for me. Or I might say ’has done for men.’ I was brought up on the Bible as the Word of God. Can I, now that I have been to school, still believe in the God of the Bible? Well, can I still believe in the sun that shown on me when I walked as a boy in wooden shoes in Groningen? I could believe in nothing else if I did not, as back of everything, believe in this God.”[6]

  1. In Why I Believe in God, his apologetical challenge to the nonbeliever is blended with his testimony.
    1. This is seen in how he writes in the beginning of the booklet,

“To make our conversation most interesting, let’s start by comparing notes on our past.  That will fit in well with our plan, for the debate concerning heredity and environment is prominent in our day.  Perhaps you think that the only real reason I have for believing in God is the fact that I do so in my early days…Now in fact, I feel that the whole of history and civilization would be unintelligible to me if it were not for my belief in God.  So true is this, that I propose to argue that unless God is back of everything, you cannot find meaning in anything.  I cannot even argue for belief in Him, without already having taken Him for granted…My whole point will be that there is perfect harmony between my belief as a child and my belief as a man, simply because god is Himself the environment by which my early life was directed and my later life made intelligible to myself.”[7]

  1. The booklet then proceed with the biographical testimony of his life from birth and onwards.
  2. In a sense, his testimony is part of his apologetics.
  3. Why is understanding the historical and theological background in Van Til’s biography important to Van Til’s apologetics?
    1. In light of the importance of the place of the booklet Why I Believe in God in Van Til’s apologetics,  the part-testimonial and part-philosophical challenge against unbelief which has been characteristic of Van Til’s apologetics would be missing something important if it does not take seriously Van Til’s background.
    2. So much of Van Til’s apologetics strive to defend the Sovereign God of the Bible, who has acted in history through providence and miracle.
      1. The biographical, theological and philosophical background of Cornelius Van Til further testify to the existence of the God of the Bible and His character, since God sovereignly conditioned the event which resulted in the development of Presuppositional Apologetics through Van Til.
      2. Knowing the biography and background of Van Til means seeing the Sovereign God of the Bible as the hero, and Van Til as just the means God use, thereby glorifying God instead of man.
        1. For the Christian, there is something to thank God about His providence in the thoughts of Van Til in a historical light.
        2. An understanding of Van Til’s biographical background would allow a deeper appreciation of his thoughts.
        3. Knowing the historical background of Van Til demonstrates how his consistently Reformed theology spawned his apologetics.
          1. For those who want a consistently Reformed apologetics of the faith, such a study as this would affirm Van Til’s apologetics.
          2. Knowing the theological root of Van Til’s apologetics have led some to the Reformed faith.
            1. Internet slogan call Presuppositional Apologetics “the back door to Calvinism”
            2. As a personal testimony, Presuppositional Apologetics as articulated by Van Til and those that followed in his vein has contributed to my adoption of the Doctrine of Sovereign Grace.
    3. The approach and direction for this syllabus
      1. This syllabus will roughly provide an overview of Van Til’s biography, through the path of the booklet Why I Believe, and further sources.
      2. Along the way, this syllabi will attempt to show how even in a Christian testimony such as Van Til’s is an apologetics challenge to the unbeliever.
      3. Some specific theologically Reformed doctrines will be shown of how Van Til applied them to his unique apologetics.
  4. Early life
    1. Birth of Van Til
      1. After the introduction in Why I Believe, Van Til began his testimony with reference to his birth.

“Well, I was born in a little thatched roof house with a cow barn attached, in Holland. You wore “silver slippers” and I wore wooden shoes.”[8]

  1. Van Til was born on a lovely cloudy Friday on May 3rd, 1895 to his father, Ite, and mother, Klazina.
  2. He was born at Grootegast, Holland.[9]
  3. The authorized biographer of Van Til, William White described the scene of Van Til’s birth in this way:

“Nothing spectacular or noteworthy in the annals of history happened in the Low Countries on the lovely spring day in 1895.  However, in the old farmhouse of Ite Van Til, with it attached barn and red tile roof, Ite’s good wife, Klazina, gave birth to their sixth child, Kornelis.  True, the chroniclers of men and nation may never note the birth of the little Dutch boy nor his later career, but hundreds of thousands of God’s people around the world have read his writings and…have taken heart to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in the turmoil and unbelief of the present century.”[10]

  1. What does Van Til’s birth have to do with Presuppositional apologetics?
    1. Van Til used the occasion of his birth to arrange a “clash of worldview” in Why I Believe.
      1. Van Til writes:

“We are frequently told that much in our life depends on ‘the accident of birth.’”[11]

  1. A crucial tenet of Van Til’s thought is that religious neutrality simply doesn’t exist.[12]
  2. Every fact is not interpreted in a religiously neutral fashion, even in the ‘mundane’ typical birth of a Dutch child name Cornelius Van Til.
    1. The Christian worldview believes that each birth is part of the providence and will of God.
    2. The nonbeliever who claim to not believe in God’s existence on the other hand,  believes that each birth is the result of an ‘accident’ (non-purposeful happenstance, of no real cosmic significance nor design)
    3. By titling this section of the booklet, “The Accidents of Birth”, he was bringing the unbelieving audience to the awareness that they are not religiously neutral towards God in their interpretation of facts of any fact.particulary
    4. Van Til used the occasion of his birth to set the parameters of his debate to defending exclusively the God of Christianity.
      1. Van Til writes concerning his birth,

“Is this really important for our purpose? Not particularly, but it is important that neither of us was born in Guadalcanal or Timbuktu. Both of us, I mean, were born in the midst and under the influence of “Christian civilization.” We shall limit our discussion, then, to the “God of Christianity.” I believe, while you do not believe or are not sure that you do believe, in this particular kind of God. That will give point to our discussion. For surely there is no sense in talking about the existence of God, without knowing what kind of God it is who may or may not exist.”[13]

  1. There is a sense in the Bible, where God’s providential control over nation’s boundaries and man’s inhabited location would offer the condition for people to search for God.

26and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,  27that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  28for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ (Acts 17:26-28)

  1. It is this faith that Van Til was interested in defending.
  2. Childhood and upbringing in Holland
    1. Cornelius was nicknamed Kees by his family.
    2. Orthodox Presbyterian Church historian John R. Muether described Van Til’s household in this way:

“Ite Van Til’s household was a “Christian civilization’ where Reformed faith and practice became ‘the atmosphere of our daily life’.”[14]

  1. Beginning with Cornelius’ grandfather, the family was part of a minor Christian group within the Reformed Church of the Netherlands called the Afscheiding party.[15]
    1. The Afscheiding party disagreed with the majority on various issues, among them they did not believe that baptized children of the covenant were regenerate.[16]
    2. As a result of his Afscheiding upbringing, Van Til was exposed to the theology of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck.[17]
      1. This influence Van Til’s theology such as his adherence to the doctrines of common grace and pressing the antithesis against the world, which was so essential to Van Til’s apologetics.[18]
      2. As a product of the Afscheiding, Van Til was influenced by Kuyper to confront secularization by the development of a robust Christian worldview.[19]
      3. Had a private Christian education

1. “Like any child in any good Reformed families Kees was sent to a Christian school.  Accompanied by his brother, Jacob, he trudged two miles to the school house.”[20]

  1. His first recollection of the place was the memorization of the first question and answer to the Heidelberg Catechism…[21]
  2. Van Til’s childhood in his own words
    1. Van Til also referred to his childhood during his testimony in Why I Believe.
    2. He writes,

“Ours was not in any sense a pietistic family. There were not any great emotional outbursts on any occasion that I recall. There was much ado about making hay in the summer and about caring for the cows and sheep in the winter, but round about it all there was a deep conditioning atmosphere. Though there were no tropical showers of revivals, the relative humidity was always very high. At every meal the whole family was present. There was a closing as well as an opening prayer, and a chapter of the Bible was read each time. The Bible was read through from Genesis to Revelation. At breakfast or at dinner, as the case might be, we would hear of the New Testament, or of “the children of God after their families, of Zephon and Haggi and Shuni and Ozni, of Eri and Areli.” I do not claim that I always fully understood the meaning of it all. Yet of the total effect there can be no doubt. The Bible became for me, in all its parts, in every syllable, the very Word of God. I learned that I must believe the Scripture story, and that “faith” was a gift of God. What had happened in the past, and particularly what had happened in the past in Palestine, was of the greatest moment to me. In short, I was brought up in what Dr. Joad would call “topographical and temporal parochialism.” I was “conditioned” in the most thorough fashion. I could not help believing in God—in the God of Christianity—in the God of the whole Bible!”[22]

  1. What does Van Til’s childhood have to do with Presuppositional apologetics?
    1. Van Til used the occasion of his childhood to point to God.

Since there is no neutrality, Van Til was still pointing to God and presenting a different explanation of his upbringing that led to his faith.

  1. Van Til used the occasion of his childhood to be honest instead of being “intellectually schizophrenic” concerning why he really believed in the God of the Bible.
    1. He did not hype his testimony, nor cover-up the credit to God but was upfront and honest with the unbeliever concerning his childhood condition that led him to believe.
    2. He was not ashamed for the humble background that led to his faith since,

“For the word of the cross is (AI)foolishness to (AJ)those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is (AK)the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

  1. Yet, he also would throw down an intellectual challenge against unbelief knowing the promise from the Word of God that,

For it is written,
“I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE,  AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” (1 Corinthians 1:19)

  1. Moving to America
    1. The Van Til family emigrated from Holland and arrived on May 19th, 1905 at the piers of Hoboken, New Jersey.[23]
    2. They eventually settled in Indiana.[24]
  2. Later schooling
    1. Van Til’s desire for the ministry led him to Calvin College for his undergraduate studies.
    2. In 1922, Van Til enrolled at Princeton Seminary and completed up to his Th.M in 1925.[25]
    3. After his theological studies, Van Til went on to the Secular program at Princeton University where he earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1927.[26]
      1. Important for understanding Van Til, his studies of Idealist philosophy at this time is the source of much of Van Til’s old idealistic philosophical terminology that can seem rather archaic today.
      2. Van Til did not construct his apologetics in the absence of rigorous challenge against Christianity; rather, he was aware of them.
      3. Van Til wrote with his own words, in Why I Believe,

“By this time you are probably wondering whether I have really ever heard the objections which are raised against belief in such a God. Well, I think I have. I heard them from my teachers who sought to answer them. I also heard them from teachers who believed they could not be answered. While a student at Princeton Seminary I attended summer courses in the Chicago Divinity School. Naturally I heard the modern or liberal view of Scripture set forth fully there. And after graduation from the Seminary I spent two years at Princeton University for graduate work in philosophy. There the theories of modern philosophy were both expounded and defended by very able men. In short I was presented with as full a statement of the reasons for disbelief as I had been with the reasons for belief. I heard both sides fully from those who believed what they taught.”[27]

  1. What does Van Til’s later schooling have to do with his defense of the faith?
    1. Van Til’s has been honest as seen earlier in Why I Believe of the condition that led to his simple faith.
    2. Yet that faith that spawned because of the simple Christian friendly condition he was in as a child, is still vibrant when he became a man, in light of and because of the new condition God has put where there is hostility against his faith.
    3. In Van Til’s own words,

“My whole point will be that there is perfect harmony between my belief as a child and my belief as a man, simply because God is Himself the environment by which my early life was directed and my later life made intelligible to myself.[28]

  1. Professorship at Princeton then Westminster Seminary and beyond
    1. His prowess in apologetics led Van Til to returned to Princeton Seminary to teach apologetics in 1928-29, and was even offered the chair of apologetics which he declined to return to pastor a Christ Reformed Church.[29]
    2. Those who were liberal slowly gained control of the Board of Trustee overseeing the Seminary.
    3. As a result, “four members of the Princeton Seminary faculty, Robert Dick Wilson, Oswald T. Allis, J. Gresham Machen, and Cornelius Van Til, tendered their resignations in protest against the shattering maneuvers of the General Assembly.”[30]
    4. Under the leadership of Gresham Machen, Westminster Seminary was formed in Philadelphia.
    5. Gresham Machen had to plead persistently with a reluctant Van Til to join the faculty at Westminster and leave the small church he was pastoring, but Machen was finally successful just a few days before the start of the Seminary on September 1929.[31]
    6. He was the Professor of Apologetics at Westminster from 1929 to 1972.
      1. It was during this time that his thoughts was put on print, whether as syllabuses, books and booklets.
      2. His works have impacted various people
        1. Apologist Francis Schaeffer

“Schaeffer studied with Van Til in 1936-37 and then left to join the student body at the newly formed Faith Theological Seminary.  Schaeffer saw himself as a kind of bridge between Van Til and the more traditional apologetics…”[32]

  1. Apologist Greg Bahnsen

Frame stated in speaking of Bahnsen before his death,

“A student of Van Til’s with a Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Southern California under Dallas Willard, Bahnsen is one of the sharpest apologists working today.  In my view, he is the best debater among Christian apologists of all persuasions.  Bahnsen is doing a valuable work in teaching people how to make practical use of Van Til’s approach—‘taking it to the streets,’ as he says.”[33]

  1. Almost C.S. Lewis—if only he was!

“Douglas Johnson, an English friend of Van Til’s, tried to interest C.S. Lewis in readign Van TIl but Lewis returned unread copies of Van Til’s syllabi to Johnson, regretting that he lacked the time to read them.”[34]

  1. He died in 1987.[35]

Greg Bahnsen in reflecting of Van Til’s last years, wrote:

“A young family came to live with him in his old home in the Philadelphia suburb of Ambler.  The last time I saw him (in June 1985), he was pushing one of their children in a stroller and singing gospel hymns.  On April 17, 1987, Cornelius Van Til, one of the towering Christian intellectuals of the twentieth century—who could confound scholars and sing to children—joined ‘all the saints who from their labors rest,’ and now hymns God’s praise in heaven’s choir.”[36]

  1. Some Key Van Til’s ideas
    1. Starting note: The theological background for Van Til’s apologetics is grounded in Biblical and (Dutch) Reformed theology
      1. The confessions and references to the Bible can be seen throughout his writing.
      2. As John Frame pointed out, “He is very often paraphrasing ideas from the Dutch tradition.”[37]
      3. Frame also adds that, “It is clear from the outset that one of Van Til’s basic concern is to present an apologetic which is true to Scripture and Reformed doctrine.”[38]
      4. “In the case of the ethical/metaphysical distinction, the source is Bavinck.”[39]
      5. “…the shadow of Abraham Kuyper looming behind Van Til.[40]
    2. Summary: Given Van Til’s theological background, his contribution was his application of Biblical and Reformed truths towards theology, philosophy and apologetics.
      1. Frame makes the observation that “Van Til’s apologetics may well be described as a group of original applications of some familiar Reformed doctrines.”[41]
      2. As a result of these original applications of Reformed theology in apologetics and theology, Van Til also calls for those who are Christian and Reformed to be consistent in their application of their theology.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the most emphatic opposition to the Calvinism of Van Til (as well as Dooyeweerd, and others) has come from men who are ostensibly Calvinist leaders: the integrity of van Til’s Calvinism exposes the inconsistency and the betrayal inherent in their thinking.”[42]

  1. Self-evidencing nature of Natural and Special Revelation means there’s no true atheist
    1. General revelation does reveal truth of God to man immediately without any other support (self-evidencing)
      1. Reveals truth that nonbelievers knows but suppresses

Speaking of Romans 1:18-21, Van Til wrote,

“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.  They hold down the truth, to be sure, but it is the truth that they hold down.”[43]

  1. Reveals truth about God immediately to man

a. “In the sensus deitatis, then, we find a welling up within the consciousness of man an immediate awareness of the fact that God is the creator and sustainer of this world.”[44]

  1. He knows God right away, without waiting for an argument from nature.

“Literally, every part, every aspect, every phase, every sphere, every structure reflects the being of God.  All men ‘bump’ into God at all times, in all places, in all settings, and in all circumstances.”[45]

  1. Special Revelation does reveal truth of God to man immediately without any other support (self-evidencing)[46]
    1. Reveals truth that is so clearly God’s Word, nonbelievers have no reason to reject it

“It is this whole system of truth that is set forth in the Bible.  The writers of Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit to set forth this system of truth.  Thus the system is self attesting.”[47]

  1. Reveals truth that about God even apart from the Holy Spirit role of witness bearing

“The Scripture would no longer be self-attesting if the Spirit gave additional information.  On the other hand it is by the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit that the Scripture can be seen to be the self-attesting Word of God.”[48]

  1. In other words, Greg Bahnsen has articulated this point in his debate with Edward Tabash that the reading of the Bible contains within itself the self-evidencing Word of God.[49]
  2. Creator-Creature Distinction means no religious neutrality[50]
    1. Van Til, in Why I Believe makes this keen observation

“The point is this. Not believing in God, we have seen, you do not think yourself to be God’s creature. And not believing in God you do not think the universe has been created by God. That is to say, you think of yourself and the world as just being there. Now if you actually are God’s creature, then your present attitude is very unfair to Him. In that case it is even an insult to Him. And having insulted God, His displeasure rests upon you. God and you are not on “speaking terms.” And you have very good reasons for trying to prove that He does not exist. If He does exist, He will punish you for your disregard of Him. You are therefore wearing colored glasses. And this determines everything you say about the facts and reasons for not believing in Him. You have as it were entered upon God’s estate and have had your picnics and hunting parties there without asking His permission. You have taken the grapes of God’s vineyard without paying Him any rent and you have insulted His representatives who asked you for it.[51]

  1. The non-believer is not neutral, he is a sinner and needs to be shared the gospel and call to repent.
  2. Doctrine of man determine philosophy of laws and fact
    1. Note: What Van Til meant by laws pertains to logic, math, physical laws, etc.
    2. Van Til stated that,

“Believer and non-believer have opposite philosophies of fact and opposite philosophies of law. They also have, behind both of these, opposite views of man. Corresponding to the idea of brute fact and impersonal law is the idea of the autonomous man. Corresponding to the idea of God-controlled fact and law is the idea of God-controlled man.”[52]

  1. Laws and facts are determined by him, since he was the own who discovered it, or even created it!
  2. The Christian on the other hand does not see himself as ultimate, but submit to the Creator by interpret reality according to the revealed laws of thought and facts.
  3. Since the nonbeliever should know God (point c), and is not neutral towards God (point d), to the point of suppressing God’s existence (point f), it would come no surprise that the nonbeliever would have a philosophy of fact that would undermine Scripture so he can be autonomous, taking God’s place as the measure of all things.[53]
  4. Thus in apologetics, dealing with the presuppositions of the nonbeliever’s philosophy of facts is an essential component in defending the faith
    1. Van Til wrote,

“It is impossible and useless to seek to vindicate Christianity as a historical religion by a discussion of facts only.”[54]

  1. In his book on evidence and Van Til’s apologetics, Thom Notaro writes,

“As would be expected, miracles such as the part of waters, the feeding of thousands, and the raising of the dead have received frequent mention along with the amazing growth of the church and preservation of the biblical text.  Certainly, Dr. Van Til does not disqualify such types of evidences.  They serve as proofs within their proper framework.”[55]

  1. Suppression of truth means the Transcendental Argument
    1. In light of the fact that man suppresses the truth to the point of antithetical philosophy of facts and laws, there must be an argument on the basis of presuppositions, i.e., the Transcedental Argument.

Van Til writes,

“The method of reasoning by presuppositions may be said to be indirect rather than direct.  The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to ‘facts’ or ‘laws’ whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to the debate.  The question is rather as to what is the final reference-point required to make the ‘facts’ and ‘laws’ intelligible.”[56]

  1. The gist of the argument: Atheism presupposes Christian theism.

1. The nonbeliever’s commitment to randomness instead of God’s sovereignty destroys rationality.

“Because the unbeliever’s commitment to random eventuation in history (i.e., a metaphysic of ‘chance’) renders proof impossible, predication unintelligible, and a rational/irrational dialectic unavoidable, Van Til claims repeatedly in his writings that the truth of Christianity is epistemologically indispensable.”[57]

  1. Since the presuppositions are the issues, any argument for Christianity must refute autonomous presuppositions and show that the Christian foundation is the foundation for rationality, human experience, morals, etc.
  2. Denying the existence of God using this form of argument show how utterly irrational it is to argue against God.
    1. There is a self-destructive rational-irrational dialectic in the unbeliever

“In fact the ‘free man’ of modern non-Christian thought is Janus-faced. He turns one way and would seem to be nothing but an irrationalist. He talks about the ‘fact’ of freedom. He even makes a pretence of being hotly opposed to the rationalist. With Kierkegaard he will boldly assert that what cannot happen according to logic has happened in fact. Then he turns the other way and would seem to be nothing but a rationalist. Surely, he says, the ‘rational man’ will accept nothing but what has intelligible meaning for him in accord with the law of contradiction. There must be coherence in experience.”[58]

  1. Denying God is like denying the existence of air.

Van Til in Why I Believe said it beautifully,

“Arguing about God’s existence, I hold, is like arguing about air. You may affirm that air exists, and I that it does not. But as we debate the point, we are both breathing air all the time. Or to use another illustration, God is like the emplacement on which must stand the very guns that are supposed to shoot Him out of existence[59]

  1. The Trinity as the Solution to the One-and-the-Many dilemma
    1. Critics have asked why Presuppositional Apologetics lead only to the Christian God; Van Til creatively argued that in Christianity, only the Trinity as the only basis can solve the philosophical dilemma of what is ultimate: Unity (“One”) or the  particulars (“many”)?
      1. Those who see unity as ultimate would then be unable to account for particulars.
      2. Those who see particulars as ultimate would be unable to have the condition to be justified in classifying, generalizing, etc.
      3. When asked in a personal correspondence with Dr. Frame about how to explain the One-and-the-Many, he writes,

“This is not easy to understand. I gave my best shot at it in the chapter on the Trinity in my book Cornelius Van Til (P&R, 1995). Of course, Van Til takes up the issue in many places, such as The Defense of the Fath and Christian Apologetics.
The basic issue: in trying to understand the universe, we try to group things under general categories: e.g. individual grapes under the concept “grape.” That is, we try to group particulars under universals, manys under ones. Now philosophers take this a step further, as they try to analyze what the universe is “really” like. Is it really one, or many? That is to say, is there an absolute oneness, devoid of manyness? Or is there an absolute particle that cannot be grouped under some universal concept?

Then philosophers hope that they can gain a godlike exhaustive knowledge of the world, either by finding an ultimate universal that includes everything, or an ultimate particle, of which everything is made. But they have been unable to do this. The ultimate reason is that in God there is no many without oneness; and God has made the universe to be the same.”[60]


[1] Note: This syllabus assumes what has already been covered in the Truth Chinese Alliance Church’s Introductory Presuppositional Apologetics course.  The intention of this syllabus is to build upon that foundation.

 

[2] John Frame, “Annotated Bibliography” in Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thoughts, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995), 450.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetics: Readings And Analysis, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998), 120.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cornelius Van Til, Toward A Reformed Apologetics, (Philadelphia: Privately printed, 1972), 1-2. NOTE: This is a combination of three booklets by Van Til.

[7] Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God, (Philadelphia: Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1948),3.

[8] Ibid,4.

[9] John Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thoughts, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995), 19.

[10] William White, Van Til: Defender of the Faith, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 15-16.

[11] Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God, (Philadelphia: Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1948), 4.

[12] For more on religious neutrality, see what follows below.  For a philosophical articulation of this point against the critic utilizing the framework of humanistic philosophy, see my article:

Jimmy Li, “Impossible Neutrality: An Analogy from Humanistic Geography”, Reformed Perspective Magazine, Volume 9, Number 33, August 12-18th, 2007 (http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/jim_li/jim_li.impossibleneutrality.html).

[13] Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God, (Philadelphia: Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1948), 4.

[14] John Muether, Cornelius Van til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 29.

[15] William White, Van Til: Defender of the Faith, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 19.

[16] Ibid.

[17] John Muether, Cornelius Van til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 24-27.

[18] Ibid, 25.

[19] Ibid, 24.

[20] William White, Van Til: Defender of the Faith, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 20.

[21] John Muether, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 30.

[22] Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God, (Philadelphia: Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1948), 5-6.

[23] John Muether, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 30.

[24] Ibid, 32-33.

[25] Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetics: Readings And Analysis, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998), 8-9.

[26] Ibid, 9.

[27] Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God, (Philadelphia: Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1948), 10-11.

[28] Ibid, 3.

[29] John Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thoughts, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995), 23.

[30] William White, Van Til: Defender of the Faith, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 85.

[31] Ibid, 90.

[32] John Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thoughts, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995), 395.

[33] Ibid, 392.

[34] John Muether, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 138.

[35] William Edgar, “Two Christian Warriors: Cornelius Van Til And Francis Schaeffer Compared.” The Westminster Journal 57, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 57.

[36] Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetics: Readings And Analysis, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998), 20.

[37] John Frame, Van Til: The Theologian, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Pilgrim Publishing Company, 1976), 3.

[38] Ibid, 4.

[39] John Frame, Van Til: The Theologian, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Pilgrim Publishing Company, 1976), 3.

[40] Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. and K. Scott Oliphint, “Preface.” The Westminster Journal 57, no. 1 (Spring 1995): i.

[41]John Frame, Van Til: The Theologian, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Pilgrim Publishing Company, 1976), 3.

[42] Rousas John Rushdoony, By What Standard? An Analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius Van Til, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1959), 6.

[43] Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974), 93.

[44] Ibid, 90.

[45] Henry Krabbendam, “Cornelius Van Til: The Methodological Objective of a Biblical Apologetics.” The Westminster Journal 57, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 131.

[46] My small attempt to develop this idea is found in the Truth Chinese Alliance Church’s Systematic Theology Course, available online at http://teamtruth.com/articles/articlesbycategory.htm#sys_selfattesting.

[47] Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969), 32

[48] Ibid, 33.

[49] CD: “Does God Exist? A Debate- Bahnsen/Tabash” available at http://www.cmfnow.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=4588.

[50] An outline from the Truth Chinese Alliance Church Presuppositional Apologetics course might be helpful for a further refutation of religious neutrality biblically and philosophically: http://teamtruth.com/articles/art_neutralityoutline.htm.

[51] Cited in Cornelius Van Til, The Works of Cornelius Van Til, (New York: Labels Army Co.) 1997.

[52] Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954), 6.

[53] For a short outline on why Biblically autonomy is wrong, see http://teamtruth.com/articles/art_caseagainstautonomy.htm.

[54] Cornelius Van Til, Apologetics (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1947), 1.

[55] Thom Notaro, Van Til and the Use of Evidence (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 58.

[56] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1955), 117-118.

[57] Greg Bahnsen, “The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception in Presuppositional Apologetics.” The Westminster Journal 57 no. 1 (Spring 1995): 3-4.

[58] Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel, (London: Tyndale Press, 1950). Quoted in The Works of Cornelius Van Til, (New York: Labels Army Co.) 1997.

[59] Cited in Cornelius Van Til, The Works of Cornelius Van Til, (New York: Labels Army Co.) 1997.

[60] Correspondence took place on Facebook, May 6th, 2009.

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