Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

Van Til Gets His Turn

In Apologetics, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Presuppositionalism on 11/07/2011 at 10:53

Continuing our series on the 1948-1949 exchange of articles between J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. and Cornelius Van Til, Dr. Van Til at last steps to the plate in defense of his apologetic approach. This series of articles began in March of 1948 and prior to Van Til’s reply in April of 1949, there had been three articles of some length by Dr. Buswell, plus one article each by Francis A. Schaeffer and G. Douglas Young. In review, here is a summary of all the articles in this series:

Series Articles :
1. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Arguments from Nature to God: Presuppositionalism and Thomas Aquinas—A Book Review with Excursions,” The Bible Today 41.8 (May 1948): 235-248.
2. Schaeffer, Francis A., “A Review of a Review,” The Bible Today 42.1 (October 1948): 7-9.
3. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Fountainhead of Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 41-64.
4. Young, G. Douglas, “Dr. Young’s Letter”, The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 65.
5. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.6 (March 1949): 182-192.
6. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.7 (April 1949): 218-228.
7. Anonymous, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.8 (May 1949): 261.
8. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism Concluded,” The Bible Today 42.9 (June-September 1949): 278-290.



Though Professor Van Til’s reply is lengthy, we hope to be able to include it all, word for word just as he has written it, in this and the next two issues. My comments are given in footnotes followed by my initial, “B”.

Dr. Van Til used no footnotes in this article. Ed.

Dear Dr. Buswell:

Allow me to thank you first for the courtesy extended in permitting me to make some remarks on your recent review of my booklet on Common Grace (See The Bible Today, November, 1948). I shall try, as simply as I can, to state something of my theological beliefs and my method of defending them. In this way I can perhaps best reply to your charges that I do not hesitate to make declarations flatly contradictory to the Reformed Standards and the Bible.[1]

The Bible Is Infallible

My primary interest is now, as it always has been, to teach what the Bible contains as the infallible rule of faith and practice in the way of truths about God and his relation to man and the world. I believe in this infallible book, in the last analysis, ‘because “of the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in my heart.”[2] Your readers may obtain a little pamphlet Why I Believe in God in which I have set forth my views in popular form, from Rev. Lewis Grotenhuis, Rt. 2, Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

The God of the Bible Differs From All Other gods

In speaking of the God of the Bible it is; I believe, of the utmost importance that we speak of him first as he is in himself prior to ‘his relation to the created world and man. Reformed theologians therefore distinguish between the ontological and the economical trinity, the former referring to the three persons of the Godhead in their internal relations to one another, the latter referring to the works of this triune God with respect to the created universe. With respect to the ontological trinity I try to follow Calvin in stressing ‘that there is no subordination of essence as between the three persons. As Warfield points out when speaking of Calvin’s doctrine of the trinity “. . . the Father, the Son, the Spirit is each this one God, the entire divine essence being in each;” (Calvin and Calvinism, p. 232). In the syllabi to which you refer and with which you are familiar, I have spoken of the equal ultimacy of the one and the many or of unity and diversity in the Godhead. I use this philosophical language in order the better to ‘be able to contrast the Biblical idea of the trinity with philosophical theories, that are based upon human experience as ultimate. When philosophers speak of the one and many problems they are simply seeking for unity in the diversity of human experience. In order to bring out that it is Christianity alone that has that for which men are looking but cannot find 1 use the terminology of philosophy, always making plain that my meaning is exclusively derived from the Bible as the word of God. “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” (Common Grace, p. 8 )

Take now these two points together (a) that I ‘have consistently stressed the necessity of asking what God is in himself prior to his relation to the created universe and (b) that I have consistently opposed all subordinationism within the self-contained trinity and it will appear why I have also consistently opposed correlativism between God and the universe and therefore correlativism between God and man. By correlativism I understand a mutually interdependent[3] relationship like that of husband and wife or the convex and the concave side of a disk. I know of no more pointed way of opposing all forms of identity philosophy and all forms of dialectical philosophy and theology. I have also spoken of this self-contained trinity as “our concrete universal.” Judging merely by the sound of this term[4] you charge me with holding Hegelianism. I specify
clearly that my God is precisely that which the ‘Hegelian says Cod is not and yet you insist that I am a Hegelian.

I have further said that in God, as He exists in Himself, apart from his relation to the world, thought and being are coterminous. Are they not? Is God’s consciousness not exhaustively aware of His being?[5] Would you believe with Brightman that there is a “given” element in God? God is light and in him is no darkness at all.

God’s Decree Controls All Things

I further hold that the self-sufficient triune God “from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass—”. This is what I mean when I say that God is the ultimate cause back of all things. In this terminology 1 am merely reproducing Calvin’s argument against Pighius in The Eternal Predestination of God. (See Henry Cole, Calvin’s Calvinism).[6] Calvin speaks of remote and proximate causes. I simply use the word ultimate instead of remote. I do not think there is any essential difference between Calvin’s usage of the word remote and my usage of the word ultimate?

In various works Calvin had maintained the all-inclusiveness of the decree of God. This, Pighius had argued, was in effect to make God the author of sin. Calvin denies vigorously that he makes God the author of sin. “I have with equal constancy, asserted that the eternal death to which man rendered himself subject so proceeded from his own fault that Cod cannot, in any way, be considered the author of it.” (Calvin’s Calvinism, p. 127). Here Calvin makes the distinction between remote and proximate causes. As the proximate cause of sin man is guilty before God. “But now, removing as I do from God all the proximate cause of the act in the Fall of man, I thereby remove from Him also all the blame of the act leaving man alone under the sin and the guilt.” (Idem p. 128). But Pighius argues that if man is the responsible cause of his sin, then God’s eternal reprobation must logically be denied. He identities Calvin’s conception of proximate cause with the cause, that is the only cause. To this Calvin replies again ‘by means of his distinction between remote and proximate causes. There could be no responsible proximate cause unless there were also an all-comprehensive remote cause. He clinches his point by indicating that the doctrine of free grace cannot ‘be maintained except upon the presupposition of a remote or ultimate cause ‘back of the proximate cause. “If the wickedness of man be still urged as the cause of the difference between the elect and the non-elect, this wickedness might indeed be made to appear more powerful than the grace of God which He shows toward the elect, if that solemn truth did not stand in the way of such an argument: ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy’.” (Idem p. 80). Dealing with the blindness of sinners referred to Acts 28: 25, 26, Calvin says: “Some persons will here erroneously and ignorantly conclude that the cause and beginning of this obduracy in the Jews was their malicious wickedness. Just as if there were no deeper and more occult cause of the wickedness itself, namely, the original corruption of nature! And as if they did not remain sunk in this corruption because, being reprobated by the secret counsel of God before they were born, they were left undelivered!” (Idem p. 81). Speaking still further of the cause of the sinner’s blindness and of the Evangelist John’s exposition of the famous Isaiah passage on this subject Calvin says: “Now, most certainly John does not here give us to understand that the Jews were prevented from believing by their sinfulness. For though this be quite true in one sense, yet the cause of their not believing must be traced to a far higher source. The secret and eternal purpose and counsel of God must be viewed as the original cause of their blindness and unbelief” (Idem p. 81). Again he adds: “The unbelief of the world, therefore, ought not to astonish us, if even the wisest and most acute of men fail to believe. Hence, unless we would elude the plain and confessed meaning of the Evangelist, that few receive the Gospel, we must fully conclude that the cause is the will of God; and that the outward sound of that Gospel strikes the ear in vain until God is pleased to touch them by the heart within” (Idem p. 82).

When therefore you object to my saying that “God is the ultimate cause back of whatsoever comes to pass” you will also need to reject Calvin’s distinction between proximate and remote causes. I was simply reproducing Calvin’s argument against Pighius. With Pighius you will have to say that man’s deeds of wickedness are the cause, the only or final cause of his eternal state. And therewith you have, as Calvin points out, virtually denied the doctrine of the sovereign grace of God in the case of the elect. I do not think that you can show how Ephesians 1:11 which says that God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” is a “very different statement” from saying lhat God is the ultimate or remote cause back of all things, without falling into Arminianism.

I was much surprised when you objected to my simple reproduction of Calvin’s argument. I could not imagine that as a Calvinist you would hold with Pighius against Calvin. So I looked up your own discussion of freedom in “Sin and Atonement.” In your argument against determinism you assert: “We hold that there is genuine and absolute freedom within certain areas of human life, a freedom for which God himself in his infinite foreknowledge holds man absolutely responsible” (p. 49). Then, speaking of your own choice of becoming a violinist or a missionary you add: “There was a period of time when the decision though foreknown of God was still indeterminate—–” (Idem p. 50). In opposing determinism you do not carefully distinguish between fatalism and Calvinism. You do not mention foreordination but only foreknowledge. You speak of man having “absolute freedom” in certain areas, and of the result as being “indeterminate” without saying that it was indeterminate only in the sense that you as a man did not know the outcome. Add all this to your peremptory rejection of my reproduction[7] of Calvin’s argument and the question cannot be repressed to what extent you would hold to Calvin’s position rather than to that of Pighius.

Do you think Charles Hodge’s “great chapter distinguishing between necessity and certainty, showing that complete certainty is not dependent upon the idea of necessity” is out of agreement with Calvin’s ‘ doctrine of God as the remote cause of all things? If you can show it to be such it will surely be “anathema” to m«; if you cannot show it to be such why should you object to my statement that Cod’s decree is the ultimate though not the immediate cause of all things? Hodge says: “It may, however, be remarked that there is no difficulty attending the doctrine of foreordination which does not attach to that of foreknowledge. The latter supposes the certainty of free acts, and the former secures their certainty.” (Systematic Theology II p. 301) Or again, Being the cause of all things God knows everything by knowing Himself; all things possible, by the knowledge of his power, and all things actual by the knowledge of his own purposes” (Idem I p. 398). Again, “The futurition of events, according to the Scriptures, depends on the foreordination of God who foreordains whatever comes to pass” (Idem I p. 400).

Your readers must certainly have been amazed at hearing that I unequivocally teach that God is the author of sin. You assert: “To say that Calvin knew that his opponent could ‘rightly insist that God is the cause of sin,’ is a direct contradiction of the statement, based upon many scores of Scripture passages, that ‘neither is God the author of sin’.” (p. 76) “What did I actually say? “If God is the ultimate cause back of whatsoever comes to pass, Pighius can, on his basis, rightly insist that God is the author of sin.” (Common Grace p. 66). First you misquote me. You quote me as saying: on this basis while I say on his basis.[8] Then in your reproduction of my argument you omit this all-important phrase on his basis. Omitting that phrase makes me say the exact opposite of what I actually said. Pighius denies the validity of the distinction between remote and proximate causes. Accordingly he holds that a proximate cause in Calvin’s sense of the term is no real cause and that the only real cause of sin on Calvin’s basis must be God. Is he logically inconsistent with his own assumption, when he reasoned thus? He is not. Calvin does not say that he is. He points to no flaw in Pighius’9 reasoning. Instead he points to the. necessity of introducing the distinction between remote and proximate causes. Then and then only, Calvin argues, is it really possible to establish the exclusive responsibility of man for sin. For then, and then only, is the freedom of man really established and are secondary causes given a true foundation.

In this connection you further assert: “It is of course characteristic of the school of thought to which Dr. Van Til ‘belongs to deny the possibility of any distinction between God’s permissive decrees and his compelling decrees” (p. 46). Was there any necessity for thus lumping me with a “school of thought” and asserting or suggesting that as a member of such a school I must hold so and so when as a matter of fact I do speak of the permission of God with respect to sin? (See the Syllabus on Introduction to Theology Vol. II p. 217). But I am anxious that what God permits be not set in contrast over against that which God foreordains. In that case the will of man would again – be thought of as the final or ultimate cause of its own acts •and therewith God’s grace be denied. (The reader may find Calvin’s evaluation of the idea of God’s permission of sin in Calvin’s Calvinism p. 244). Are your “permissive decrees” in no sense “compelling decrees?” Would you deny the ultimate efficiency of God in order to make room for the entrance of sin? If you are not. to make your distinction between permissive and compelling decrees to fall into a virtual argument for an Arminian conception of the freedom of the will how can you avoid saying with Calvin that “whatsoever men do, they do according to the eternal will and secret purpose of God?” (Idem p. 205).

The same school of thought to which I am supposed to belong is accustomed, you say, “to stop in the ninth chapter of Romans with the great and profound truth of the twentieth verse, ‘0 man, who art thou that repliest against God’ ” without going on to the twenty-second verse in. which Paul “so simply explains” why God brought Pharaoh into existence, (p. 46). Well I am not in the habit of stopping with the twentieth verse any more than was Calvin. But neither do I think, that the twentieth verse gives a merely arbitrary statement about God while the twenty-second verse gives a more profound reason for God’s dealings with Pharaoh. In complete contrast with Calvin’s approach (See Calvin’s Calvinism p. 246) you assert, while speaking of the passages of Romans 9:20, 21 and 9:22,23: “I do wish to emphasize very forcefully that the Apostle Paul does not stop with the first merely arbitrary answer. He goes forward to suggest a further and a much more profound analysis of God’s plan of redemption” (What is God p. 53) I do not think the will of God is an arbitrary reason. I believe with Calvin that God’s will “is and must toe, the highest rule of all equity” (op. cit.; p. 190). I do not think that the explanation given in the twenty-second verse is offered as more profound or more ultimate than the point made in verse twenty. “Taking, then, an honest and sober review of the whole of this high and Divine matter,” says Calvin, “the plain and indubitable conclusion will be that the will of God is the one principal and all-high cause of all things in heaven and earth” (Idem p. 246). Or again “But as the will of God is the surest rule of all righteousness, that will ought ever to be to us the principal reason, yea—if I may so speak—the reason of all reasons!” (Idem p. 247). But Calvin desires that his distinction between proximate and remote causes be always observed.[9] It is because his adversaries have failed to make this distinction which he considers so essential that they have done him grave injustice. “Our adversaries load us with illiberal and disgraceful calumny, when they cast it in our teeth that we make God the author of sin, by maintaining that His will is the cause of all things that are done” (Idem p. 251). Making the distinction between proximate and remote causes enables Calvin to do full justice to the longsuffering of God without giving up the decree of God as basic to whatsoever comes to pass.

Creation Out of Nothing

On the question of creation I believe that it pleased God “for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days and all very good.” This doctrine of creation fits in with the doctrine of the ontological trinity. If God is fully self-contained then there was no sort of half existence and no sort of non-being that had any power over against him. There was therefore no impersonal laws of logic that tell God what he can do and there is no sort of stuff that has as much even as refractory power over against God when he decided to create the world. I have not merely held but have also frequently defended this doctrine. I have defended it not merely against those who openly reject it or assert it to be impossible on the basis of logic as was the case with Parmenides. I have defended it against those who assumed the existence of some sort of limiting power next to God. I have in particular defended it against all forms of modern dialecticism, whether Hegelian or Barthian.

For all that you charge me with holding to something like a Platonic realism. You first assert that I mean by “autonomous man” “man as an actually existing substantive entity” (p. 56). Then you add that you fear that I do not believe in man as being created as such an entity. As a matter of fact I have frequently explained that by the term “autonomous man” I mean the idea of a man who virtually denies his createdness. As created in paradise man was a distinct ontological entity over against God. As made perfect he recognized that God his creator was also his lawgiver. Of his own accord, according to the law of his own being as God had made him, he was therefore a covenant keeper. But with the entrance of sin man was no longer willing to obey the law of his maker. He became a covenant breaker. He sought to be a law unto himself, that is, he sought to be autonomous. Speaking of my meaning of the word autonomous you say: “I do not think he means eternal or uncreated.” But why can I not mean “uncreated” when I assert that I do? I do not say that all men openly assert that they are non-created. What I have asserted time and again is that men virtually assume or presuppose that they are non-created. If they do not assume or presuppose that they are created then what else are they doing than assuming or presupposing that they are not created and therefore arc not responsible to their creator? Is this too broad and sweeping a statement to make about all sinners? The daily newspaper is unintelligible on any other basis. There are those who worship and serve the creature and there are those who worship and serve the Creator. This is the simple differentiation with which I am concerned. I try to call men back to the recognition of the fact that they are creatures of God by challenging their false assumption of their non-createdness, their autonomy or ultimacy.

A word may here be said about the relation of the ontological trinity to temporal creation. You assert the following: “The doctrine of paradox comes to its extreme expression in the words . . . ‘we have, in our doctrines of the ontological trinity and temporal creation cut ourselves loose once and for all from correlativism between God and man'” (p.47). Then you criticize my rejection of correlativism as though in rejecting it I were rejecting the idea of man’s relatedness to and dependence upon God. Was there any need for giving my words such a construction? Even the sentence following upon the one you quote shows that I am arguing for the God of the Bible who is back of history, who has his plan for history against those who speak of a comprehensive reality which includes God and man in one whole. Does it follow that I reject the Bible with its doctrine of God’s creation of man and the world because I reject the teaching which connects God necessarily with the world or makes him a principle within the world?

At this point I may say a brief word on your statement, “Van Til holds that holiness and truth are created by the will of Cod” (p. 53). But I have neither said nor implied any such thing anywhere. You refer to pp. 6, 7, 65, of Common Grace. On p. 6, I am arguing against Platonic realism. Does that make me a nominalist? If I reject one error must I hold to an opposite error? I find nothing on p. 7 that has any bearing on the subject unless in your mind it is the sentence, “Romanism and Arminianism have virtually allowed that God’s counsel need not always and everywhere be taken as our principle of individuation.” Perhaps you object to this because you hold that man has been created “to be the ultimate cause of the acts for which he is morally responsible.” (What is God p. 38). Even so is there anything in what I say here or anywhere else that justifies you in saying that I hold that God’s will acts independently of his character? On p. 65 I quote Calvin to the effect that the will of God is “the highest rule of righteousness.” Do you disagree with Calvin? Do you want to by-pass the will of God in order thus to reach God’s character?[10] Is Calvin also a nominalist?

Sin and Its Implications

As far as I know my mind I hold sin to be that which the Confession and catechisms say it is. This involves the historicity of the Genesis account. I have defended that time and again, particularly against Barth, Brunner and Niebuhr. It involves, I believe, also the covenant theology. God dealt with every man that was to come into the world through Adam the first man as their representative. Even when they do not yet exist as historical individuals men are thought of by Cod and treated by Cod through Adam the first historically existent man. So in the passage you quote I speak of all men as existing in Adam their common representative. You yourself say, “I sinned in Adam specifically and precisely because he, an individual, represented me,—stood as the federal and representative head of all mankind in this original act of sin” (p. 57). Do 1 say anything else? You say, “I sinned in Adam.” Did you then not in some sense exist in Adam? When I first say of sinners that in paradise “they do not yet exist” obviously I mean as “historical individuals.” When then I add in the next sentences, “yet they do exist. They exist in Adam as their common representative,” you speak of this as Platonic realism. I could say the same thing of your position not merely for as good a reason but for the same reason. You yourself quote Genesis 2:15-17 and then add: “—In this passage we see humanity in the image of God in ‘knowledge, righteousness, and holiness,’ given the opportunity of exercising free will,” (Sin and Atonement p. 23) Is this also Platonic realism?

You even go so far as to say: “The reader will remember that, for Van Til, Adam is not an individual but ‘mankind'” (p.59). You have not the least bit of justification[11] for making such a charge. You admit that I believe in the infallibility of the Bible. How could I believe in that unless I believed the historicity of the Genesis story? You claim to be familiar with the contents of my class syllabi as well as with what I have published. The article on Nature and Scripture in The Infallible Word is utterly unintelligible without the assumption of the historicity of the story of Adam as an individual in paradise. How could I speak of Adam as representing man in paradise unless I thought of Adam as the first individual man that lived? I have defended the historicity of the Genesis account on more than one occasion, against Barth, against Hegel and against Niebuhr. Even in the little pamphlet on Why I believe in God I explained that in my infancy a “formula was read over me at my baptism which solemnly asserted that I had been conceived and born in sin, the idea being that my parents, like all men, had inherited sin from Adam, the first man and the representative of the human race,” adding a little further on that though later made acquainted with the arguments for evolution and higher criticism I had not in the least given up the faith of my childhood.

As to Common Grace its whole argument is surcharged with the historicity of the story of the Bible.

Even in the immediate context of the words you quote I speak of the relation of the earlier and the later in history. “To set the problem before us as clearly as possible, we do well to think of it in connection with Adam in paradise. Would it be possible to maintain that only by the later revelation of God’s final purpose could anything be known of His attitude toward man? Then Adam would at the beginning have known nothing of God’s attitude toward him. No revelation of God’s final purpose had yet been made. The whole future, as far as Adam’s knowledge was concerned, was conditioned by his obedience or disobedience” (p. 71). From this point on I begin speaking about man. “Man was originally created good.” Even so I continue to mention Adam as an historical individual, and speak of his “representative act of obedience or disobedience.” How could I speak of Adam as engaged in paradise in a representative act if I were identifying him with mankind? Then on page 72 I go on to speak of the elect and the non-elect and of what they have in common. The argument is that in paradise, at the beginning of history Adam acted for all of them representatively. They have had things done with respect to them by their common representative. Adam in paradise at the beginning of history, when they did not themselves exist as historical individuals. On page 73 the argument goes on to the effect that the original situation was an historically unfinished situation. “Whether Adam (the Adam who existed historically in paradise) was to obey or disobey, the situation would be changed.” Is it wrong after all this to say: “We need not hesitate to affirm, then, that in the beginning God loved mankind in general. That was before mankind had sinned against God. A little later God hated mankind in general. That was after mankind had sinned against God” (p. 74. Is it wrong to say, “When man first sinned he did not know God as fully as we know Him now, but he did know God for what He is, as far as he knew Him at all. And it was mankind, not some individual elect or reprobate person that sinned against God?” Have not all men who appeared or will appear as historical individuals after Adam sinned in Adam their common representative in paradise?

Christ and His Work

My reason for stressing this matter is that together with all orthodox believers I have frequently argued, as you know, that the historicity of Christianity cannot be maintained unless the historicity of the Old Testament and in particular the historicity of the Genesis account be also maintained. But then, having been “deeply mired in Hegelian idealistic pantheism” and holding to God as the “concrete universal” I should, to be consistent, you argue, also deny the uniqueness of Christ. “What becomes of the incarnation?” (p. 49). But I hold to temporal creation and to the incarnation in the orthodox sense of the term not because of an inconsistency but because it is taught in Scripture. At the same time the doctrines of the self-sufficient God, of temporal creation and of the incarnation are not in- consistent with one another. They are all part of the one system of doctrine of Holy Writ.

For Whom Did Christ Die?

Charles Hodge with whose statement of the Reformed faith you say you agree “with great delight in almost every point” begins his chapter under the above given title by indicating what is not involved in the question. He says (a) that it does not in the first place, concern “the nature of Christ’s work,” (b) that it does not concern “the value of Christ’s satisfaction. That Augustinians admit to be infinite,” (c) that it “does not concern the suitableness of the atonement. What was suitable for one was suitable for all,” (d) that it “does not concern the actual application of the redemption purchased by Christ. The parties to this controversy are agreed that some only, and not all of mankind are to be actually saved” (Systematic Theology II pp. 544, 545). He concludes his introductory section by saying, “The simple question is, had the death of Christ a reference to the elect which it had not for other men? Did He come into the world to secure the salvation of those given to Him by the Father, so that the other effects of his work are merely incidental to what was done for the attainment of that object” (Idem p. 546).

He goes on to argue that God from eternity “determined to save one portion of the human race and not another.” He says that it seems to be contradictory to say “that the Father sent his Son to die for those whom He had predetermined not to save, as truly as, and in the same sense that He gave Him up for those whom He had chosen to make the heirs of salvation” (Idem p. 548). He points to Ephesians 5:25 where Christ is said to have laid down his life for his Church. Me points to John 15:13 where Christ is said to have laid down his life for his friends. He points to John 11:52 where the whole mission of Christ is summed up in the task of gathering together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad. Then he adds: “When mankind are divided into two classes, the Church and the world, the friends and the enemies of God, the sheep and the goats, whatever is affirmed distinctly of the one class is impliedly denied of the other” (Idem p. 549).

(Continued in next issue)


[1]The reader will remember that the point at issue is not Professor Van Til’s theology in general, but his denial that there is common ground of knowledge on which the believer may deal with the unbeliever. In connection with this denial he advances the doctrine of paradoxes, which he says, he accepts and embraces with great joy. I have not denied that with one side of his paradoxes he has always affirmed the Biblical truths of the Reformed faith, but it is the other side of the paradoxes to which exception has been taken. B.

[2]In the words in quotation marks Professor Van Til has fallen into an error, by changing the plural to the singular. If I have only the work of the Spirit “in my heart” as an individual, I am led into subjectivism and mysticism. The words in the original (Westminster Confession, Chapter I, paragraph 5) are “in our hearts.” This gives the most important of the objective criteria, the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the true church. B.

[3] But, the words “correlative” and “interdependent” are not synonyms. If God is our Creator and we are His creatures, made in his image, therefore there is correlativism between God and man. To deny it is to deny creation. Furthermore, the decrees of God are eternal, His purpose to create is eternal, therefore God has always been correlative to the futurition of His creation. To deny this is to deny the doctrine of the eternal decree. B.

[4] Not by the “sound” of the term, but by the universally recognized meaning of the words. This is a Hegelian term and it is used by our brother in such a way as to suggest the Hegelian meaning of the term. B.

[5] God’s consciousness is completely aware of His being, but His being is not “coterminous,” or identical in boundary, with His consciousness. God’s eternal decree is in his consciousness, and includes complete and perfect consciousness of all that is ever to come to pass. It included me, before the foundation of the world. If this is coterminous with His being we have nothing but extreme pantheism. B.

[6] Professor Van Til is very fond of quoting “Henry Cole’s ‘Calvin’s Calvinism’.” This work is not to be found in the New York Public Library or in the Union Library, both of which are among the most’ complete theological libraries in the world. It is listed in the index of the British Museum, Henry Cole being the translator, not the author. It was published in two parts in 1856 and 1857 by Wertheim and Macintosh in London. Part Iis said to be .”A treatise on the eternal predestination of God”; Part II “A defense of the Secret Providence of God . . . being a reply to the ‘slanderous reports’. . . of a certain worthless calumniator, etc.” I have asked our librarian to see if we can secure a copy on inter-library loan from the Library of Congress. In the meantime I should suggest that if Professor Van Til wishes to establish his own Calvinism and to question the Calvinism of others, he should be able to prove his point by references to the Institutes and the commentaries which are available to us all. I must decline to comment on Professor Van Til’s interpretation of Calvin’s doctrine of cause in his argument with Pighius, until I can read the work for myself. I should like to point out that in Calvin on Secret Providence translated by James Lillie in 1840 and published by Robert Carter, N.Y.C., I find Calvin stating the case for secret providence very differently from the way in which Professor Van Til says he stated it in the Pighius argument. B.

[7] “Determinism” and “indeterminism” are well known scientific terms in the field of philosophical psychology. Neither term is identical with Calvinism or with fatalism. Determinism in psychology is practically identical with “mechanism” as found in materialistic philosophy. To deny determinism is not in any sense to deny that God “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Taking the plain and simple dictionary definition of the words, nothing which is quoted here from my writings can be construed as contrary to the great principles of Calvinism. I cannot be governed by Professor Van Til’s “reproduction” of Calvin’s argument until I see the obscure work to which he confines his references on this point. Calvin’s voluminous writings are abundantly available under familiar titles.

[8] Professor Van Til is correct. There was a typographical error; “this” was erroneously given instead of “his.” But my argument was in no sense based upon this word, but rather upon the following sentence of Professor Van Til’s, “From the point of view of a non-Christian logic the Reformed Faith can be bowled over by means of a single syllogism.” That is, the “basis” of Pighius is specified by Van Til as secular logic, on which basis Pighius, says Professor Van Til, could “rightly insist that God is the author of sin.” Rejecting, as most of us do, Professor Van Til’s doctrine of “double truth,” we would say that if Pighius could rightly argue on the basis of secular logic to any given conclusion, then that conclusion must be held to be true unless, contrary to the Scripture, it is possible for God to lie. B.

[9] The great Calvinistic tradition in Holland and in America with which Professor Van Til has parted company, and the Westminster Confession (Chapter III, Paragraph 1), uniformly agree that “neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” If Calvin taught, contrary to this plain statement, what Professor Van Til says he taught in arguing against Pighius, surely that teaching could be found in some of Calvin’s works available to us in the great libraries in New York. B.

[1o] The distinction between the character of God and the will of God is by no means original with me. It is an important matter. I do hope that some of the readers will look back and review what I said on that point. There are extra copies available. B.

[11] My “bit of justification” was in the precise words which Professor Van Til used on page 74 of his. book, Common Grace, lines 5 to 3 up, “and it was mankind, not some individual . . . that sinned against God.” If Professor Van Til did not intend to say that it was not an individual who-sinned when Adam sinned, then he could easily retract his statement. As it is he merely emphasizes the other side of his paradox, which I have not denied. The question, how he could believe the infallibility of the Bible, and still believe that Adam was, as he says, “not an individual,” is a question for him to answer. All I know is that he says he loves paradoxes and embraces them with joy, and he abundantly proves it.

The Calvinistic doctrine of original sin holds that an individual, Adam, represented all mankind. The notion that it was, as Professor Van Til says, “not some individual,” is generally known as anti-Calvinistic realism of the Platonic variety. B.

Series Articles :
1. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Arguments from Nature to God: Presuppositionalism and Thomas Aquinas—A Book Review with Excursions,” The Bible Today 41.8 (May 1948): 235-248.
2. Schaeffer, Francis A., “A Review of a Review,” The Bible Today 42.1 (October 1948): 7-9.
3. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Fountainhead of Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 41-64.
4. Young, G. Douglas, “Dr. Young’s Letter”, The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 65.
5. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.6 (March 1949): 182-192.
6. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.7 (April 1949): 218-228.
7. Anonymous, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.8 (May 1949): 261.
8. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism Concluded,” The Bible Today 42.9 (June-September 1949): 278-290.

  1. […] vs. Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.6 (March 1949): 182-192. 6. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.7 (April 1949): 218-228. 7. Anonymous, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible […]

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