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Van Til Concludes His Rebuttal

In Apologetics, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Presuppositionalism on 13/07/2011 at 08:39

This concludes the series on presuppositionalism as published in THE BIBLE TODAY between March 1948 and September 1949. Dr. Cornelius Van Til finishes his rebuttal to Dr. Buswell’s critiques, though in the endnotes, it might be said that Dr. Buswell had the last word. However, the substance of that last word, lest you miss it at the end of the article, should be carefully noted:

May I say in closing that I trust that the readers realize that this is a serious and important argument between Christian brethren who are personally the best of friends.

Christians can have serious differences, can discuss those differences plainly and openly, and yet remain steadfast brothers in Christ, the best of friends. This exchange between Buswell and Van Til stands in good evidence.

June-September 1949

Presuppositionalism Concluded

Prof. Van Til’s Reply continued from the April Issue

We remind our readers again that according to the theory which we have called Presuppositionalism, there is no common ground in reason upon which we may deal with lost souls who are in a state of rejecting Christian presuppositions. We feel that this theory is very harmful to the cause of Christ and we regret that it is held by conscientious and sincere Christian persons like Prof. Van Til. With this Issue we are printing the remainder of his reply in full. We trust that the reply itself, even without the footnotes, will be its own refutation. Ed.

You assert that my “unqualified[12] statement that ‘Christ has not died for all men’ is intolerable” (p. 47). But I was again simply reproducing Calvin’s argument against Pighius. Pighius had argued that one who believed in the doctrine of election could not consistently also believe in the genuineness of the general offer of salvation to all men. Calvin replies that he believes in both. Moreover, he offers his distinction between remote and proximate cause as the reason why he can hold to both without contradiction. Christ has not died for all men, in the sense of intending actually to save them all. But the “special reference” of Christ’s work (as Charles Hodge calls it) with respect to the elect does not make void the general call to repentance. From the immediate context of the words you object to it appears that as Calvin argued against Pighius I am arguing against those who deny common grace for the genuineness of the general reference of Christ’s work. My statement therefore is (a) not unqualified, (b) is part of an argument which defends rather than rejects the importance of what Hodge calls the “merely incidental” effects of Christ’s work, (c) is designed to oppose the idea that the doctrines of Christianity which seem to unbelievers to be contradictory are really contradictory. If my position is intolerable to you that of Hodge must be also.

APOLOGETICS

Coming now to a brief statement of the method of defense that I use for the propagation of what I believe and how it differs from the traditional method I may note first that you have not, for all the length of your article,, anywhere given a connected picture of my argument. Yet you at once characterize it in contrast with your own as being “negative and universal.” Without the least bit of qualification I am said to deny “that there is common ground of reasoning between those who accept Christian presuppositions and engage in the spread of the Gospel, and those who- do not accept Christian presuppositions and reject the Gospel” (p. 41). The facts are far otherwise.

I am, to be sure, opposed to the traditional method of apologetics as this has found its most fundamental expression in the Summae of Thomas Aquinas the Roman Catholic and in Bishop Butler the Arminian.[13] I seek to oppose Roman Catholicism and Arminianism in Apologetics as I seek to oppose it in theology. Does that make my main thesis universally negative? I think there is a better and more truly biblical way of reasoning with and winning unbelievers than the Romanist Arminian method permits.

To begin with then I take what the Bible says about God and his relation to the universe as unquestionably true on its own authority. The Bible requires men to believe that he exists apart from and above the world and that he by his plan controls whatever takes place in the world. Everything in the created universe therefore displays the fact that it is controlled by God, that it is what it is by virtue of the place that it occupies in the plan of God. The objective evidence for the existence of God and of the comprehensive governance of the world by God is therefore so plain that he who runs may read. Men cannot get away from this evidence. They see it round about them. They see it within them. Their own constitution so clearly evinces the facts of God’s creation of them and control over them that there is no man who can possibly escape observing it. If he is self-conscious at all he is also God-conscious. No matter how men may try they cannot hide from themselves the fact of their own createdness. Whether men engage in inductive study with respect to the facts of nature about them or engage in analysis of their own self-consciousness they are always face to face with God their maker. Calvin stresses these matters greatly on the basis of Paul’s teachings in Romans.

In maintaining the essential clarity of all of the created universe as revelational of God’s existence and his plan Calvin is nothing daunted even by the fact of sin and its consequences. If there has been any “obscuration” in the revelation situation on account of sin this sin is in any case the fault of man. If in Adam, the first man, who acted for me representatively, I have scratched the mirror of God’s general revelation round about and within me, I know at bottom that it is I who have scratched it. Men ought therefore, says Calvin, to conclude that when some individual sin is not punished immediately it will be punished later. Their consciences operate on this basis.

One thing should be particularly stressed in this connection. It is the fact that man today is sinful because of what happened at the beginning of history. “We are told that man could never have had any fruition of God through the revelation that came to him through nature as operating by itself. There was superadded to God’s revelation in nature another revelation, a supernaturally communicated positive revelation.’ Natural revelation, we are virtually told, was from the outset incorporated into the idea of a covenant relationship of God with man. Thus every dimension of created existence, even the lowest, was enveloped in a form of exhaustively personal relationship between God and man. The ‘ateleological’ not less that the ‘teleological’, ithe ‘mechanical’ no less than the ‘spiritual’, was covenantal in character” (The Infallible Word p. 259). Even in paradise therefore supernatural revelation was immediately conjoined with natural revelation. Revelation in and about man was therefore never meant to function by itself. “It was from the beginning insufficient without its supernatural concomitant. It was inherently a limiting notion.” (Idem p. 267).

Having taken these two, revelation in the created universe, both within and about man, and revelation by way of supernatural positive communication as aspects of revelation as originally given to man, we can see that natural revelation is even after the fall perspicuous in character. “The perspicuity of God’s revelation in nature depends for its very meaning upon the fact that it is an aspect of the total and totally voluntary revelation of a God who is self-contained” (Idem p. 269). God has an all comprehensive plan for the universe. “He has planned all the relationships between all the aspects of created being. He has planned the end from the beginning. All created reality therefore actually displays this plan. It is, in consequence, inherently rational” (Idem p. 269).

At this point we may add the fact of Scriptural revelation. God has condescended to reveal himself and his plan in it to sinners. It is the same God who speaks in Scripture and in nature. But in Scripture he speaks of his grace to such as have broken his covenant, to such as have set aside his original revelation to them. And as the original revelation of God to man was clear so is the revelation of grace in Scripture. “The Scriptures as the finished product of God’s supernatural and saving revelation to man have their own evidence in themselves” (Idem p. 271).

In all of this there is one thing that stands out. It is that man has no excuse whatsoever for not accepting the revelation of God whether in nature, including man and his surroundings, or in Scripture. God’s revelation is always clear.

The first and most basic point on which my approach differs from the traditional one is therefore that: (a) I start more frankly from the Bible as the source from which as an absolutely authoritative revelation I take my whole interpretation of life. Roman Catholicism also appeals to Scripture but in practice makes its authority void. Its final appeal is to the church and that is, in effect, to human experience. Even Arminianism rejects certain Scripture doctrines (e.g. election) because it cannot logically harmonize them with the general offer of salvation, (b) I stress the objective clarity of God’s revelation of himself wherever it appears. Both Thomas Aquinas and Butler contend that men have done justice by the evidence if they conclude that God probably exists. (I have discussed the views of Aquinas in The Infallible Word and those of Butler in the Syllabus on Evidences.)I consider this a compromise of simple and fundamental Biblical truth. It is an insult to the living God to say that his revelation of himself so lacks in clarity that man, himself through and through revelational of God, does justice by it when he says that God probably exists. “The argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity is objectively valid. We should not ‘tone down the validity of this argument to the probability level. The argument may be poorly stated, and may never be adequately stated. But in itself the argument is absolutely sound. Christianity is the only reasonable position to hold. It is not merely as reasonable as other positions, or a bit more reasonable than other positions; it alone is the natural and reasonable position for man to take. By stating the argument as clearly as we can, we may be the agents of the Holy Spirit in pressing the claims of God upon men. If we drop to the level of the merely probable truthfulness of Christian theism, we, to that extent, lower the claims of God upon men” (Common Grace p. 62). Accordingly 1 do not reject “the theistic proofs”[14] but merely insist on formulating them in such a way as not to compromise the doctrines of Scripture. “That is to say, if the theistic proof is constructed as it ought to be constructed, it is objectively valid, whatever the attitude of those to whom it comes may be” (Idem p. 49 ). (c) With Calvin I find the point of contact for the presentation of the Gospel to non-Christians in the fact that they are made in the image of God and as such have the ineradicable sense of deity within them. Their own consciousness is inherently and exclusively revelational of God to themselves. No man can help knowing God for in knowing himself he knows God.[15] His self-consciousness it totally devoid of content unless, as Calvin puts it at the beginning of his Institutes, man knows himself as a creature before God. There are “no atheistic men because no man can deny the revelational activity of the true God within him” (Common Grace p. 55). Man’s own interpretative activity, whether of the more or less extended type, whether in ratiocination or in intuition, is no doubt the most penetrating means by which the Holy Spirit presses the claims of God upon man” (Idem p. 62). Even man’s negative ethical reaction to God’s revelation within his own psychological constitution is revelational of God. His conscience troubles him when he disobeys; he knows deep down in his heart that he is disobeying his creator. There is no escape from God for any human being. Every human being is by virtue of his being made in ‘the image of God accessible to God. And as such he is accessible to one who without compromise presses upon him the claims of God. Every man has capacity to reason logically. He can intellectually understand what the Christian position claims to be. Conjoined with this is the moral sense that he knows he is doing wrong when he interprets human experience without reference to his creator. I am therefore in the fullest agreement with Professor Murray when, in the quotation you give of him, he speaks of the natural man as having an “apprehension of the truth of the gospel that is prior to faith and repentance.” But I could not thus speak with assurance that the natural man could have any such apprehension of the truth of the gospel if I held with the traditional view of Apologetics that man’s self-consciousness is something that is intelligible without reference to God-consciousness. If man’s self-consciousness did not actually depend upon his God-consciousness there would be no meaning to Romans 1:20. Each man would live in a world by himself. No man could even have that intellectual cognition of the gospel which is the prerequisite of saving faith. In short if the universe were not what the Calvinist, following Paul, says it is, it would not be a universe. There would be no system of truth. And if the mind of man were not what Calvin, following Paul, says it is, it could not even intellectually follow an argument for the idea that the universe is a universe. All arguments for such a universe would come to him as outside that universe.

Yet it is the very essence of the positions of Aquinas and Butler that human self-consciousness is intelligible’ without God-consciousness. Both make it their point of departure in reasoning with the non-believers that we must, at least in the area of things natural, stand on the ground of neutrality with them. And it is of the essence of all non-believing philosophy that self-consciousness is taken as intelligible by itself without reference to God. Moreover the very theology of both Romanism and Arminianism, as already noted, requires a measure of subtraction of the self-consciousness of men from its creaturely place, (d) Implied in the previous points is the fact that I do not artificially separate induction from deduction, or reasoning about the facts of nature from reasoning in a priori analytical fashion about the nature of human-consciousness. I do not artificially abstract or separate them from one another. On the contrary I see induction and analytical reasoning as part of one process of interpretation. I would therefore engage in historical apologetics. (I do not personally do a great deal of this because my colleagues in the other departments of the Seminary in which I teach are doing it better than I could do it.) Every bit of historical investigation, whether it be in the directly Biblical field, archaeology, or in general history, is bound to confirm the truth of the claims of the Christian position. But I would not talk endlessly about facts and more facts without ever challenging the non-believer’s philosophy of fact. A really fruitful historical apologetic argues that every fact is and must be such as proves the truth of the Christian theistic position.

A fair presentation of my method of approach should certainly have included these basic elements that underlie everything else. (See the syllabi on Apologetics and Introduction to Theology Vol. I.).

It is only in the light of this positive approach that my statement to the effect that epistemologically believers and non-believers have nothing in common can be seen for what it is. Even in Common Grace it is evident that by the sinner’s epistemological reaction I mean his reaction as an ethically responsible creature of God. Does the sinner react properly to the revelation of God that surrounds him, that is within him and that comes to him from Scripture? As I have followed Calvin closely in stressing the fact that men ought to believe in God inasmuch as the evidence for his existence is abundantly plain, so I have also closely followed Calvin in saying that no sinner reacts properly to God’s revelation. Is this too sweeping a statement? It is simply the doctrine of total depravity. All sinners are covenant breakers. They have an axe to grind. They do not want to keep God in remembrance. They keep under the knowledge of God that is within them. That is they try “as best they can to keep under this knowledge for fear they should look into the face of their judge. And since God’s face appears in every fact of the universe they oppose God’s revelation everywhere. They do not want to see the facts of nature for what they are; they do not want to see themselves for what they are. Therefore they assume the non-createdness of themselves and of the facts and the laws of nature round about them. Even though they make great protestations of serving God they yet serve and worship the creature more than the Creator. They try to make themselves believe that God and man are aspects of one universe. They interpret all things immanentistically. Shall we in the interest of a point of contact admit that man can interpret anything correctly if he virtually leaves God out of the picture?[16] Shall we who wish to prove that nothing can be explained without. God first admit some things at least can ‘be explained without him? On the contrary we shall show that all explanations without God are futile. Only when we do this do we appeal to that knowledge of God within men which they seek to suppress. This is what I mean by presupposing God for the possibility of intelligent predication.

You ask what person is consistent with his own principles. Well 1 have consistently argued that no one is and that least of all the non-Christian is. I have even argued in the very booklet that you review that if men were consistent[17] they would be end products and that then there would be no more reasoning with them. However since sinners are not consistent, and have what is from their point of view an old man within them they can engage in science and in the general interpretation of the created universe and bring to light much truth. It is because the prodigal is not yet at the swine trough and therefore still has of the substance of the Father in his pockets that he can do that and discover that, which for the matter of it, is true and usable for the Christian. Why did you omit this all important element in what I teach?[18] In a booklet largely written in the defense of the idea of “commonness” as between believers and unbelievers against those who deny it you find nothing but the opposite. If your contention is that I have said precisely the opposite of what 1 wanted to say you should in fairness at least have discussed the points just now discussed.

What then more particularly do I mean by saying that epistemologically the believer and the non-believer have nothing in common? I mean that every sinner looks through colored glasses. And these colored glasses are cemented to his face. He assumes that self-consciousness is intelligible without God-consciousness. He assumes that consciousness of facts is intelligible without consciousness of God. He assumes that conciousness of laws is intelligible without God. And he interprets all the facts and all the laws that are presented to him in terms of these assumptions. This is not to forget that he also, according to the old man within him, knows that God exists. But as a covenant breaker he seeks to suppress this. And I am now speaking of him as the covenant breaker. Neither do I forget that no man is actually fully consistent in working according to these assumptions. The non-believer does not fully live up to the new man within him which in his case is the man who worships the creature above all else, any more than does the Christian fully live up to the new man within him, which in his case is the man who worships the Creator above all else. But as it is my duty as a Christian to ask my fellow Christians as well as myself to suppress the old man within them, so it is my duty to ask non-believers to suppress not the old man but the new man within them.

The necessity for this can be observed every time there is some popular article on religion in one of the magazines. There was a questionnaire sent out recently by one of them asking a certain number of people whether they believed in God. By far the greater number of them said that they did. But from further questions asked it appeared that only a very small number believed in the God of the Bible, the Creator and Judge of men. Yet they said that they believed in God. From such an article it is apparent that every sinner has the sense of deity and therefore knows God as his Creator and Judge. But from such an article it is also apparent that every sinner seeks in one way or another to deny this. They are therefore without God in the world. They must, as Charles Hodge so well points out, be renewed unto knowledge (Colossians 3:10) as well as unto righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24).

Now neither Aquinas nor Butler makes any such distinctions as I have made. And in that they are ‘but consistent. They do not make the Creator-creature distinction absolutely fundamental in their own thinking. How then could they consistently ask others to do- so? It is of the essence of their theology to maintain that God has made man so that he has such freedom as to be able to initiate something that is beyond the counsel of God. For them the human self therefore is supposed to be able to think of itself as intelligible and of the facts and laws of the world as manipulable and therefore intelligible apart from their relationship to God. I have already pointed out that for this reason the traditional view of apologetics has no universe and has no real point of contact in the unbeliever.[19] If either Romanism or Arminianism were right in their view of the self-consciousness of man there could be no apologetics for Christianity at all. There would be no all-comprehensive plan of God. This much being clear it can be seen that the Romanist and the Arminian will, in consistence with their own theology, not be able to challenge the natural man’s false assumptions. The traditional apologist must somehow seek for a point of contact within the thinking of the natural man as this thinking has been carried on upon false assumptions. He cannot seek to stir up the old man in opposition against the new man in the non-Christian. He makes no use of such a distinction. He will allow for gradational differences within the natural man. He will even make a great deal of these. To him therefore the passages of Paul to the effect that every man knows God and that man is made in the image of God are interpreted so as to do injustice to other equally important teaching of Scripture to the effect that the natural man knoweth not God. All this is compromising theology. It is no wonder that the Romanist and the Arminian will also follow a compromising apologetics.

The basic falseness of this apologetics appears in the virtual if not actual denial of the fact that the natural man makes false assumptions. Aquinas and Butler hold that the natural man, whom the Calviniat knows to be a covenant breaker and as such one who interprets God himself in terms of the universe, has some correct notions about God. I mean correct notions as to content not merely as to form. Any one who says “I believe in God,” is formally correct in his statement, but the question is what does he mean by the word God. The traditional view assumes that the natural man has a certain measure of correct thought content when he uses the word God. In reality the natural man’s “God” is always[20] a finite God. It is his most effective tool for suppressing the sense of the true God that he cannot fully efface, from the fibres of his heart.

The natural man’s god is always enveloped within a Reality that is greater than his god and himself. He always makes Reality, inclusive of all that exists, the All the final subject of which he speaks. With Thales he will say All is water, with Anaximenes All is air. With others he may be a dualist or a pluralist or an atomist, a realist or a pragmatist. From the Christian point of view he still has a monistic assumption in that he makes Reality to be inclusive of God and himself. And there is not much that the traditional apologist can do about this. He has bound himself to confusion in apologetics as he has bound himself to error in theology. He must tie on to some small area of thought content that the believer and the unbeliever have in common without qualification when both are self-conscious with respect to their principle. This is tantamount to saying that those who interpret a fact as dependent upon God and those who interpret that same fact as not dependent upon God have yet said something identical about that fact.

All this is bound to lead to self-frustration on the part of the traditional apologist. Let us watch him for a moment. Think of him first as an inductivist. As such he will engage in “historical apologetics” and in the study of archaeology. In general he will deal with the “facts” of the universe in order to prove the existence of God. He cannot on his position challenge the assumption of the man he is trying to win. That man is ready for him. Think of the traditional apologist as throwing facts to his non-Christian friend as he might throw a ball. His friend receives each fact as he might a ball and throws it behind him in a bottomless pit. The apologist is exceedingly industrious. He shows the unbelieving friend all the evidence for theism. He shows all the evidence for Christianity, for instance, for the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ. Let us think of his friend as absolutely tireless and increasingly polite. He will then receive all these facts and toss them behind him in the bottomless pit of pure possibility. “Is it not wonderful,” he will say, “what strange things do happen in Reality. You seem to be collector of oddities. As for myself I am more interested in the things that happen regularly. But I shall certainly try hard to explain the facts you mention in accord with the laws that I have found working so far. Perhaps we should say that laws are merely statistical averages and that nothing can therefore be said about any particular event ahead of its appearance. Perhaps there are very unusual things in reality. But what does this prove for the truth of your view?”

You see that the unbeliever who does not work on the presupposition of creation and providence is perfectly consistent[21] with himself when he sees nothing to challenge his unbelief even in the fact of the resurrection of Christ, He may be surprised for a moment as a child that grows up is surprised at the strange things of life but then when he has grown up he realizes that “such is life.” Sad to say the traditional Christian apologist has not even asked his unbelieving friend to see the facts for what they really are. He has not presented the facts at all. That is he has not presented the facts as they are according to the Christian way of looking at them and the Christian way of looking at them is the true way of looking at them. Every fact in the universe is what it is by virtue of the place that it has in the plan of God. Man cannot comprehensively know that plan. But he does know that there is such a plan. He must therefore present the facts of theism and of Christianity, of Christian theism, as proving Christian theism because they are intelligible as facts in terms of it and in terms of it alone.

But this is also in effect to say that the Christian apologist should never seek to be an inductivist only. He should present his philosophy of fact with his facts. He does not need to handle less facts in doing so. He will handle the same facts but he will handle them as they ought to be handled.

Now look at the traditional apologist when he is not an inductivist but an a priori reasoner. He will first show his fellow worker, the inductivist, that he defeats his own purposes. He will show that he who does not challenge the assumptions of his non-Christian friends has placed himself on a decline which inevitably leads down from Locke through Berkeley to Hume, the skeptic. Then for his own foundation he will appeal to some internal ineffable principles, to some a priori like that of Plato or of Descartes. He will appeal to the law of contradiction either positively or negatively and boldly challenge the facts to meet the requirements of logic. Then he will add that the facts of Christianity pass the examination summa cum laude. Well, they do. And in passing the examination they invariably pass out of existence too. He can only prove the immortality of the soul if with Plato he is willing to prove also that man is divine. He can only prove the universe to have order if with the Stoics he is also willing to say that God is merely its principle of order. With the Hegelian idealists such as Bradley and Bosanquet or Royce he will prove all the facts of the Bible to be true by weaving them into aspects of a Universe that allows far them as well as for their opposites.

But usually the traditional apologist is neither a pure inductivist nor a pure a priorist. Of necessity he has to be both. When engaged in inductive argument about facts he will therefore talk about these facts as proving the existence of God. If anything exists at all, he will say, something absolute must exist. But when he thus talks about what must exist and when he refuses even to admit that non-believers have false assumptions about their musts, let alone being willing to challenge them on the subject, he has in reality granted that the non-believer’s conception about the relation of human logic to facts is correct. It does not occur to him that on any but the Christian theistic basis there is no possible connection of logic with facts at all. When the non-Christian, not working on the foundation of creation and providence, talks about musts in relation to facts he is beating the air. His logic is merely the exercise of a revolving door in a void, moving nothing from nowhere into the void. But instead of pointing out this fact to the unbeliever the traditional apologist appeals to this non-believer as though by his immanentistic method he could very well interpret many things correctly.

That this traditionalist type of apologetics is particularly impotent in our day I have shown in my review of Dr. Richardson’s and Dr. Carnell’s books on Apologetics. Dr. Richardson is a modernist. But he says he holds to the uniqueness of the facts of Christianity. At the same time he holds that this holding to ‘the uniqueness of Christianity and its facts is not inconsistent with holding to a form of coherence that is placed upon human experience as its foundation. Dr. Carnell is an orthodox believer. To an extent he has even tried to escape from the weaknesses of the traditional method of apologetic argument. But he merely rejects its inductivist form. By and large he falls back into traditional methodology. And just to that extent he has no valid argument against Richardson. To the extent that he admits the type of coherence which Richardson holds to be valid he has to give up the uniqueness of the events of Christianity as he himself holds them. On the other hand, to the extent that he holds to the uniqueness of events the way Richardson holds to them, to that extent he has to give up the coherence to which he himself as an orthodox Christian should hold (See The Westminster Theological Journal November, 1948).

Your own handling of the question of the immutability of God exhibits exactly the same difficulty. You speak of the dynamical self-consistency of God as a concept that will make it quite easy to see how God’s immutability can be consistent with the genuine signficance of facts in the course of history. But to the extent that you explain how the immutability of God can be consistent with the actuality of historical change you explain it away. You go so far as to define that very immutability in terms of God’s constancy of relationship to the created temporal universe. “God’s immutability consists in his perfectly unified plan in dealing with the world, which he created, God’s absoluteness is in his perfectly consistent relatedness” (What is God? p. 32). Now if God’s immutability is not first to be spoken of as an attribute that pertains to the character of God as he is in himself apart from his relation to the universe, then there is no problem any more because one of the factors of the problem has been denied. To the extent that you have explained you have also destroyed the fact to be explained. And to speak of self-consistency after first reducing the self to a relationship[22] is meaningless. On the other hand you do not really hold to the identity of the being of God in himself with his relationship to the world. That is also plain from your general discussion of God. But then if you are to speak to an unbeliever with respect to the God who is really self-contained and ask him to think of this God along the lines of his own procedure, without challenging the assumptions that underlie that procedure, then he will simply say that such a God is so wholly beyond his experience that he can make nothing of him and that such a God is therefore meaningless to him. To this you can on your method offer him no adequate answer.”

The general conclusion then is that on the traditional method it is impossible to set one position clearly over against the other so that the two may be compared for what they are. Certainly there can be no confrontation of two opposing positions if it cannot be pointed out on what they oppose each other. On the traditional basis of reasoning the unbeliever is not so much as given an opportunity of seeing with any adequacy how the position he is asked to accept differs from his own.”

But all this comes from following the Roman Catholic, Thomas Aquinas, or the Arminian, Butler. If one follows Calvin there are no such troubles. Then one begins with the fact that the world is what the Bible says it is. One then makes the claims of God upon men without apologies though always suaviter in modo. One knows that there is hidden underneath the surface display of every man a sense of deity. One therefore gives that sense of deity an opportunity to rise in rebellion against the oppression under which it suffers by the new man of the covenant breaker. One makes no deal with this new man. One shows that on his assumptions all things are meaningless. Science would be impossible; knowledge of anything in any field would be impossible. No fact could be distinguished from any other fact. No law could be said to be law with respect to facts. The whole manipulation of factual experience would be like the idling of a motor that is not in gear. Thus every fact — not some facts — every fact clearly and not probably proves the truth of Christian theism- If Christian theism is not true then nothing is true. Is the God of the Bible satisfied if his servants say anything less?

And have I, following such a method, departed radically from the tradition of Kuyper and Bavinck?[25] On the contrary I have learned all this primarily from them. It is Kuyper’s Encyclopedia that has, more than any other work in modern times, brought out the fact of the difference between the approach of the believer and of the unbeliever. It is Bavinck’s monumental work which set a natural theology frankly oriented to Scripture squarely over against that of Romanism which is based on neutral reason. It is Bavinck who taught me that the proofs for God as usually formulated on the traditional method prove a finite god. I have indeed had the temerity to maintain that these great Reformed theologians have in some points not been quite true to their own principles. But when I have done so I have usually tried to point out that when they did so and to the extent that they did so they had departed from Calvin.

Many other observations might be made. But your readers now know: (a) that on a very essential point you have misquoted me, (b) that you have misrepresented me, (c) that you have nowhere enabled your readers to see what my argument really is, (d) that because of mere similarity of words you have pinned such heresies on me as I have been most concerned to oppose, (e) that you have not shown that I have in any material way departed from Reformed tradition and (f) that the reason why you have done this is apparently your own departure from the “tradition” of Calvin.[26]

There are several points in your article that I have not dealt with directly. If you can give me still more space[27] I shall be glad to deal with them also. Meanwhile allow me to thank you for your kind consideration in giving me as much space as you have.

Your brother in Christ,

Cornelius Van Til

ENDNOTES :

[12]Yes, it was the “unqualified” statement to which I objected, I am glad Professor Van Til has now stated the qualifications as Hodge so ably sets them
forth. —B.

[13] As I showed with abundant evidence in my review of Professor Van Til’s Common Grace, it is not only Thomas and Butler, but Kuyper, Bavinck, and the old Princeton theologians, whom Van- Til, opposes in his negative thesis in regard to common ground. This should be kept in mind when the reader comes to references to Thomas and Butler in the following paragraphs. —B.

[14] The theistic proofs, as Professor Van Til would reconstruct them, would not be recognizable as the same arguments which he so bitterly rejects in the writings of Kuyper, Bavinck and Hepp. —B.

[15] I feel that anyone who carefully studies Book I of Calvin’s Institutes, (and this reference is available to all within the reach of libraries) will see that Professor Van Til has misinterpreted Calvin’s doctrine of the common knowledge of God among all men. A systematic understanding of Calvinism does not deny that there are some who, as the Scripture indicates, say in their hearts “There is no God.” To declare that there are no atheists in the world is to contradict the Scripture and the obvious facts of the history of human literature. —B.

[16] Professor Van Til implies a negative answer to this question, but this would mean that it is impossible for a non-Christian bank clerk to add up a column of figures correctly, or for an atheist like Bertrand Russell to make a contribution in the field of symbolic logic. —B.

[17]This is quite amazing. I understand that the angels are quite consistent in their reasoning, as they are not omniscient, but they are, I believe, always correct as far as they go. This, according to Professor Van Til, means that there is “no more reasoning with them!” —B.

[18]The amazing doctrine of two natures in the lost man, was not brought out in Common Grace. I had never heard of it until a conference with Professor Van Til subsequent to the publishing of my review. He has printed this strange opinion in his introduction to the new Warfield reprint, which I reviewed in The Bible Today for March 1949. Most Bible students will recognize that Professor Van Til’s notion of two natures in the lost man is radically contrary to Scriptural doctrine. The human individual must be treated as a unit, a person to whom the Word of God either comes, or does not come, a being who is either saved or lost.

Professor Van Til’s statement that his book was written “in the defense of the idea of ‘commonness’ as between believers and unbelievers against those who deny it”, can only be taken as another example of his paradoxes. Remember, he is not to be attacked by the logical law of contradiction. That law he repudiates with the other arm of the paradox. —B.

[19] The foregoing sentences are of crucial importance for the understanding of Professor Van Til’s philosophy. They go to show that with the false arm of his paradoxes he is inconsistent with the Scriptural doctrine of creation. He says that for man to exist in such a way as that the facts and laws of the world are manipulable and intelligible, apart from their relationship to God, would be “beyond the counsel of God.” This can only mean that, the counsel of God did not include a created world in which facts and laws would be actually intelligible and manipulable for sinners who deny the existence of God. That apparently is why he says traditional apologetics “has no universe.” The creation of a world in which wicked unbelievers actually manipulate and intelligently understand the laws of physical destruction, is all a mistake of the older apologetics. And this is supposed to be Calvinism! —B.

[20] Not “always.” The god of Spinoza is “infinitely infinite” but certainly is not the God of the Bible. —B.

[21] The argument given above is based on agnosticism of Hume’s type, an agnosticism denying the principle of causality in nature. Professor Van Til forgets that the Apostle Paul considered the sheer facts of the created universe as sufficient evidence for theism, even for some wicked men who reject God. (Romans 1:20) —B.

[22] The words, “reducing the self to a relationship” are entirely inexcusable, and the following sentence is like saying “You are not really a thief,” implying that one has been found in suspicious circumstances. Not one word or phrase: which I have ever spoken or written has in any way implied or justified any inference that God is reduced to a relationship. Since I am a Calvinist and I do believe that God in all eternity has had a complete and perfect decree, including all things that come to pass, I declare as a Calvinist that God has always been in relationship, — if only in the relationship of futurition through his decree,—with the universe which He has now created. To deny this is to deny a most basic element in Calvinistic doctrine, the eternal decree of God. To speak of God as having relationship, is entirely different from saying that God is reduced to a relationship, and this Professor Van Til knows very well when he is on the other side of his paradoxes.

On the other hand, for Professor Van Til to speak of “the character of God as he is in himself apart from his relation to the universe” is to speak of the God of Aristotle and not of the God of the Bible. —B.

[23]This remark means Paul’s “answer” (Romans 1:20) was inadequate. —B.

[24] The foregoing paragraph is signficant. If it is possible to point out to the unbeliever the way in which Christianity and the denial of Christianity oppose each other, the pointing out process must be on common ground intellectually, that is, epistemologically! —B.

[25] In my review of Professor Van Til’s Common Grace, I presented abundant evidence in direct quotations from him, showing that, in the point at issue between us, he has departed from Kuyper and Bavinck, and from the old Princeton tradition. Now he says that these great Calvinists were inconsistent and that he, Van Til, is the consistent Calvinist in the point of issue. It is certainly wiser to say that Kuyper, Bavinck, Hodge, and Warfield, are more competent judges of what Calvinism is, than Van Til, who has frankly departed from them in peculiar presuppositionalism. Professor Van Til cannot, show from the available writings of Calvin that Calvin is on his side, or that Calvin differs from the greatest Calvinistic leaders of Holland and America in this question of common ground in Christian evidences. —B.

[26] This is quite a list of charges. There was one misprint in one of my quotations; I marvel that there were not more. Those who know the difficulties of preparing a manuscript and having it published will understand. My comment on this passage however, was dictated to the dictaphone with Professor Van Til’s book open before me. My argument was not in any slightest way dependent upon the misprint. I did not personally do the proofreading, and I did not know of the misprint until I saw Professor Van Til’s manuscript. Of course I can see that from his point of view of paradox, the misprint made a difference. I can only state that it made not the slightest difference in my arguments, for I do not believe in double truth. See note 8 in April issue, page 222.

I do not see that I have in any way misrepresented Professor Van Til. I have made it clear that he believes in both sides of his paradoxes,—the orthodox side as well as the side in which he diverges from orthodoxy. I think my review has enabled readers to see Professor Van Til’s argument for what it is, and for its dangerous tendencies, perhaps better than he sees these tendencies himself.

As for similarity of words, I have no way of reading a book except to read the words in it. I have only the grammatico-historical method. Professor Van Til uses Hegelian words in a clearly Hegelian sense on one side of his paradoxes.

It is Professor Van Til who makes it clear that he has departed from the Reformed tradition. On the point at issue between us he clearly and emphatically lines up the greatest Calvinists of Holland and of America as his opponents. If I have in any way departed from the main principles of Calvinistic, or Scriptural, doctrine, I shall be glad to have it pointed out. But, again I must say that I cannot accept an inaccessible volume as the authority on Calvinism, when the Institutes and the commentaries are so readily available to us all. —B.

[27] The Bible Today is by no means closed to discussion on the important point at issue.

May I say in closing that I trust that the readers realize that this is a serious and important argument between Christian brethren who are personally the best of friends. At least no one can say that we Bible believing Christians are stagnant in our theology, or that there are no active currents of thought among us. —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.

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  1. Thank you for this labor of love posting this historical series! I assume the Van Til and Buswell interaction series is done? Or were there some more snippet surprises?

  2. That was the end of that series. Don’t think there was anything else. There’s another series of exchanges between Buswell and Gordon H. Clark that I’ll post soon.

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