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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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There’s Always Some Comedian . . .

In Apologetics, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Presuppositionalism on 12/07/2011 at 09:00

Whether trying to add some levity to the debate or a note of rebuke and correction is difficult to confirm, but an anonymous contributor sent the following bit of poetry to the editor of THE BIBLE TODAY, published in the May 1949 issue, sandwiched between the two parts of Dr. Van Til’s reply.

Presuppositionalism

THE following contribution is from a reader whose name is withheld by request. It may reflect the thought of others, though it does not mirror the mind of the editor.

To The Bible Today

I do not like your Presuppositionalism controversy; it is getting acrimonious, and doesn’t show much grace, common or special. But I know you both could sing

I know not how God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
But I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that Day.

But

Scotch is Scotch,
And Dutch is Dutch,
But Calvin was French, you see,
And died at the age of fifty-five,
Not older than “B” or “VanT.”

He wrote in the language of 1509
He wrote not English nor Dutch,
He wrote in the words
he understood
And has been translated much.
And the mind of the Scotch interprets Scotch,
And the mind of the Dutch sees Dutch;
But God’s great grace is working on
And souls respond to His touch.
And when in the glorious crowning day
The Scotch and the Dutch shall meet,
They both will say “It is all of grace;
We have reached the Mercy seat”
But Buswell still will drive his “Bus”
And Van Til his “Van” will drive,
But whether thru tunnel or over bridge,
By
grace they will both arrive.

Anonymous

Prof. Van Til’s reply on the subject of Presuppositionalism will be continued and probably completed in the next issue of The Bible Today. We fully intended to include a portion of it in this issue, but because of an unusual accident at the printer’s, it is impossible to do so. We trust that no one will be seriously inconvenienced by the delay. Ed.

[The Bible Today 42.8 (May 1949): 261.]

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.

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.

Presuppositionalism

A Reply By PROFESSOR CORNELIUS VAN TIL, Ph.D.

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. Read the rest of this entry »

G. Douglas Young Reviews Van Til

In Apologetics, Presuppositionalism on 06/07/2011 at 09:20

Appended to Buswell’s article “The Fountainhead of Presuppositionalism” was the following brief analysis by Dr. G. Douglas Young. Dr. Young [1911-1980] was raised in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, educated at Acadia University (B.Sc., 1932) and studied for the ministry at Faith Theological Seminary, graduating there with both the Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology degrees at the Seminary’s first annual commencement exercises in May of 1938. His classmates at Faith included Francis A. Schaeffer, John M.L. Young, H. Blair McIntire Desmond Jones and Delbert P. Jorgensen. Young went on to receive his Ph.D. from Dropsie College in Philadelphia and became a noted archaeologist. He spent the majority of his adult life living and working in Israel. There he served for many years as president of the Institute of Holy Land Studies and during this time he also founded the Bridges for Peace organization.
Next up: Buswell’s article “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism”. After that, Van Til comes to defend his approach.

PROFESSOR YOUNG’S LETTER

[The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 65.]

Since reading the review of Professor Van Til’s book, Common Grace, my colleague, Professor G. Douglas Young, Ph.D., Chairman of the Department of Old Testament in The National Bible Institute has given me the following valuable letter. I believe what Professor Young says will clarify the minds of many on the issues involved. ED.

Dear Dr. Buswell,

Thirteen years ago I studied under Dr. Van Til. Since that time I have been reading whatever of his syllabi have been available as well as your critiques of them.

I got the idea, in class and in discussion, that Dr. Van Til believed that the reason there is no common ground between us and an unsaved man, and the reason why we do not even have a common starting point, is that the unsaved man has a serious deficiency in his mental apparatus. He is not able to relate any fact to the Creator and hence he and I look at each from different viewpoints. Because of this there is no common ground between us. It is certainly true that no unsaved man can understand things in all their aspects exactly as does the saved man. This is because of the above mentioned inability on his part. If the definition of common ground is so narrowed down, then it is obvious to me, and I feel sure to many others of Dr. Van Til’s pupils, that there is no common ground.

May I illustrate? It is as if I attempted to plot on a graph two curves which could never meet. If I had first, by definition, made sure that the equations for the curves were such that they could never meet, and then I should say that the curves have no common ground, my statement is not untrue simply because I have seen to it that it could not be true. As I see it, Dr. Van Til’s definition of common ground is like this. Obviously the unsaved man can not discern the things of the Spirit. If he has to see that aspect of things before we can argue about those things—then we have no common ground at all. On his definition there is just no room for common ground or common starting point, and I feel we should simply admit it. However—does he have the right to so define it? I believe not, and for the same reasons you adduce so clearly in your critiques when you state that it makes the concept of common ground meaningless, gives it an unhistoric sense, leads us to absurd conclusions on the practical and theoretical levels, and is contrary to the plain meaning in Romans the first chapter.

I write this to you simply because I feel that there are those who, like myself for some time, have felt that your controversy is simply one of “there is” and “there is not”. On his definition, “there is not” — obviously there can not be. But — his definition must be rejected. It is not simply a matter of whether there is or is not common ground. It is a matter of whether Dr. Van Til’s definition of common ground can be accepted or not. We can not accept it. There is a very real common ground.

Further, I feel that it would help the readers of The Bible Today very materially in their attempt to understand the importance of this controversy if you would present to them the story of how subtly the false teachings of Borden P. Bowne (Personalist Idealist) worked their way into Christian circles through the teaching of evangelical men. That is what is happening while this controversy is going on. I am sure that many of your readers are totally unaware of this aspect of the whole matter.

Cordially,
Douglas Young

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.

The Fountainhead of Presuppositionalism

In Apologetics, Presuppositionalism on 05/07/2011 at 13:14

The following extended review by Dr. J. Oliver Buswell continues our current series on presuppositionalism. In this article, Buswell reviews Cornelius Van Til’s then recent book COMMON GRACE. For convenience, here again is the full listing of 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.

The Fountainhead Of Presuppositionalism

A BOOK REVIEW By Dr. Buswell

THE origin of the name “Presuppositionalism” was given in a review under that title in The Bible Today for May 1948, page 235. A friendly letter from Professor Carnell, whose recent book was there reviewed, indicates that he at least does not resent the term. He suggests “Inductivism” as a counter designation, and this of course I do not resent There is this difference, however, those who hold to presuppositionalism are advancing a negative thesis, denying 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.1 The inductionist thesis is positive and partial rather than negative and universal. It is held that ordinary processes of inductive reasoning are valid as a part of the method of evangelism. As a part of the inductive reasoning process, it is further held that there are areas of common knowledge occupied by the Christian evangelist and the unsaved inquirer or doubter. If the unsaved person or persons declare, “The God of the Bible is only a mythological figure,” and the Christian evangelist declares, “The God of the Bible exists as a substantive entity, an actual Being,” there must be some element of common meaning in the terms employed in the two contradictory statements, if the Scriptural conception of “unbelief” has any meaning at all.

Whether the position which I should maintain is properly designated by the term “inductionism” or not, the view that there is common ground of knowledge which may be employed in evangelism is very adequately expressed in the following paragraph by Professor Van Til’s colleague, Professor of Systematic Theology John Murray, in an excellent article on “Common Grace” in the Westminster Theological Journal for November 1942.2

. . . when we come to the point of actual conversion, the faith and repentance involved in conversion do not receive their genesis apart from the knowledge of the truth of the gospel. There must be conveyed to the mind of the man who believes and repents to the saving of his soul the truth-content of law and gospel, law as convicting him of sill and gospel as conveying the information which becomes the material of faith. To some extent at least there must be the cognition and apprehension of the import of law and gospel prior to the exercise of saving faith and repentance. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). But this apprehension of the truth of the gospel that is prior to faith and repentance, and therefore prior to the regeneration of which faith and repentance are the immediate effects in our consciousness, cannot strictly belong to the saving operations of the Spirit. They are preparatory to these saving operations and in the gracious design of God place the person concerned in the psychological condition that is prerequisite of the intelligent exercise of faith and repentance. In other words they place in his mind the apperceptive content that makes the gospel meaningful to his consciousness. But since they are not the saving acts of faith and repentance they must belong to a different category from that of saving grace and therefore to the category of non-saving or common grace. . . . faith does not take its genesis in a vacuum. It has its antecedents and presuppositions both logically and chronologically in the operations of common grace. [Professor Murray continues in a footnote] . . . All that has been said above is simply that the operations in the individual and subjective sphere whereby that truth-content has become the property of consciousness, prior to the acts of regeneration and faith, are operations that are not in themselves saving and therefore belong to the category of common grace. Read the rest of this entry »