Van Til Reviews Three Essays by Barth (1960)

COMMUNITY, STATE AND CHURCH — Three essays by Karl Barth — with an introduction by Will Herberg. Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, New York. 193 pp. 95 cents.

The Three Essays of Earl Barth comprising this book all deal with social questions.

In a long foreword Will Herberg, among other things, relates Barth’s views on social and political problems to his basic theological convictions. It was only gradually that Barth attained to a completely self-conscious Christological approach in his theology.

Similarly it is not till he wrote his “dear Christian brethren in Great Britain” in 1941 that he “urges his Christological foundation for political action.” A “large-scale police measure” against Hitler has become “absolutely necessary” “for Christ’s sake.” On the basis of the resurrection of Christ we know “that the world in which we live is already consecrated.”

Herberg gives these quotations from Barth because he is convinced that in his war-time writings “Barth is to be seen at his best as a Christian interpreter of the great historical crises of our time.”

But what has happened to Barth in recent times, asks Herberg. Discussing Barth’s attitude toward Communist tyranny Herberg says: “In a word, the man who once aroused the Church to action now urges it to turn away from political involvement and remain indifferent to political actualities.” Continue reading “Van Til Reviews Three Essays by Barth (1960)”


Van Til Concludes His Rebuttal

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.


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. Continue reading “Van Til Concludes His Rebuttal”

There’s Always Some Comedian . . .

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.


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.


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,
grace they will both arrive.


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

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. Continue reading “Van Til Gets His Turn”

Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism

Dr. Buswell continues his critique of Van Til’s approach to apologetics, almost as if it is taking a sustained effort on his part to draw Van Til’s attention and response.

Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism


Probably the most valuable article for the general reader, in Warfield’s works on the Bible, is the sixty page article entitled “The Real Problem of Inspiration.” Fortunately this has been preserved in the reprint in its entirety. Those who are weak in the faith are frequently heard to say that they accept the Bible as a spiritual guide but that they reject its inerrancy. Warfield shows with overwhelming evidence that Christ and the apostles themselves were most emphatically committed to the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Scriptures. He cogently argues that to reject the inerrancy of the Scriptures necessarily involves the rejection of the spiritual authority of Christ and the apostles. The facts prove that if one is to be consistent in his position, either one must accept the inerrancy of the Scriptures, or reject Christ’s authority, and so reject the Christian faith altogether.

A large part of the material in the older Warfield volume is taken up with New Testament higher criticism. This happens to have been a major field of my own studies in the University of Chicago some years ago. I sincerely wish that I had had at hand in those days Warfield’s masterful handling of the facts, and his powerful refuting of the arguments against the integrity of the New Testament books. The material is by no means out of date in 1949. I am glad now to have in my possession these data, both for the purpose of strengthening believers and for the problem of dealing with unbelievers and leading them to the Lord.

It is very unfortunate that the new publication has omitted so much of this valuable material. Take for example the following illuminating remarks:

Now, the Bible, as a whole, is a result or. an effect in the universe, and it must have had, as such, an adequate cause, which, since the result is an intelligent one, must have been an intelligent cause: there is the ontological argument, and it proves a superhuman intelligent cause, for the Bible. It consists of orderly arranged parts, of an orderly developed scheme; there is the cosmological argument, and again it proves the activity of an intelligent cause (and much else not now to be brought out) of at least fifteen hundred years’ duration. It is itself a cause of marvelous effects in the world for the production of which it is most admirably designed, and its whole inner harmony and all its inner relations are most deeply graven with the marks of a design kept constantly before some intelligent mind for at least fifteen hundred years: there is the argument from design, attaining equally far-reaching and cogent conclusions as in the realm of nature. The analogy need not, however, be drawn out further. An atheist of the present day spoke only sober truth when he declared that the divine origin of the Bible and the divine origin of the world must stand or fall together. The arguments which will prove the one prove also the other. Butler proved this proposition long ago. It stands indubitable; so that absolute atheism or Christianity must be our only choice. (Revelation and Inspiration, p. 438. Italics not in original.)

Why did Prof. Van Til and/or Dr. Craig omit the entire article “The Divine Origin of the Bible, The General Argument,” in which this passage is found? A plausible answer is apparent to one who has read the article on Presuppositionalism in The Bible Today for November, 1948. The author of the introduction to the new publication rejects the ontological argument, rejects the cosmological argument, rejects the design (or teleological) argument, and emphatically rejects the arguments of Bishop Butler, all of which arguments Warfield whole-heartedly accepted. (See Van Til’s Introduction, p. 20)

The fact is, as I have shown, Prof. Van Til has, in his own clear statements, rejected the old Princeton tradition of which Warfield was the embodiment. The question is, then, not so much why this particular paragraph and this particular article have’ been omitted, but why one who so clearly, opposes Warfield’s fundamental method of defending the Scriptures, should have undertaken to write an introduction to Warfield’s work on that subject! The name of Warfield carries great weight among Bible believing Christians the world around. My particular copy of the original book contains copious notes written in Japanese, with sufficient English words to indicate that some devout Japanese Bible student has made a careful study of it. I do not believe there was any deliberate motive of deception, such as advancing this anti-Warfield philosophy under cover of his name. Rather, the adherents of this paradoxical view seem to fail to realize what a contradiction is.

It is not only in the portions omitted from the new. reprint that the contrast is patent. . Warfield says

. . . they [the critics] will agree in telling us that the high doctrine of inspiration which we have called the church-doctrine was held by the writers of the New Testament. This is common ground between believing and unbelieving students of the Bible, and needs, therefore, no new demonstration in the forum of scholarship. (P. 61. New edition, p. 115. Italics not in the original) Continue reading “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism”

F.A. Schaeffer : “A Review of a Review” (1948)

Though not widely known, this work is significant among Dr. Schaeffer’s writings as it sets out the general direction of his apologetic and evangelistic method. Essentially, he finds a middle path between evidentialism and presuppositionalism while at the same time refusing to be confined to either posture. Instead, his overwhelming emphasis is on the presentation of the gospel, utilizing whatever tools are at hand to expose each person’s sin and need of the salvation which is in Christ alone.

Schaeffer mentions “the articles” (plural) and that caused me to look back in some of the earlier issues of THE BIBLE TODAY. While our focus here begins with Buswell’s article in the May issue, the fuller scope begins with an earlier review by Buswell of Gordon H. Clark’s book, A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION in the October 1947 issue. That review led in turn to three replies by Clark plus an article by Vernon Grounds titled “Does the Bible Sanction Apologetic?” All of these appeared prior to the exchange that I am now posting. Perhaps at some later date I’ll post the earlier exchange between Buswell, Clark and Grounds.

A Review Of A Review
Presuppositionalism, THE BIBLE TODAY, May, 1948
[originally printed in The Bible Today, October, 1948, pages 7 – 9.]

Editor [i.e., Buswell] : Considerable interest in the question of Presuppositionalism and traditional Christian evidence in evangelism has been created by recent book reviews and articles in The Bible Today. We are delighted to present this article by the Rev. Francis Schaeffer, a former student and a friend and admirer of Dr. Van Til’s.

The material which has appeared in The Bible Today dealing with what Dr. Buswell calls “Presuppositionalism” has interested me greatly. I have before me these articles in The Bible Today, and on the other hand I remember vividly the good things I received from Dr. Van Til’s courses. It seems to me, as I understand it, that the problem is not unsolvable.

1. Both sides agree that the unregenerate man cannot be argued into heaven apart from the Sovereign Call of God. (The Bible Today, May 1948, page 242, “Certainly the Scriptural doctrine of the Sovereignty of God forbids the elimination of compulsion,…” Page 244 “The distinction between Presuppositionalism and the philosophy of traditional Christian evidence is not by any means that the one recognizes the power of the Holy Spirit more than the other. It is agreed that arguments, inductive and deductive, are never sufficient to work the work of regeneration.” “Nothing but the specific work of the Holy Spirit in conviction and regeneration can be regarded as the efficient cause of individual salvation.”

2. From the human viewpoint, neither side would say, I am sure, that it is possible for a man (remembering the fall) to simply reason from nature to a saving knowledge of nature’s God without an act of personal faith. Bare knowledge without faith cannot save. (Page 244, “one may be intellectually convinced that Christianity is true and yet may reject Jesus Christ.”)

3. Neither side, I am sure, would say that it is no use talking or preaching to the unsaved man. Both sides do. Neither would either side say that the Holy Spirit does not use Christian apologetics when it pleases him to do so. Both sides certainly use apologetics in dealing with the intellectual unbeliever.

4. As I remember Dr. Van Til’s practical approach, it was to show the non-Christian that his world view, en toto, and in all its parts, must logically lead back to full irrationalism and then to show him that the Christian system provides the universal which gives avowed* explanation of the universe. It is Christianity or nothing.
[*As per a correction issued in the November 1948 issue of The Bible Today, the words “avowed explanation” should have read “a valid explanation” ]
Continue reading “F.A. Schaeffer : “A Review of a Review” (1948)”

The Heart of Buswell’s Critique

Reproduced here is the substance of Dr. Buswell’s critique of Van Til’s work on the Christian Apologetics. I posted yesterday the first two letters between Buswell and Van Til, and a portion of the third letter to which Buswell attaches the details of his critique of CVT’s work on Christian Apologetics.
In this review, Buswell is working with a pre-publication copy and the references cited below are
[frustratinglykeyed to that edition. Dr. Van Til’s book was published two years later(1939) under the auspices of the Reformed Episcopal Theological Seminary of Philadelphia. The published work has 113 pages, where the pre-publication copy had at least 146 pages. Thus it is at least possible that Van Til took some of Buswell’s critiques into account in editing for the final published edition.

Perhaps someone with access to either the pre-publication copy (1937) or the first edition (1939) of CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS will supply us with a copy of same or possibly take up the project of supplying the specific quotes that would make better sense of Buswell’s comments. 

[I’ve added some explanatory notes to the text below, shown in square brackets. Also, Latin phrases have been rendered in italics to facilitate reading. Otherwise the text is an accurate reproduction of the original document, retaining Buswell’s spelling, etc.]

[Update (Overly scholarly bibliographic note) : I’ve received via Interlibrary Loan a copy of the 1939 publication. It is interesting to see that the printing process employed for the 1939 edition was mimeography or stencil duplication (some will remember the old blue ink on paper look).  Also, on the obverse side of the title page, there is this Publisher’s Note: “In order to produce this book at the least possible cost, no proof reading beyond careful typing has been done. Mistakes of which neither the author nor printer are cognizant may have crept in.” The last page of this softcover edition notes that it was “Revised and Printed, January 1939.”]

19 3 7

Professor Cornelius Van Til
Westminster Theological Seminary
1528 Pine Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My dear Professor Van Til

I must apologize for imposing upon you this lengthy set of notes and remarks. I should not blame you one bit if you simply consigned them to the waste basket.

I have dictated on the dictaphone and corrected all the notes up to page twenty.

I have to leave this afternoon for a Bible conference in Elkhart and shall not have a minute’s time next week. I am therefore sending the notes on to you without having read my secretary’s write-up of the material from page twenty on.

Very cordially yours

(Signed) J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.

It is very presumptuous on my part to write you in such detail in regard to your valuable work on Apologetics I have learned much from reading it and have profited thereby, I feel that your insistence upon the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the trinity and your strong emphasis Upon the absolute self-existence and independence of God, constitute a very necessary and valuable emphasis in our modern world.

The following consists chiefly of a listing and brief discussion of points that troubled me as I read.

Page 2, lines 2 and 6 from the bottom of the page. You seem to use the phrases “full information” and “full interpretation” as synonymous. As I said in my former letter, I have been troubled all the way through your work by your usage of the word “interpretation.” In this context on page 2 of course you do not mean that one would gain either a full interpretation or full information about a snake from the Bible, but I understand that you mean that one would never find out that a snake has a relationship to God as a creature, without looking into the Bible, In this of course I agree. No one has ever reasoned from any fact directly up to God, James Orr makes this very emphatic in “The Christian View of God and the World.” Logically and metaphysically of course there is a direct path of inference from any fact in the universe to God and to the correct view of that fact as a created fact, but historically no one has ever followed that path, independent of revelation.

Page 4, line 17 to 15 from the bottom of the page. If we defend the fortress of Christian theism, we have the world to ourselves logically, but not actually. It then remains for us to persuade and instruct men as God has commanded us and by such logical means as he has put at our disposal. Continue reading “The Heart of Buswell’s Critique”