Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

Posts Tagged ‘Van Til’

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.


[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.

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 »

Buswell – Van Til Exchange (1937)

In J. Oliver Buswell on 29/06/2011 at 19:19
This is interesting. In 1937, Cornelius Van Til sent a pre-publication copy of his work on Christian Apologetics to J. Oliver Buswell with a request for his review. The book was later published in 1939 by the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church. At 113 pages in length, the published version was slightly shorter than the version supplied to Buswell.
Dr. Buswell read the book and wrote an initial reply. Van Til then responded to that letter, and finally, Buswell replied with the substance of his critique of Van Til’s work. What is still unclear all these years later is how it was that the three letters were then gathered together, transcribed and reproduced. It is at least that the correspondence was distributed to a wider audience, since the same compilation,
on 8.5″ x 14″ paper, is found in several different collections here at the PCA Historical Center.
The first two letters are reproduced below, followed by the first portion of the third. To do justice to the real substance of Buswell’s critique, as it appears attached to the third and final letter, really demands inclusion of the referenced portions of Van Til’s book. That will take some work, but perhaps by the end of the summer. Or if someone wants a summer project . . .
[There was a later Buswell-Van Til exchange in 1948, and I will plan to post that in the near future.]


January thirty

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

I have read all but twenty pages of your Apologetics. I could not quite finish the book before reaching home last night, but shall probably read the last twenty pages tomorrow. I think I understood your position in reading the first part of the work, but your reaction toward various historical schools of thought clarifies the whole question in my mind. I shall write up my notes which I made as I went along and send them to you sometime next week if possible, but in the meantime may I ask for just a word to clarify certain general matters?

(1) By what logic can you include the ad hominem destructive argument with an unbeliever without including the direct constructive argument? If your oft-repeated statement is true in regard to the futility of the type of apologetics represented by Dr. Wilson, then knowledge and reason fall to pieces instantly when we begin to talk with an unbeliever. We cannot argue destructively any more than we can constructively. It takes the theistic assumption to prove to an unsaved man that his system is inconsistent or to prove anything for that matter.

(2) In excluding the underlying assumptions of Orr, Hodge, and Wilson, do you also exclude the underlying assumptions of Machen’s two books “The Origin of Paul’s Religion” and “The Virgin Birth”? Would you not have to say that it would be futile to present the arguments of those two books to an unbeliever? I know that Dr. Machen in the last years of his life was deeply affected by and frequently referred to what he learned from men younger than himself on the Westminster faculty. But would you not have to consider it illogical to present those two books, independent of Dr. Machen’s more recent opinions, to an unbelieving student in the University of Chicago?

(3) The third question is one which I have mentioned before, namely, do not your many admissions of the light of intelligence by common grace in lost humanity give plenty of ground for the apologetic method which you exclude?

(4) Several of your terms I wish might be more specifically defined. Your use of the word “interpretation” is not familiar to me and is not one which I have found in any other writer. I think I know what you mean, but I feel that the usage would be misleading to a student. You seem to include explanation, definition, decree, providence, and creation, at times all in this one word interpretation.

Sometimes the fundamental idea of interpretation, viz. explanation, seems to be absent from your use of the word.

Other terms which I wish might be more specifically defined are time, temporal, eternity, and eternal.

Your entire system, viewed constructively, is so excellent, your emphasis upon the doctrine of the trinity and the doctrine of creation is so wholesome, and the barrier by which you exclude the methods of Orr, Hodge, and Wilson, seems to me so flimsy and so non-essential to your own philosophy, that I am led to pursue the argument if you care to do so.

I do not mean to set myself up as a critic but only as an interested friend. I have learned much from reading your works. My criticism really centers about only one negative emphasis in your teaching. I shall write up my notes on details as soon as possible.

Yours in Christian fellowship


(Signed) J, Oliver Buswell, Jr.

*****************************  Read the rest of this entry »