Overlap between Van Til and Clark?

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Davidius, Mar 29, 2007.

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  1. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    As many of the others whom I saw comment on the recent discussions concerning the Clark-Van Til debate, I know very little of the matter. In fact, I am pretty new to presuppositional apologetics in general. Just the other day I ordered a copy of Bahnsen's Always Ready because I saw it recommended as a good intro. I don't think I'm ready to study the actual debate between Clark and Van Til yet but I was just wondering how much overlap there is between the two. I'm looking forward to reading Bahnsen and Van Til but I've also come across some of Clark's books which seem very interesting. Is it possible for me to read both of them without somehow ending up believing contradictions unconsciously? Which books can I read from both camps to build a solid presuppositional foundation before moving ahead? Or is the substance of the Clark-Van Til debate so important to each of their individual methods that I need to have that straight before even getting started?
  2. Founded on the Rock

    Founded on the Rock Puritan Board Freshman

    From someone who isn't that familiar with the issue myself, I know that Clark and Van Til are both presuppositional.

    The biggest issue the two groups have is how human knowledge is related to God's. Van Til percevies our knowledge to be analagous to God's. Therefore, if there is a tree, God knows the tree differently than we do, and more than just quantitatively. He knows it different from the way we do. Clark says that the difference in our understanding is based on quantitative grounds, and not so much qualitative.

    There are other issues that are discussed, but they are both presuppositional. There are deviations on different definitions and the like, but the way I understand it, there is a lot of similarity.

    As you can see though, because of Van Til's understanding of our knowledge of God, it allows for more paradoxes. Clark does not embrace "paradoxes" or "contradictions" like Van Til does. Thus, Clarkians call Van Tillians fideist in some sense. And Van Tillians call Clarkians rationalist (because they do not like paradox).

    I am still learning a lot myself, and if I have misrepresented a view, someone please correct me, but I think this is a BROAD summary.
  3. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Both men were products of their own time and place. Something that usually gets lost in the discussions. They were conducting combat operations in two separate theaters. You could even point to men like Gerstner, a contemporary, and see still another apologetic approach. I'm not suggesting trying to find common denominators in these approaches, but to realize that these men in various ways were and were not consistent with fundamental principles that were, in fact, common to all their beliefs.

    In other words,, don't worry so much about studying the "controversy"--no, better to spen those energies studying your own Systematic Theology. Know what you believe, and why, and how it all fits together in non-contradictory fashion. You need to know the Faith you are defending before you can defend it well. Then, and alongside those studies, you can be sifting through the methodological offerings, asking yourself which approach fits best out front of the theology you are learning to profess.

    These men were all attacking enemies of the gospel. They each had their share of successes, they each led platoons of followers who bought in to their methodologies, their battle plans. Obviously, if you have a basic plan that is successful by your definition, then you wish to see it propagated and used in other places. Not so you can brag and be famous (hopefully not, anyway), but so that the wider church benefits.

    Believe it or not ALL the methods are at some level, self-conscious or not, presuppositional. The issue is, how self-aware and consistent are people in recognizing and conforming their higher-level beliefs and actions with their presuppositions. Not every apologist tried to build up a system from such an analysis. They simply went with what worked for them. Hence, Gerstner's classicalism or Schaeffer's eclecticism. But guys like Clark or VanTil felt free to critique what they saw as those less rigorous approaches, as well as one another. Obviously the critiques were not always given or taken impersonally.

    The books these men wrote all came out of real-world life experience in which they were engaged in combat with unbelief. Those battles and those things they believed in gave shape to their works. You should read and study their writings with this understanding in mind. And not with the idea that from a study of methodology you will come away with a magic bullet for your own combat operations.
  4. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    The wikipedia article and presuppositionalism might be helpful since it compares and contrasts Clark's and Van Til's positions.


    Also there's an article on Gordon Clark: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Clark

    and Van Til: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_Van_Til

    What books of Clark have you found? I'd be happy to recommend some.


    Religion, Reason, and Revelation

    Christian Philosophy, The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark, Volume 4 (which includes RRR.)

    Also his Lectures on Apologetics can be downloaded in mp3 format.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2007
  5. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    Thanks for the quick summary. These are good things for me to keep in the back of my mind as I do my reading and I can tell that the articles Anthony pointed me to should be able to help flesh this out a little without getting me in over my head.


    I think that was definitely something I needed to hear. I don't want my study of apologetics to become somehow disconnected from my study of Systematic Theology and allow myself to forget what it is I'm defending or what the point of it all is. The silver bullet analogy was also helpful.


    Thank you for providing all of that material for me. I found the page with the lectures in .mp3 format to be especially helpful because I have neither the money to buy all kinds of books nor the time to read them all. For the time being, it should suffice to perhaps buy one or two books and then get a 3-ring binder in which to put articles I find and print out.
  6. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Just out of curiosity, do you guys think it is necessary for me to do more basic study of philosophy before trying to delve into presuppositionalism? I'm taking Ancient Philosophy this semester and have enjoyed it a lot, but we're mostly talking about what Plato and Aristotle said rather than actually discussing specific philosophical categories in detail (although things such as epistemology obviously come up from time to time). Should I try to find some info on epistemology, ontology, metaphysics, ethics, etc. first? Are there any good books/articles by reformed Christians that don't just, for example, discuss Christian epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, etc. but the nature of them as philosophical endeavors and what their various questions and problems are, before moving on to their Christian forms?
  7. Founded on the Rock

    Founded on the Rock Puritan Board Freshman

    In my humble opinion you could study presupp apologetics and you will naturally learn the various philosophical systems. If you build up more of a philosophical
    "aresenal" , you will probably be able to grasp more and move along more quickly. I think you could go either way.

    As I said before, I am still learning. Taking a general philosophy course helped my understanding of apologetics, but my understanding of apologetics also helped me in the class.

    A good book for trying to understand some of these issues is, "Apologetics to the Glory of God" by John Frame. Frame is a Van Tillian (which is where I lean anyway), but even if you don't agree, I think the book is written on a level where it is challenging, but also writtn for the laity in some sense. It makes it a good book to read to get used to presup. :2cents:
  8. Me Died Blue

    Me Died Blue Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Another excellent book for introduction into presuppositional thought in general is Richard Pratt's Every Thought Captive.

    I read Bahnsen's Always Ready, and have the greatest respect for Dr. Bahnsen, especially in his more exhaustive work such as Van Til's Apologetic, and his debates. Even so, I actually almost always recommend Pratt's book before Bahnsen's in introducing people to presuppositionalism as a whole. It is short (142 pages), to-the-point and effectively gets across a wealth of biblical analysis and philosophical concepts regarding how to think about our apologetics in light of our theology, as well as some application and illustration.
  9. Ravens

    Ravens Puritan Board Sophomore

    This post is going to be slightly off-topic, but I still think its relevant to the issues:

    The fact that there is very little "overlap" on certain issues really convinces me that there is more than a normal amount of "party spirit" going on here.

    I'm certainly not an apologetics expert, so I'll give my impressions of Clark and Van Til based on my limited knowledge. I'm sure I'll get some quirks and nuances wrong, but I think the gist is correct.

    Clark: All true knowledge must be rooted in or necessarily concluded from Scripture; occassionalist (if not true of Clark, then possibly of many Clarkians); no true paradoxes or contradictions in Scripture, and the apparent ones are really much ado about nothing; our knowledge and God's knowledge does intersect at some point.

    Van Til: Sensation, though not foundational, does supply real knowledge in God's world; not an occassionalist; insoluble, though not ultimately contradictory, paradoxes are contained in Scripture; our knowledge and God's knowledge do not intersect at any point (maybe "intersect" is the wrong word, but you get the point).

    Here's why I'm convinced that there is "party spirit" going on: Namely, because most of those distinctives aren't really logically connected, e.g., one doesn't necessarily flow from the other.


    Someone could be a Scripturalist and think our only true knowledge is rooted in or deduced from Scripture, and yet think that the Scripture still contains some insoluble or very hard to grasp paradoxes.

    Likewise, someone could say that sensation requires a trustworthy basis for knowledge as long as it is rooted in a Christian worldview, and hold that there were no logical contradictions in Scripture, and that any attempt to make it paradoxical was anti-Christian.

    Likewise someone could affirm that our knowledge and God's knowledge are completely and utterly different, and yet believe that the accomodated written revelation is utterly free from any insoluble paradoxes.

    Someone could think that there is a real "connecting point" (or whatever) between God's knowledge and our's, but still believe that Scripture has many apparent contradictions.

    I guess I'm belaboring the point, but it seems like there's two or three issues that we are used to associating together (due to the people that held them) that don't really need to go together.

    And it's ironic that so many "seekers of truth at all costs" end up buying the same "package deal" as their favorite theologians. You would expect more of a combination on the important issues (btw I'm not at all taking a shot at apologists, just questioning the lack of party spirit).

    Does that make sense, or am I completely off-base?

    And I think you see this "party spirit" reaching a head and having its most obvious fruit when people will defend the Christology of Clark, or the "one person" statements made by Van Til. Regardless of whether you think they were really orthodox and just expressing themselves very poorly, I think its safe and obvious to say that neither should have expressed themselves, on those issues, like they did.

    And people will take up arms over those two issues instead of simply submitting their favorite apologist to some scrutiny and mental reservation.
  10. Cheshire Cat

    Cheshire Cat Puritan Board Sophomore

    It is not necessary to do basic study in philosophy before trying to delve into presuppositionalism, but it will definitely help. A good intro. To philosophy is ‘Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview’ By Moreland and Craig. [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Philosophical-Foundations-Christian-Worldview-Moreland/dp/0830826947"]Amazon.com: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview: Books: J. P. Moreland,William Lane Craig[/ame] They are libertarians and not reformed, but overall it is a great read and I recommend it for a good intro. All of the topics are of contemporary analytic interest. In most Ancient, Modern, and Contemporary philosophy classes you aren’t going to delve much into contemporary analytic philosophy. They are necessary building blocks though for a good philosophical education.

    Another book from a presuppositional method I recommend is ‘The Divine Challenge’ by John Byle: [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Divine-Challenge-Matter-Mind-Meaning/dp/0851518877/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/102-7336633-3557736?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1175284491&sr=8-1"]Amazon.com: The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning: Books: John Byl[/ame]

    This is also a great read: http://www.vantil.info/articles/vtfem.html

    JDWiseman, personally, I agree with Van Til’s system of thought. I’ve actually only read a couple pages of his work. Most of my knowledge has come from reading Bahnsen, listening to lectures by Bahnsen, and reading material online. (I’ve also read the intro. book by Frame on the topic). Its not so much a Clark verse Van Til thing for me. The only reason I am a Van Tilian is because I was attracted to the method from the start. It’s because I have agreed with most everything I have read from this perspective. It makes perfect sense to me. To be frank, Clark’s philosophy just doesn’t appeal to me at all. I don’t find the arguments convincing, and I don’t agree with them from the get go.
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2007
  11. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    This is a good summary. It cannot be stressed enough about knowing what it is you're defending. I've seen it too many times that an apologetic turns into a defence of the methodology. I've seen it too where the first principles of the faith are even unknown to these methodologists. These are triumphalist followers, not careful thinkers.

    What has been the beginning for me, and remains central to my thinking, is Belgic Confession's Article II assertion of Biblical revelation, which summarized the overall picture you should have in your head AT ALL TIMES.

    There's a difference between the earlier and the later Van Til. Clark is merely another version of the later Van Til. That's my take on it.
  12. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    No, not before learning about presuppositionalism. Most of the books and articles will what you need to know. You might find a reference or two that doesn't make sense to you, but just look it up on wiki or a good philosophy history book. It's true that some things will come together for you after you learn more basic philosophy (like Van Til's "the one and the many") but you can handle most of it as you go.

    Gordon Clark's "Religion, Reason, and Revelation" includes the philosophy background material you need to make sense out of what he's saying.
  13. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    As one person said earlier, its not a Clark vs. Van Til thing for me. I just happened to stumble on Van Til first. Most of the debate between them is over my head. I don't think I have a party spirit. I employ Van Til's method just because at the time I thought it was the most consistent. Frame's apologetic course definitely cured me of any party spirit. Not quite sold on the global TAG, but the internal critique thing and Proverbs 26: 4-5.

    I am reading Aquinas' Summa Theologica at the moment. So methodology isn't something I am going to fall on my sword for.
  14. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Thanks, I found a copy of Vol. 4 of his works for $10 that I think I'm going to get.
  15. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    And some Vantillians like Rushdoony quoted approvingly from Clark. Cf. Rushdoony's book on education. The only time Rush really disagreed with Clark was over the CVT/GC debate, but that was only one chapter in one of his 50 books.
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