The Gospel Coalition on Presuppositional Apologetics

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sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
Today, The Gospel Coalition posted an article by Paul Copan on Presuppositional Apologetics. Quite frankly, I would be ashamed of an article that depended on such a caricature of presuppositionalism rather than what presuppositionalism actually teaches. Dr. Copan, who is a well known philosopher and apologist, should know better.

Questioning Presuppositionalism – The Gospel Coalition Blog
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
There is a link to a short piece by William Edgar at the bottom of the page.

Bahnsen went further than Van Til in departing from old Princeton. Van Til still had a place for natural theology and had at least one of his feet on the shoulders of the Princeton apologetic. Bahnsen rejected that legacy.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
That article was embarasing to read. To basically lump all "presuppositionalists" together is just absurd. I will answer questions people have about presuppositionalism but I would ,following Dr. Oliphint, like to drop that name for VanTillianism, beacause I havn't found a better name (I don't like it because it can righfully appear to be claiming slavish devotion to one man, and I will be the first to disagree with him where I feel that he is wrong).

He uses the name covenantal Apologetics, I get it but I think it is too confusing to a non-VanTillian. Also I get and agree with Reformed Apologetics but I find that name far too abrasive to reformed folk who differ with him. In a curriculum that I am desighning, I don't know if I'll ever get to teach it but I want to have it handy, to introduce apologetics to average pew sitting christians who have no idea about any of this stuff. It is VanTillian through and through, in fact my goal was to make Van Til accessable to the average christian. I will be more pushing the name Engagement Apologetics.

Van Til taught us to engage creation worldview to worldview to see who has the true foundation for anything. We engage the totality of the unbeleiver all the way down to the knowledge they supress of God. We engage our culture and the various philosophies. We engage creation to use God given evidences and reasons for the hope that is withen us. I don't know how VanTillians will feel about that name but it is easily to remember which is what I was going for. All those engagments are fully VanTillian in my mind.

I appreciate the notes you made on your blog. Very helpful! I have not read that book but I want to. I look forward to more. Thank you for sharing sastark.

Rev. Winzer I believe you have that book Revelation and Reason. What did you think about the essay on natural theology? I hope that doesn't sidetrack this thread.
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
Since Van Til (and Bahnsen after him) begin with the truth of God's Word, as testified by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer, and since those things are clearly taught in WCF chapter 1, I think the term "Confessional Apologetics" is fitting (at least, I've used it a couple times in the last few days).

I'll be posting more notes as I am able. Glad they were helpful to you! I recommend the book!
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Rev. Winzer I believe you have that book Revelation and Reason. What did you think about the essay on natural theology? I hope that doesn't sidetrack this thread.
James, it has been a couple of years so I might not be recalling exactly. Also, in a collection of essays in which some are better than others the less impressive ones don't leave you with much to remember. The heavy lifting was already done by Muller and Van Asselt in this area, so relying on their conclusions was safe and easy. I don't think it comes as a shock to anyone that CVT was not a precise historical theologian. The idea that he may have misinterpreted the Protestant scholastics is not startling. But I think the article fails to distinguish broader Protestant and stricter Reformed scholasticism. Putting forward Mede as an innovator is not helpful. The English theology contained the broader and the stricter strains in the 16th century, as is clear from the Puritan response to the Elizabethan settlement and the conflicting views of reason involved there. I also recall that sometimes CVT's statements on "the natural man" are made to apply to "natural theology," which is not helpful considering CVT's great contribution to the 20th century was his insistence that all facts are revelational, and the point of contact must be found in that objective revelation and not some subjective state of man. The simple point of criticism CVT made of old Princeton should be left simple, and it is one we can all agree with -- there was not enough emphasis on reason as fallen. If Bahnsen had have maintained this simple criticism he could have remained with one foot on Princeton and stayed in the mainstream of Reformed thought; as it is he took Van Til's legacy a further step away from Princeton and ironically became cynical at the very point neo-orthodoxy became cynical of objective natural revelation.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
James, it has been a couple of years so I might not be recalling exactly. Also, in a collection of essays in which some are better than others the less impressive ones don't leave you with much to remember. The heavy lifting was already done by Muller and Van Asselt in this area, so relying on their conclusions was safe and easy. I don't think it comes as a shock to anyone that CVT was not a precise historical theologian. The idea that he may have misinterpreted the Protestant scholastics is not startling. But I think the article fails to distinguish broader Protestant and stricter Reformed scholasticism. Putting forward Mede as an innovator is not helpful. The English theology contained the broader and the stricter strains in the 16th century, as is clear from the Puritan response to the Elizabethan settlement and the conflicting views of reason involved there. I also recall that sometimes CVT's statements on "the natural man" are made to apply to "natural theology," which is not helpful considering CVT's great contribution to the 20th century was his insistence that all facts are revelational, and the point of contact must be found in that objective revelation and not some subjective state of man. The simple point of criticism CVT made of old Princeton should be left simple, and it is one we can all agree with -- there was not enough emphasis on reason as fallen. If Bahnsen had have maintained this simple criticism he could have remained with one foot on Princeton and stayed in the mainstream of Reformed thought; as it is he took Van Til's legacy a further step away from Princeton and ironically became cynical at the very point neo-orthodoxy became cynical of objective natural revelation.
I appreciate it. Yeah I wondered because the essay had a largley negative view of natural theology. And argued that the scholastics viewed it that way. I can't say because that is not my most familer area. Thanks for the history too, again not an area I am most familer with. I did totaly agree about Van Til and Bahnsen, more of an area I am familer with. But thank you.


Since Van Til (and Bahnsen after him) begin with the truth of God's Word, as testified by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer, and since those things are clearly taught in WCF chapter 1, I think the term "Confessional Apologetics" is fitting (at least, I've used it a couple times in the last few days).

I'll be posting more notes as I am able. Glad they were helpful to you! I recommend the book!
Yeah I alike Confessional Apologetics, I have argued in other threads that we need a Confessional Philosophy as well. I went with my name because in my church at least I am dealing with average very godly christians who are are more evangelical than lest say reformed. I go to a great church but it is big. The teaching is solidly reformed but I couldn't just start throwing strictly theological words around. I needed a better way that doesn't contradict Van Til but is more memerable to an average christian.
 

forgivenmuch

Puritan Board Freshman
Off-topic, but related: Has anyone read Copan's Is God a Moral Monster? I'm guessing either no, or if you have, then you probably have a negative opinion on it. Just curious if it was worth a read.
 

Hilasmos

Puritan Board Freshman
Off-topic, but related: Has anyone read Copan's Is God a Moral Monster? I'm guessing either no, or if you have, then you probably have a negative opinion on it. Just curious if it was worth a read.
I read it; I thought it had some good points, but generally it carried the tone that he was trying to explain why the text doesn't sound as bad as it sounds. Of course, that can be helpful to a degree. At a few points in the book did he finally challenge the skeptics unbelieving presuppositions, but it always seemed to come right after he put the skeptic in the position of judge.
 

forgivenmuch

Puritan Board Freshman
Off-topic, but related: Has anyone read Copan's Is God a Moral Monster? I'm guessing either no, or if you have, then you probably have a negative opinion on it. Just curious if it was worth a read.
I read it; I thought it had some good points, but generally it carried the tone that he was trying to explain why the text doesn't sound as bad as it sounds. Of course, that can be helpful to a degree. At a few points in the book did he finally challenge the skeptics unbelieving presuppositions, but it always seemed to come right after he put the skeptic in the position of judge.
Thanks. Yeah, that's the impression I've received from many of the reviews that I have read, that he tries to "explain away" the issues/texts (sugarcoat them almost), without actually explaining the issues.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
Since Van Til (and Bahnsen after him) begin with the truth of God's Word, as testified by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer, and since those things are clearly taught in WCF chapter 1, I think the term "Confessional Apologetics" is fitting (at least, I've used it a couple times in the last few days).

I'll be posting more notes as I am able. Glad they were helpful to you! I recommend the book!
I agree with WCF chap. 1, and see no problem with the view that Romans 1 proclaims that natural revelation/light of nature is clear enough that man is without excuse. Given this, why is beginning with natural theology/natural law considered suspect? It seems like it makes a great point of contact with unbelievers.

CT
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
I agree with WCF chap. 1, and see no problem with the view that Romans 1 proclaims that natural revelation/light of nature is clear enough that man is without excuse. Given this, why is beginning with natural theology/natural law considered suspect? It seems like it makes a great point of contact with unbelievers.
I would say that there is a difference between natural revelation and natural theology. I would argue that Romans 1 is discussing the former and not the latter.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I would say that there is a difference between natural revelation and natural theology. I would argue that Romans 1 is discussing the former and not the latter.
Theos (God) + Logos (Word, Doctrine) = Theology. The only way to avoid a natural theology is to refuse to speak a word on the doctrinal content of the revelation God has given in nature.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
I agree with WCF chap. 1, and see no problem with the view that Romans 1 proclaims that natural revelation/light of nature is clear enough that man is without excuse. Given this, why is beginning with natural theology/natural law considered suspect? It seems like it makes a great point of contact with unbelievers.
I would say that there is a difference between natural revelation and natural theology. I would argue that Romans 1 is discussing the former and not the latter.
What is the difference as you see it?
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
I agree with WCF chap. 1, and see no problem with the view that Romans 1 proclaims that natural revelation/light of nature is clear enough that man is without excuse. Given this, why is beginning with natural theology/natural law considered suspect? It seems like it makes a great point of contact with unbelievers.
I would say that there is a difference between natural revelation and natural theology. I would argue that Romans 1 is discussing the former and not the latter.
What is the difference as you see it?
Well for me the difference is that NR is a given to all people, whether or not they aknowledge it. Since the unbeleiver can interpret it in ways that are not true it is limited in how we can use it to prove things. But when they stand before God they will have no accuse. NT on the otherhand is something man made. We atempt to deduce things about God from nature alone. I believe that even if you could prove somethings it would be so limited as to be essentially useless. It is in special revelation that God reveals His attributes to us. I don't outright regect NT in theory but my gut tells me it will prove to be unsuccessful. If a christian wishes to engage in it than I think that is fine but I don't.

The paper you posted for me a while back, which I greatly appreciated by the way, is probably the best thing I have ever seen written on the subject of NT or in that case natural law (but the same principles apply here as well). In there if I remember correctly the author argues that for NT to work we need to come to consensus about our view of God and man with beleivers and unbeleivers. Very true, I would even go out on a limb and say that Van Til would have agreed to this point as well. But he and I would at this point say that the only sure foundation to base this consensus on would be special revelation, which the unbeleiver regects in principle anyway. So there could never in primciple be any consensus, which destroys the original theory.

---------- Post added at 01:13 PM ---------- Previous post was at 01:08 PM ----------

Anyone read Oliphint's?
Thank you for sharing that. Oliphint is in my opinion one of the greatest thinkers of our time.
 

J. Dean

Puritan Board Junior
Maybe I'm being a little obtuse here, but if an argument is biblical and logical, then I don't care whether it's presuppositional, classical, or any "sitional." If it's true, then it's true, regardless of the classification we give it.

Also, shouldn't each premise be weighed on its own merit and not whether it's "classical" or "Presuppositional"?
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Maybe I'm being a little obtuse here, but if an argument is biblical and logical, then I don't care whether it's presuppositional, classical, or any "sitional." If it's true, then it's true, regardless of the classification we give it.

Also, shouldn't each premise be weighed on its own merit and not whether it's "classical" or "Presuppositional"?
Well to do apologetics correctly you in theory need some kind of tool to do so. Philosophy, history, or whatever gives us such tools. The tools used to defend the faith are drastictly different from the different schools. Also some tools are better than others. Some work great, some not at all.

The reason I side with Van Til is because he, INHO, adopted the best tools for our theological tradition. He started with theology and worked his method out from there.
 

J. Dean

Puritan Board Junior
Well to do apologetics correctly you in theory need some kind of tool to do so. Philosophy, history, or whatever gives us such tools. The tools used to defend the faith are drastictly different from the different schools. Also some tools are better than others. Some work great, some not at all.
Oh, I don't dispute that at all. Anselm of Canterbury's apologetics were fun to hear, but they hurt my head after a while, and in retrospect weren't that strong in my opinion (God being the greatest thing we can imagine)

The reason I side with Van Til is because he, INHO, adopted the best tools for our theological tradition. He started with theology and worked his method out from there.
I need to read his stuff.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Yeah I alike Confessional Apologetics, I have argued in other threads that we need a Confessional Philosophy as well.
See, I don't. Calling it "confessional" implies that those who take issue with Van Til and Van Tillianism are unconfessional. As for a Confessional Philosophy, I don't think there is one. Certainly subscription to the confession will make one take certain positions, but good confessional folks have disagreed and do disagree on many philosophical issues. The confession is a point of departure and does not contain an answer to every philosophical problem or question.

But he and I would at this point say that the only sure foundation to base this consensus on would be special revelation
In which case, general revelation really isn't revelation, given that it doesn't really reveal anything unless you already have special revelation. The argument against NT will always turn into an argument against GR.

The tools used to defend the faith are drastictly different from the different schools.
Not really. I borrow from presuppositional tools all the time---the tools needed for a particular situation depend on the kind of situation it is. Sledghammers are wonderful if you need to break down cement walls, but they're irrelevant when it comes to fixing the pipes. The tools of presuppositionalism are not suited to every situation for the simple reason that people have different apologetical issues. One of my first questions to a non-Christian tends to be to ask what keeps them from the Church and from Christianity because their answer helps me to know what needs to be said.

God being the greatest thing we can imagine
That's not quite it, actually: it's "that-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought" which means that the definition in mind here is such that nothing greater could be conceivable by any being---including God.
 

Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
I recently came across a few sections from Calvin's Institutes that discuss both general and special revelation. I was searching for some thoughts from Calvin concerning philosophy and revelation, and here is what I came across (I placed in bold those parts I wanted to highlight):

"Bright, however, as is the manifestation which God gives both of himself and his immortal kingdom in the mirror of his works, so great is our stupidity, so dull are we in regard to these bright manifestations, that we derive no benefit from them. For in regard to the fabric and admirable arrangement of the universe, how few of us are there who, in lifting our eyes to the heavens, or looking abroad on the various regions of the earth, ever think of the Creator? Do we not rather overlook him, and sluggishly content ourselves with a view of his works? And then in regard to supernatural events, though these are occurring every day, how few are there who ascribe them to the ruling providence of God--how many who imagine that they are casual results produced by the blind evolutions of the wheel of chance? Even when under the guidance and direction of these events, we are in a manner forced to the contemplation of God (a circumstance which all must occasionally experience), and are thuse led to form some impressions of Deity, we immediately fly off to carnal dreams and depraved fictions, so by our vanity corrupt heavenly truth. This far, indeed, we differ from each other, in that everyone appropriates to himself some peculiar error; but we are all alike in this, that we subsitute monstrous fictions for the one living and true God--a disease not confined to obtuse and vulgar minds, but affecting the noblest, and those who, in other aspects, are singularly acute. How lavishly in this respect have the whole body of philosophers betrayed their stupidity and want of sense? To say nothing of the others whose absurdities are of a still grosser description, how completely does Plato, the soberest and most religious of them all, lose himself in his round globe? What must be the case with the rest, when the leaders, who ought to have set them an example, commit such blunders, and labor under such hallucinations? In like manner, while the government of the world places the doctrine of providence beyond dispute, the practical result is the same as if it were believed that all things were carried hither and thither at the caprice of change; so prone are we to vanity and error. I am still referring to the most distinguished of the philosophers, and not to the common herd, whose madness in profaning the truth of God exceeds all abounds.

Hence that immense flood of error with which the whole world is overflowed. Every individual mind being a kind of labyrinth, it is not wonderful, not only that each nation adopted a variety of fictions, but that almost every man has had his own God. To the darkness of ignorance have been added presumption and wantonness, and hence there is scarcely an individual to be found without some idol or phantom as a substitude for Deity. Like water gushing forth from a large and copious spring, immense crowds of gods have issued from the human mind, every man giving himself full license, and devising some peculiar from of divinity, to meet his own views...

...But if the most distinguished wandered in darkness, what shall we say of the refuse? No wonder, therefore, that all worship of man's device is repudiated by the Holy Spirit as degenerate. Any opinion which man can form in heavenly mysteries, thought it may not beget a long train of errors, is still the parent of error. And though nothing worse should happen, even this is no light sin--to worship an unknown God at random. Of this sin, however, we hear from our Savior's own mouth (John 4:22), that all are guilty who have not been taught out of the Law who the God is whom they ought to worship.

In vain for us, therefore, does creation exhibit so many bright lamps lighted up to show forth the glory of its Author. Though they beam upon us from every quarter, they are altogether insufficient of themselves to lead us into the right path. Some sparks, undoubtedly, they do throw out; but these are quenched before they can give forth a brighter effulgence. Wherefore, the apostle, in the very place where he says that the worlds are images of invisible things, adds that it is by faith we understand that they were framed by the word of God (Heb 11:3); thereby intimating that the invisible Godhead is indeed represented by such displays, but that we have no eyes to perceive it until they are enlightened through faith by internal revelation from God. When Paul says that that which may be known of God is manifested by the creation of the world, he does not mean such a manifestation as may be comprehended by the wit of man (Rom 1:19); on the contrary, he shows that it has no further effect than to render us inexcusable (Acts 17:27).

But though we are deficient in natural powers which might enable us to rise to a pure and clear knowledge of God, still, as the dullness which prevents us is within, there is no room for excuse. We cannot plead ignorance, without being at the same time convicted by our own consciences both of sloth and ingratitude. It were, indeed, a strange defense for man to pretend that he has no ears to hear the truth, while dumb creatures have voices loud enough to declare it; to allege that he is unable to see that which creatures without eyes demonstrate, to excuse himself on the ground of weakness of mind, while all creatures without reason are able to teach. Wherefore, when we wander and go astray, we are justly shut out from every species of excuse, because all things point to the right path. But while man must bear the guilty of corrupting the seed of divine knowledge so wondrously deposited in his mind, and preventing it from bearing good and genuine fruit, it is still mostly true that we are not sufficiently instructed by that bare and simple, but magnificent testimony which the creatures bear to the glory of their Creator. For no sooner do we, from a survey of the world, obtain some slightly knowledge of Deity, than we pass by the true God, and set up in his stead the dream and phantom of our own brain, drawing away the praise of justice, wisdom, and goodness, from the fountain-head, and transferring it to some other quarter. Moreover, by the erroneous estimate we form, we either so obscure or pervert his daily works, as at once to rob them of their glory and the author of them of his just praise." (Calvin's Institutes, Book 1, Chapter 5)
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
See, I don't. Calling it "confessional" implies that those who take issue with Van Til and Van Tillianism are unconfessional. As for a Confessional Philosophy, I don't think there is one. Certainly subscription to the confession will make one take certain positions, but good confessional folks have disagreed and do disagree on many philosophical issues. The confession is a point of departure and does not contain an answer to every philosophical problem or question.
Your right of course. I just don't see such a disconnect between our philosophy and our theology. But you are right, I defend the fact that the confession is not a philosophical document. But we should work out any philosophical consequences there are to our confession and go from there. Although I believe that no philosophy suppossedly worked out from the confession should be binding on any christian because the confession is not primaraly a philosophical document.


In which case, general revelation really isn't revelation, given that it doesn't really reveal anything unless you already have special revelation. The argument against NT will always turn into an argument against GR.
Well you can't confuse God's revelation with our interpretation of it. Even prefall Adam needed special revelation to know what he was supposed to do.


Not really. I borrow from presuppositional tools all the time---the tools needed for a particular situation depend on the kind of situation it is. Sledghammers are wonderful if you need to break down cement walls, but they're irrelevant when it comes to fixing the pipes. The tools of presuppositionalism are not suited to every situation for the simple reason that people have different apologetical issues. One of my first questions to a non-Christian tends to be to ask what keeps them from the Church and from Christianity because their answer helps me to know what needs to be said.
Yes but all tools as you see are suited to their particuler task, that is all that Van Til meant. Put all evidences and arguments in perspective.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I've posted this before but this is Van Til's contribution to the book The Infallible Word. Van Til clearly did not reject Natural Theology but a Natural Theology that arises out of autonomous human reason:

How is natural theology necessary?

Scripture does not claim to speak to man in any other way than in conjunction with nature.[1] God's revelation of Himself in nature combined with His revelation of Himself in Scripture form God's one grand scheme of covenant relationship of Himself with man. The two forms presuppose and complement one another.[2]

It was necessary in the garden as the lower act of obedience learned from avoiding the tree of knowledge of good and evil man might learn the higher things of obedience to God. The natural appeared in the regularity of nature.

After the fall, the natural appears under the curse of God and not merely regular. God's curse on nature is revealed along with regularity. The natural reveals an unalleviated picture of folly and ruin[3] and speaks to the need for a Redeemer.

To the believer the natural or regular with all its complexity always appears as the playground for the process of differentiation which leads ever onward to the fullness of the glory of God.[4]

What is the authority of natural revelation?


The same God who reveals Himself in Scripture is the God who reveals Himself in nature. They are of the same authority even if the former is superior in clarity than the latter. We are analogues to God and our respect for revelation in both spheres must be maintained and it is only when we refuse to act as creatures that we contrast authority between natural and special revelation. What comes to man by his rational and moral nature (created in God's image) is no less objective than what comes to him through the created order as all is in Covenant relationship to God. All created activity is inherently revelational of the nature and will of God.[5]

What is the sufficiency of natural revelation?


It is sufficient to leave men without excuse for their sin and denying the God they know they are created to worship but insufficient at revealing the grace of God in salvation. Natural revelation was never meant to function by itself (as above) but it was historically sufficient as it renders without excuse.[6] God's revelation in nature is sufficient in history to differentiate between those who who would and who would not serve God.[7]

What is meant by the perspicuity of natural revelation?


God's revelation in nature was always meant to serve alongside His special revelation. God is a revealing God and the perspicuity of nature is bound up in the fact that He voluntarily reveals. Both natural and special revelation would be impossible if God remained incomprehensible as He is in Himself (archetypal theology). Man cannot penetrate God as He is Himself - he cannot comprehend God. But created man may see clearly what is revealed clearly even if he does not see exhaustively. Man need not have exhaustive knowledge in order to know truly and certainly.[8]

God's thoughts about Himself are self-contained but man is an analogue who thinks in covenant relation to the One who created him. Thus man's interpretation of nature follows what is fully interpreted by God. Man thinks God's thoughts after him - not comprehensively but analogically.

The Psalmist doesn't declare that the heavens possibly or probably declare the glory of God. Paul does not say that the wrath of God is probably revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Scripture takes the clarity of God's revelation for granted at every stage of human history.[9] The God who speaks in Scripture cannot refer to anything that is not already authoratively revelational of Himself for the evidence of His own existence.[10] Everything exists that is His creation.

It is no easier for sinners to accept God in nature than it is for them to accept Him in Scripture. The two are inseparable in their clarity. We need the Holy Spirit to understand both. Man must be a Christian to study nature in a proper frame of mind.

How does Greek natural theology and the natural theology of Kant result in denying any rationality higher than itself?


Neither allow analogical reasoning to understand the world. They start from nature and try to argue for a god who must be finite in nature. It starts with a "mute" universe that has no revelation and makes it revelational only with respect to the autonomous mind of man. No distinction is made between Creator and creature.
Kant's great contribution to philosophy consisted in stressing the activity of the experiencing subject. It is this point to which the idea of a Copernican revolution is usually applied. Kant argued that since it is the thinking subject that itself contributes the categories of universality and necessity, we must not think of these as covering any reality that exists or may exist wholly independent of the human mind. The validity of universals is to be taken as frankly due to a motion and a vote; it is conventional and nothing more.[11]

Plato and Aristotle, as well as Kant, assumed the autonomy of man. On such a basis man may reason univocally (have the same mind as God) and reach a God who is just an extension of the creature or he may reason equivocally and reach a God who has no contact with him at all.[12] Man is left with either God being part of nature (pantheism) or being so transcendent that He cannot get into nature (deism).

We're now left with a world where the scientist supposedly interacts with the physical world and can learn about the world apart from any reference to God and "ministers" who speak about God's revelation that has no reference to history and interaction with the world. Man is fractured intellectually where reason deals with things of the world and faith deals with things that cannot affect reason or the world.

The very idea of Kant's Copernican revolution was that the autonomous mind itself must assume the responsibility for making all factual differentiation and logical validation. To such a mind the God of Christianity cannot speak. Such a mind will hear no voice but its own.[13]

[HR][/HR][1] Stonehouse and Woolley, The Infallible Word, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1967, p 263.
[2] Ibid, p 267.
[3] Ibid, p 271.
[4] Ibid, p 272.
[5] Ibid, p 274
[6] Ibid, p 275.
[7] Ibid, p 276.
[8] Ibid, p 278.
[9] Ibid, p 278.
[10] Ibid, p 279.
[11] Ibid, p 296.
[12] Ibid, p 297.
[13] Ibid, p 298.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
Van Til and Reason

Van Til claimed that man's reasoning is unintelligible unless the Christian scriptures are presupposed. For the the purposes here, this is important in terms of the definition of "reason", as well as for what it does to the clarity of general revelation. If "reason" is taken to be the contemporary popular assumptions, then such assumptions as these are cultural and conventional. Different people, in different places, at different times, claim to "know" statements that contradict each other. Widespread belief is by no means knowledge. That our culture takes for granted the truth of the theory of evolution does not make it true. Hence, to take one's stand in the "reason of the day is specious "reasoning". But what if reason is taken in the sense that Hodge gave above? What if reason is the laws of thought, those laws necessary for thought itself? Hodge saw the law of non-contradiction as an obvious example. While Van Til argued that only Christian Theism can explain such a law, it seems he nevertheless used the law to argue for theism. His Transcendental Argument presupposes the law of non contradiction: The non-Christian world and life view is false because it is self-contradictory, therefore Christianity is true. This is the law of non-contradiction applied to basic beliefs. Therefore, it seems that the first assumption is that this law is necessary for thought, and only after that does one question which view is consistent.

What does this say for clarity? Van Til affirmed both general revelation, and the necessity of the scriptures for any knowledge. This is not the distinction that both Warfield and Kuyper made above with respect to the work of the Holy Spirit to renew men's hearts. Van Til agreed with them on that point. But his use of Scripture as the presupposition necessary for all knowledge is more than this; it is an epistemological claim about how to know, not an ontological claim about the ability to know. For Van Til the fall of man occurred when man tried to do without God in every part of life.[25] Humans sought the source of truth, goodness, and beauty in something besides God, either in self or in the material universe. The result is that humans tried to establish a worldview in which they interpreted all data apart from reference to God. In contrast, Van Til argued that persons must take their ideas about the nature of reality from the Bible, it being the final standard of truth itself. This is different from Warfield in an important way. Remember that Warfield argued that the Bible must first be authenticated as special revelation. This means that for Warfield there is a standard for gaining knowledge more basic than the Bible itself.

Van til affirmed the relation of redemptive revelation (supernatural revelation, or scriptures), and general revelation (natural revelation). He argued that special revelation is necessary because of the covenant disobedience on the part of Adam in Paradise. [26] Van Til saw the sin that caused humanity to fall as a violation of positive supernatural revelation. That is, God spoke to Adam and told him not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What Van Til left unclear is how Adam knew it was God that told him this. How did Adam know God? Presumably one must first know God before one can know not to violate a command of God. It seems at least fair to assert that it was first a failure to know God as Creator that allowed Adam to eat thus breaking God's command. This knowing God as Creator is what all humans are held accountable for. But Van Til's description of the Fall as only the breaking of a commandment leaves unclear exactly what humanity is accountable for.

If the above considerations are correct, it follows that humanity could know God apart form the Christian scriptures. Perhaps, aspects of God's justice, mercy, and redemption cannot be known and are properly the subject of redemptive revelation, but God's eternal power and divine nature can be known. And it follows that these can be known of God after the Fall through general revelation. Reason does not fall (as if the law of non-contradiction became false after the Fall), but rather the desire to use reason changed. Van Til maintained that these truths about God could be known even after the Fall. [27] "Grace can be recognized as grace only in contrast to God's curse on nature." [28] In this Van Til agrees with the Westminster Confession in stating that all creation is a revelation of the nature of God, and it is in this light that scriptures as redemptive revelation make sense. But if God can be known through general revelation and yet all knowledge is through the Bible, then there appears to be a discrepancy.

Excerpt from Reason and Worldviews by Dr. Owen Anderson p.56-57

[25] Bahnsen's Van Til Reader p.95
[26] Van Til's Christian Apologetics p.30
[27] Van Til's Christian Apologetics p.31
[28] Van Til's Christian Apologetics p.31

---------- Post added at 02:18 AM ---------- Previous post was at 01:59 AM ----------
I agree with WCF chap. 1, and see no problem with the view that Romans 1 proclaims that natural revelation/light of nature is clear enough that man is without excuse. Given this, why is beginning with natural theology/natural law considered suspect? It seems like it makes a great point of contact with unbelievers.
I would say that there is a difference between natural revelation and natural theology. I would argue that Romans 1 is discussing the former and not the latter.
What is the difference as you see it?
Well for me the difference is that NR is a given to all people, whether or not they aknowledge it. Since the unbeleiver can interpret it in ways that are not true it is limited in how we can use it to prove things. But when they stand before God they will have no accuse. NT on the otherhand is something man made. We atempt to deduce things about God from nature alone. I believe that even if you could prove somethings it would be so limited as to be essentially useless. It is in special revelation that God reveals His attributes to us. I don't outright regect NT in theory but my gut tells me it will prove to be unsuccessful. If a christian wishes to engage in it than I think that is fine but I don't.
How is the unbelievers bad use of NR or NT any argument against its use? People can be poor at math or statistics etc. but that doesn't speak against their proper uses.

Next, Roman 1 says that God reveals himself through General Revelation to the point that people are without excuse. That is a tremendously high standard. Romans 1 also speaks of God's attributes are revealed in natural revelation.

The paper you posted for me a while back, which I greatly appreciated by the way, is probably the best thing I have ever seen written on the subject of NT or in that case natural law (but the same principles apply here as well). In there if I remember correctly the author argues that for NT to work we need to come to consensus about our view of God and man with beleivers and unbeleivers. Very true, I would even go out on a limb and say that Van Til would have agreed to this point as well. But he and I would at this point say that the only sure foundation to base this consensus on would be special revelation, which the unbeleiver regects in principle anyway. So there could never in primciple be any consensus, which destroys the original theory.
Um, how does a lack of consensus work as an argument against NT etc. but not work against an argument against Special Revelation? There are a tremendous number of interpretations on various issues in the Bible. Does that imply that everyone just throw up their hands and walk away? If you say that we can properly interpret Scripture, then why not NR, NT etc.?

That author of the paper, explained how the consensus on NT could be gained; he did not just write that he wished such was possible.

CT
 
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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Van Til affirmed both general revelation, and the necessity of the scriptures for any knowledge.
This is simply false and is plainly contradicted by the portions of The Infallible Word that I posted above. The conjunction and is the problem in that sentence as well as the adjective any.

What Van Til wrote is that man must be born again to study Nature "...in the proper frame of mind..." but not that unregenerate man has no knowledge.

As he wrote:
It is no easier for sinners to accept God in nature than it is for them to accept Him in Scripture.
The Reformed have never taught that man's rational capacity is ruined but that he is ethically hostile to the Creator. Apart from Scripture, Van Til believed that Nature reveals God's power and that even the unalleviated picture of folly and ruin reveals the need for a Redeemer.

This is not a matter of propositional statements. This is not a matter of a lack of clear Revelation. It is whether that Revelation will have any fruition in the mind of a man who sees, daily, that Revelation and will accept the God that is revealed in Nature. The Scriptures teach that he will not for he hates that God and is enslaved to sin.

The Gospel comes then not primarily as a "gap filler" about the nature of God so that man may have more propositions by which he can weigh evidence by unaided reason. It is the power of God for salvation. It sets men free from the bondage of sin. Their problem is not the lack of propositional content in Nature to accept God as He's revealed but the need to be set free from sin as power that enslaves them to clamp their eyes shut to the glory they know is all around them.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
How is the unbelievers bad use of NR or NT any argument against its use? People can be poor at math or statistics etc. but that doesn't speak against their proper uses.
Well first off I wouldn't automatically equate NR with NT as if there the same thing. You make an excellant point but the problem is this does our knowledge of God come first and immediatly from nature and ourselves or do we reach it from some discursive method of reasoning? If it is the former than NT is useless as far as the traditional arguments go. But if its the latter than that is different. But that still leaves open the question of the content of that knowledge in nature. People advocating a strong view of NT generally err on assuming that nature is revealing more than it is.


Um, how does a lack of consensus work as an argument against NT etc. but not work against an argument against Special Revelation? There are a tremendous number of interpretations on various issues in the Bible. Does that imply that everyone just throw up their hands and walk away? If you say that we can properly interpret Scripture, then why not NR, NT etc.?

That author of the paper, explained how the consensus on NT could be gained; he did not just write that he wished such was possible.
Because any argument from NT or NL alone is upfront a fallacy. Even if everyone agrees on some moral law that only proves that everyone agrees on something. Anyone at that point is well withen their epistemic rights to disagree. They may have some use in persuading a group of people of the truth but they are so limited as to be INMO practically useless.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
How is the unbelievers bad use of NR or NT any argument against its use? People can be poor at math or statistics etc. but that doesn't speak against their proper uses.
Well first off I wouldn't automatically equate NR with NT as if there the same thing. You make an excellant point but the problem is this does our knowledge of God come first and immediatly from nature and ourselves or do we reach it from some discursive method of reasoning? If it is the former than NT is useless as far as the traditional arguments go. But if its the latter than that is different. But that still leaves open the question of the content of that knowledge in nature. People advocating a strong view of NT generally err on assuming that nature is revealing more than it is.
I would say it is a combination of the two positions. Concepts etc. we are born with/gain immediately when we interact with the world. The knowledge can/is depended when we focus on developing such knowledge.

Next, on what basis do you think those who advocate a strong view of NT are assuming too much?
Um, how does a lack of consensus work as an argument against NT etc. but not work against an argument against Special Revelation? There are a tremendous number of interpretations on various issues in the Bible. Does that imply that everyone just throw up their hands and walk away? If you say that we can properly interpret Scripture, then why not NR, NT etc.?

That author of the paper, explained how the consensus on NT could be gained; he did not just write that he wished such was possible.
Because any argument from NT or NL alone is upfront a fallacy. Even if everyone agrees on some moral law that only proves that everyone agrees on something. Anyone at that point is well withen their epistemic rights to disagree. They may have some use in persuading a group of people of the truth but they are so limited as to be INMO practically useless.
Why is anyone who disagrees within their epistemic rights to automatically disagree? They may be within their rights to disagree with a certain position or claim but I am not seeing how that extends to any and all claims.

CT
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Next, on what basis do you think those who advocate a strong view of NT are assuming too much?
On the basis of what can be known about God from nature? Not much. As much as I love philosophy I do not believe that we can rip open heaven and logically deduce anything about God apart from special revelation. Philosophy investagates creation. I know that persons advocating a strong view of NT will say that these are revealed in nature but the arguments themselves are purely logical.

I mean where can you go in nature to show that God is omniscient?


I would say it is a combination of the two positions. Concepts etc. we are born with/gain immediately when we interact with the world. The knowledge can/is depended when we focus on developing such knowledge.
Sure but how much about has God is revealed in nature? Is it enough to warrant a discipline called NT? I don't think so.




Why is anyone who disagrees within their epistemic rights to automatically disagree? They may be within their rights to disagree with a certain position or claim but I am not seeing how that extends to any and all claims.
Its not all claims, only claims reached by consensus. Just because a lot of people agree on something I'm under no obligation to believe it. Also any new "knowledge" reached after this grand consensus will be suspect for that reason too. I think for NT to have a chance it needs to be heavely reconstructed. But the question is after this reconstruction has thrown out anything of no value will there be anything left?
 
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