Van Tillian Presuppositionalism: The Consistent Application of Divine Aseity | Dewey Dovel

by | Feb 14, 2023 | Uncategorized

This blog is the third in a series by Dewey Dovel titled, Reforming Old Princeton: Understanding How Theology Proper Should Govern Apologetics.”

For part 1 of this series click here:

For part 2 of this series click here:

Van Tillian Presuppositionalism: The Consistent Application of Divine Aseity

Despite its prevalence throughout much of church history, Cornelius Van Til’s efforts to refine the classical approach to Christian apologetics resulted in the establishment of a defense of the faith that is in keeping with confessionally Reformed theology. Over the duration of his academic career at Westminster Theological Seminary, Van Til revolutionized Old Princeton’s faulty approach to the defense of Christianity, demonstrating how the Reformed doctrine of God must inform the method of apologetics from start to finish. From its inception and development throughout the twentieth century, myriads of theologians and philosophers alike have devoted themselves to studying the Van Tillian apologetic methodology, popularly known today as “Presuppositionalism.”[1] Within the realm of American Christendom—particularly the confessionally Reformed denominations—there have been few subjects more polarizing to discuss than that of Presuppositionalism.[2] The most ardent critics of Van Til have argued that “it is impossible to commend Van Tillian Presuppositionalism as a consistently Reformed system of apologetics, philosophy, or theology.”[3] On the other hand, Van Til’s most supportive devotees claim that he “is perhaps the most important Christian thinker of the twentieth century,” recognizing his contributions to apologetics as being sui generis.[4] 

There is often no middle ground when considering the impact that Van Til has had on the discipline of defending Christianity. However, if there is anything that can be agreed upon between Van Tillian friends and foes, it is that the doctrine of God permeates every facet of his apologetic methodology. K. Scott Oliphint has rightly observed that Van Til’s apologetic “is qualified at every point by virtue of God’s relationship to every person.”[5] In other words, theology proper is at the nexus of Van Til’s apologetic methodology from start to finish. The doctrine of God shapes Van Til’s theoretical convictions about apologetics, and the doctrine of God dictates the practical application of how his defense of the faith should be modeled from the Believer to the unbeliever. There is never an instance—from start to finish—in which Van Til’s Presuppositionalism is not directly shaped and informed by his fundamental convictions about the character of God, as narrowly portrayed in the Reformed confessions.

On the contrary, Van Til was resolute in pronouncing that “the orthodox view of Christianity finds its most consistent expression in the Reformed faith, [and] fundamental to everything orthodox is the presupposition of the antecedent self-existence of God, and of His infallible revelation of Himself to man in the Bible.”[6] In order to understand Van Til’s assertion that orthodox Christianity begins with presupposing the self-existence of God and the reliability of His self-revelation in Scripture, it is imperative to examine his own convictions of theology properly. Upon doing so, it becomes evident that Van Til shared much in common with his forerunners at Old Princeton regarding the doctrine of God.

Having grown up in the Reformed tradition, Van Til was deeply convinced of God’s eternal self-existence and self-sufficiency. Like the stalwarts of Old Princeton, Van Til recognized that nothing outside of the triune God can cause Him to be God, or act as God, in any respect.[7] Van Til understood that because God is God—the greatest being in reality and the necessary being for reality to exist—nothing other than Himself will explain His own existence, and nothing in Himself is lacking in perfection (John 5:26; Acts 17:25).[8] As God, He is absolute and sufficient unto Himself and remains absolute and self-sufficient in His works of creation and redemption (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17).[9] In many ways, the rich doctrinal legacy of Old Princeton would ultimately constitute the foundation of the theological identity of Westminster Theological Seminary. Van Til himself stood at the center of Westminster’s efforts to safeguard the confessional integrity that had been modeled by Old Princeton for over a century, and he never sought to affirm anything about God that had not already been established as orthodoxy within the Reformed tradition. 

In principle, Old Princeton and Van Til stood in lock-step agreement regarding their belief that every aspect of Christian theology, apologetics, and secular interests should be interpreted through a distinctively God-centered lens. However, when comparing apologetic methodologies, it becomes readily apparent that Van Til far exceeded the Princetonians in applying a God-centered lens to the task of defending the Christian faith. In practice, Van Til’s Presuppositionalism modeled the logical and necessary consequences that flow directly from affirming the aseity of God and the infallible revelation of Himself to humanity in His Word.[10] At the outset of his apologetic, Van Til begins with the presupposition that the Bible is absolutely authoritative on everything it addresses.[11] Because Scripture is the infallibly inspired final revelation of God to man, Van Til concluded that Christianity must necessarily be defended as a unit.[12] As such, the approach to apologetics should not begin with “[defending] theism philosophically by an appeal to reason and experience in order, after that, to turn to Scripture for our knowledge and defense of Christianity. [Rather, our views about] theism as well as [Christianity should come from] the Bible [at the outset of our reasoning about God].”[13]

For Van Til, a distinctively Reformed apologetic methodology must be controlled by a knowledge of the ontological Trinity[14] while simultaneously being rooted and grounded in the conviction that the Bible is the infallibly inspired revelation of God to man.[15] Both of these characteristics of Van Til’s approach to apologetics are coterminous, and function as the foundation upon which his apologetic methodology was established. They are inseparable components of Presuppositionalism and as such, a Christian apologetic methodology cannot be deemed Presuppositional without first embracing these two commitments at the outset of defending the faith. Van Til argues vehemently that the consistently Christian (biblical) framework for defending the faith is to never be content with proving the existence of any other God except the one who has authoritatively and definitively revealed Himself to humanity through Scripture.[16]

Contrary to Hodge, Warfield and the broader consensus of Old Princeton, Van Til saw bibliology—particularly the doctrine of inspiration—as the logical climax for defending the totality of Christian theism.[17] For Van Til, the goal of apologetics was not to first persuade the unbeliever that God had revealed Himself to man in Scripture and only after doing so, proceed to argue for the truthfulness of what is recorded therein. Rather, Van Til believed that the defense of the Christian faith must be undergirded by an all-encompassing commitment to the inerrancy, inspiration, infallibility and sufficiency of the Bible.[18] Van Til took great exception to the Princetonian notion that unregenerate man must first be intellectually convinced of divine inspiration in order to concede the authoritative nature of God’s Word.[19] In the aforementioned scenario, biblical inspiration must be systematically proven to the unbeliever before arguing for any corollary truth claim associated with Christianity. There are two notable excerpts from Van Til’s literary corpus that elucidate this specific critique of Old Princeton’s approach to apologetics. The first excerpt is recorded in Christian Apologetics and provides an extensive interaction with the systematic theology of Charles Hodge.[20] After canvassing the concerns articulated by Hodge, Van Til offers his reasoning for rejecting them as a sufficient explanation of the relationship between theology proper, bibliology, anthropology and the method of apologetics that should be embraced by Reformed Christians.

It is true, of course that God has planted such laws of belief into our very being. It is this point on which Calvin lays such great stress when he says that all men have a sense of deity. But the unbeliever does not accept the doctrine of his creation in the image of God. It is therefore impossible to appeal to the intellectual and moral nature of men, as men themselves interpret this nature, and say that it must judge of the credibility and evidence of revelation. For if this is done, we are virtually telling the natural man to accept just so much and no more of Christianity as, with his perverted concept of human nature, he cares to accept…[If] the person using his reason is an unbeliever, then this person, using his reason, will certainly assume the position of judge with respect to the credibility and evidence of revelation, but he will also certainly find the Christian religion incredible because impossible and the evidence for it always inadequate. Hodge’s own teaching on the blindness and hardness of the natural man corroborates this fact. To attribute to the natural man the right to judge by means of what is possible or impossible, or to judge by means of his moral nature what is good or evil, is virtually to deny the “particularism” that Hodge, no less Warfield, believes to be the very hallmark of a truly biblical theology. In such a case Christianity would not claim to interpret the reasoner himself. The reasoner would be taken as already having within himself, previous to his acceptance of   Christianity, the ability rightly to interpret and rightly to employ the power of his own nature.[21]

Van Til’s concerns about how Hodge applies a Reformed view on theology proper, divine inspiration and anthropology to the defense of the Christian faith is similarly expressed towards B.B. Warfield in An Introduction to Systematic Theology (IST). In the preliminary chapter of IST, Van Til contrasts the two most prominent “schools of thought” observable within Reformed Christendom during the twentieth century: Old Princeton (represented by B.B. Warfield) and Old Amsterdam (represented by Abraham Kuyper).[22] After summarizing the central convictions espoused by both groups with regard to the relationship between systematic theology and apologetics,[23] Van Til describes his reasoning for aligning himself with the tradition exhibited by Old Amsterdam.

We hold that the basic contention of Kuyper with respect to Warfield’s position is correct. Warfield often argues as though apologetics must use a method of approach to the natural man that the other disciplines need not and cannot use. He reasons as though apologetics can establish the truth of Christianity as a whole by a method other than that of the other disciplines because it alone does not presuppose God. The other disciplines must wait, as it were, till apologetics has done its work and receive from it the facts of God’s existence, etc. This distinction between the method of apologetics and the method of the other disciplines we believe to be mistaken. All the disciplines must presuppose   God, but, at the same time, presupposition is the best proof [for the existence of God].      Apologetics takes particular pains to show that such is the case. This is its chief task. But in so doing, it is no more neutral in its method than are the other disciplines. One of its main purposes is to show that neutrality is impossible and that no one, as a matter of fact, is neutral. We conclude then that apologetics stands at the outer edge of the circle of systematic truth given us by systematics in order to defend it.[24]

Over the past half-century, Van Til and other proponents of Presuppositionalism have contended that these same beliefs were modeled by the earliest Christians when testifying of the person and work of Christ, and of the salvation, they had received as a free gift (Acts 4:13-20).[25] While there are certainly occasions wherein it is appropriate to share historical and scientific evidences as proof of the veracity of Christianity, all evidence must be utilized to defend the collective system of Christian theism.[26] As Van Til has lucidly written in Christian Theistic Evidences, “it is Christian theism as a unit that we defend. We do not seek to defend theism in apologetics and Christianity in evidences, but we seek to defend Christian theism in both courses.”[27] Therefore, when engaging with unbelievers, it is impossible to model a distinctively Reformed (biblical) apologetic without seeking to defend the self-contained, self-existent and self-sufficient God—on the basis of the paramount authority inherent within His special revelation—from start to finish.[28] If Van Til is correct in these conclusions, would contemporary followers of the Lord Jesus Christ not be expected to apply this same model to their own apologetic endeavors? We wager that in order to be most faithful to the biblical intersection of theology proper, bibliology, anthropology, and apologetics, then such a question must be answered in the affirmative.

When a sinner comes to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is set free from the dominion of sin and is to regard his personal relationship to God in an entirely different perspective (Rom. 6:1-23). At the moment that God sovereignly works to rescue an unbeliever from being enslaved to sin, a seismic transformation occurs (2 Cor. 5:17). Upon conversion, the new Believer recognizes that the God whose existence he once suppressed in unrighteousness is now propelled into the forefront of his life (Col. 1:13-23). In an act of divine grace, the Christian is given eyes to see, ears to ear and a heart to submit themselves entirely to the lordship of the triune God (Matt. 13:16-17). Through regeneration, faith, repentance, justification and adoption, the Believer enters into an intimate, everlasting, covenantal relationship with God (Rom. 8:28-39). This newfound relationship with God—transitioning from the federal headship of Adam to the federal headship of Jesus Christ—is accomplished exclusively on the basis of God’s grace, and it effectively awakens the Christian to the extraordinary character of the God who is a se (Rom. 11:30-36). As the Presuppositionalist reflects upon the radical nature of a Christian’s conversion experience, it becomes inconceivable for them to aspire to defend any other conception of the God that all Believers have come to know through faith.

Van Til’s recognition of the inseparability between God’s intrinsic nature and God’s work in redeeming sinners led to his conclusion that any construal of theism that is not portrayed as the self-contained, self-existent, and self-sufficient God is nothing more than an idol.[29] Therefore, it is intellectually and theologically dishonest to believe in the I AM on the one hand, but on the other hand, attempt to argue for the existence of a mere philosophical conception of theism. As evidenced in numerous places in The Defense of the Faith, Van Til understood the dangerous implications of embarking upon this aforementioned methodology, having seen it practiced by Roman Catholic and Arminian theologians alike. The following excerpt provides a poignant illustration of this hazardous procedure to defending the faith: 

Men ought to see God, not a god, not some supernatural power, but the only God, in nature. They have not done justice by the facts that they see displayed before and within them if they say that a god exists or that God probably exists. The [Reformed Christian]   holds to the essential perspicuity of natural as well as biblical revelation. This does not imply that a non-Christian and non-theistic interpretation of reality cannot be made to appear plausible. But it does mean that no non-Christian position can be made to appear more than merely plausible… The Reformed apologist cannot agree at all with the methodology of the natural man [for defending theism].[30]

For Van Til, the clarity of God’s revelation inherent in man as the imago dei should result in him seeing every fabric of creation as a testimony to the existence of his triune Creator, thereby leading him into the worship and service of the Most High. By virtue of God’s aseity, all things in reality are from Him, through Him and to Him (Rom. 11:36); all things exist and function, chiefly, for the glory and magnification of God (Col. 1:16). Therefore, God has structured His created order in such a way to ensure that it is utterly impossible for human beings to not know (1) that He exists; (2) that mankind is morally accountable to Him.[31] Upon being created with true knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10), Adam and Eve enjoyed natural religious fellowship with God.[32] There was not a second of human existence within the Garden of Eden wherein man’s primordial parents did not know God, by way of His gracious condescension to them through covenant (Gen. 2:15-17)[33]; the knowledge of self and knowledge of God were concurrent for Adam and Eve respectively.[34] Even after the Fall, the natural knowledge of God that Adam and Eve were endowed with at creation has been transmitted to all of their posterity (Rom. 5:12-14). Although sinful man attempts to suppress this truth in unrighteousness, he cannot escape the triune God’s revelation proclaimed throughout creation and testified of within the conscience (Rom. 1:18-32). As such, it is equally imperative for apologetics to begin with affirming a correct doctrine of man as it is to embrace a correct doctrine of God.[35] There may be no other point more fundamental to Van Til’s apologetic methodology than his insistence on a Reformed theology proper (i.e., aseity) being informed, at every point, by a commitment to a Reformed anthropology. This principle is persuasively elaborated upon by Van Til in The Defense of the Faith.

When man became a sinner, he made himself instead of God the ultimate or final reference point. And it is precisely this presupposition, as it controls without exception all forms of non-Christian philosophy, that must be brought into question. If this presupposition is left unquestioned in any field, all the facts and arguments presented to the unbeliever will be made over by him according to his pattern. The sinner has cemented colored glasses to his eyes which he cannot remove. And all is yellow to the jaundiced eye. There can be no intelligible reasoning unless those who reason together understand what they mean by their words. In not challenging this basic presupposition with respect to himself as the final reference point in predication, the natural man may accept the “theistic proofs” as fully valid. He may construct such proofs. He has constructed such proofs. But the god whose existence he proves to himself in this way is always a god who is something other than the self-contained ontological Trinity in   Scripture.[36]

Ironically, as previously explained in this series, it was these very concerns expressed by Van Til that were rampant at Old Princeton during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Like many contemporary Reformed and Evangelical Christians today, the Princetonians’ zeal to prove the existence of God did not necessarily result in the proper approach thereto. Instead of seeking to testify to the existence of the one, true, living, a se God, Old Princeton attempted to begin their apologetic on “neutral ground” with the unbeliever in effort to have them concede the probable existence of god.[37] Unfortunately, no such neutral ground exists between the Christian and non-Christian.[38] No amount of evidence or sophisticated philosophical arguments—apart from their presupposed relationship to the authority of Scripture and ontological Trinity—will be sufficient to “convince” autonomous man of his need for salvation.[39] Moreover, despite espousing a Reformed doctrine of man, Old Princeton’s apologetic methodology functioned as if man were not subject to the noetic effects of sin. In Christian Apologetics, Van Til identifies this vivid inconsistency as significant proof for the underlying influence that Scottish Common Sense Realism had on the staff of Princeton during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

There seems to be…for Hodge, something in the way of a common sense philosophy that the natural man has and that, because intuitive or spontaneous, is, so far forth, not tainted by sin. It appears, however [according to Hodge]…that the “common notions” of men are sinful notions. For man to reflect on his own awareness or meaning and then merely say that a higher power, a god, exists, is in effect to say that God does not exist… It is not enough to appeal from the more highly articulated systems of non-Christian thinkers to the philosophy of the common consciousness, of common sense, of intuition, to something that is more immediately related to the revelational pressure that rests upon men… Hodge seems to be desirous of doing no more than Calvin does when he appeals to the sense of deity present in all men. But this notion, seeking to set forth as it does the teaching of Paul, that God’s revelation is present to every man, must be carefully distinguished from the reaction that sinful men make to this revelation.[40]

Rather than prioritizing the independent utilization of fallen man’s intellect to acknowledge the existence of a generic deity, Van Til sought to develop an apologetic that is utterly dependent upon the triune God of Christianity at every point in man’s reasoning.[41] As demonstrated through surveying the scholarship of Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield, the intellectual embracing of Reformed dogmatics does not guarantee a consistent application to the discipline of defending the Christian faith. The apologetic methodology developed and championed by Cornelius Van Til ensured that the logical implications of Reformed dogmatics were carried out in the practice of contending for the hope that has been once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 1:3). It is for precisely this reason that Van Til’s Presuppositionalism signified a colossal and necessary reformation to the classical apologetic methodology of Old Princeton. 

[1]           Brian Morley provides a balanced and well-researched definition of Presuppositionalism in his book, Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches. Morley defines Van Til’s Presuppositionalism as a system of apologetics which operates under the conviction that “only (Reformed) Christianity can provide a basis for knowledge or discourse of any kind… (Reformed) Christianity is therefore proved as an assumption that is absolutely necessary if we are to know anything at all” (65).

[2]           Perhaps the most recent, noteworthy critique of Presuppositionalism has come from J. V. Fesko in, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2019). Over the past two years, this particular literary work has generated substantial reflection and commentary on the differences between Presuppositional and Classical apologetic methodologies within the confessionally Reformed sphere of American Christendom.  

[3]           Keith Mathison, “Christianity and Van Tillianism,” Tabletalk Magazine, August 21, 2019, accessed December 21, 2020,

[4]           John Frame, “Van Til: His Simplicity and Profundity,” Frame-Poythress, May 30, 2012, accessed December 21, 2020,

[5]           K. Scott Oliphint, “Getting Your Bearings on Van Til’s Apologetic,” Westminster Theological Seminary, January 25, 2017, accessed December 21, 2020, For the benefit of the reader, it’s important to note that while Oliphint has made some helpful contributions to the study of Van Tilian apologetics, he has also grossly misunderstood Van Til on some key areas of his thought. Most notably, Oliphint has posited that God acquired temporal, covenantal properties in order to allow Him to interact with an ever-changing creation. In God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), Oliphint states that God “takes on temporal properties without in any way ceasing to be essentially eternal” (13). Moreover, Oliphint argues that “once [God] determines to relate himself to us, that relation entails that he take on properties that he otherwise would not have had. He limits himself while remaining the infinite God. The fact that he is Creator means that he is now related to something ad extra to which he was not related before” (188). Although he is esteemed as one of the leading scholars on Van Til, Oliphint’s aberrant views of God’s relationship to creation are not compatible with Van Til’s or with the Reformed confessions.

[6]           Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, 15.

[7]           Walter A. Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993), 156-67.

[8]           Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, Christian Apologetics, 24.

[9]           Over the past several decades, the notion that God does not change in relation to His creation has been strongly challenged by several prominent evangelical theologians. For the reader’s clarification, a sampling of works have been cited as those who have challenged the Christian consensus that has stood for the past two millennia: D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000); Bruce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000); J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1993); John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2002); K. Scott Oliphint, God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).

[10]         Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, 138-147.

[11]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, The Defense of the Faith, 29.

[12]         Ibid, 127.

[13]         Ibid, 29.

[14]         Ibid, 122.

[15]         Ibid, 127.

[16]         Ibid, 127-128.

[17]         Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, 241.

[18]         Ibid, 17-19.

[19]         James J. Cassidy, “The Essential Van Til – More on Old Princeton,” Reformed Forum, September 4, 2017, accessed on June 8, 2021,

[20]         The following quotation is derived from pages 102-104 of Van Til’s Christian Apologetics, wherein he quotes from various portions of the systematic theology of Charles Hodge (pages 51-53): “Reason must judge of the credibility of a revelation and the credible is that which can be believed. Nothing is incredible but the impossible. What may be, may be rationally (i.e., on adequate grounds) believed. [What then is impossible]? (1) That is impossible which involves a contradiction; as, that a thing is and is not; that right is wrong, and wrong right. (2) It is impossible that God should do, approve or command what is morally wrong. (3) It is impossible that He should require of us to believe what contradicts any of the laws of belief which He has impressed upon our nature. (4) It is impossible that one truth should contradict another. It is impossible, therefore that God should reveal anything as true which contradicts any well authenticated truth, whether of intuition, experience, or previous revelation… Reason must judge of the evidences of a revelation [from God]. As faith involves assent, and assent is conviction produced by evidence, it follows that faith without evidence is either irrational or impossible.”

[21]         Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, Christian Apologetics, 103-104.

[22]         Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, 17-19.

[23]         The following excerpt is derived from pages 17-18 of Van Til’s An Introduction to Systematic Theology, wherein he contrasts the fundamental differences between Kuyper’s and Warfield’s understanding of the interconnectedness between the divine inspiration of Scripture, the supreme authority of Scripture and how those realities should influence the discipline of apologetics: “Warfield [and Old Princeton] says that apologetics as a theological discipline has to establish the presuppositions of systematic theology, such as the existence of God, the religious nature of man, and the truth of the historical revelation of God given us in the Scriptures. In contrast to this, Kuyper [and Old Amsterdam] says that apologetics must seek only to defend that which is given in systematics. Warfield argues that if we were to follow Kuyper’s method, we would be explicating the Christian system, and afterwards we would be asking ourselves whether perchance we had been dealing with facts or with fancies. Kuyper argues that if we follow apologetics to establish the presuppositions of theology, we have virtually attributed to the natural man the ability to understand the truth of Christianity and have thus denied the doctrine of total depravity.”

[24]         Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, 18-19.

[25]         Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis, 69-73.

[26]         Although this proposition undergirds the corpus of Van Til’s scholarship, it is especially evident in Christian Theistic Evidences (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2016). Throughout the duration of the literary work, Van Til provides a biblical, theological, and philosophical basis for employing evidences when defending the Christian faith as a comprehensive unit. One of the sharpest critiques that have been levied against Van Til, and other Presuppositionalists, is how their use of evidence relates to their apologetic methodology. If interacted with on its own terms, Christian Theistic Evidences will clarify that Van Til (and other Presuppositionalists following in his vein) was certainly not opposed to the utilization of evidence to validate the fidelity of Christianity. Van Til’s chief objections was against the notion that (1) evidence could be neutrally interpreted by unregenerate man to enable him to arrive at the necessary conclusions that would lead him to saving faith; (2) evidence could be interpreted in isolation from the collective system of Christian thought in order to progressively lead an unbeliever to concede truths about theism in general, or Christianity in particular. For Van Til, “there is not a single fact [i.e., evidence] that man can interpret rightly without reference to God as the creator of that fact… It is God who has ‘caused’ all facts [i.e., evidences] to stand in certain relation to one another. Man must seek to discover that relation as far as he can” (Page 140).

[27]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, Christian Theistic Evidences, 1.

[28]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, Common Grace and the Gospel, 220.

[29]         Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, ed. Robert R. Booth (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Foundation, 2000), 244-248.

[30]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, The Defense of the Faith, 120.

[31]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, Common Grace and the Gospel, 183.

[32]         Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, 51.

[33]         There are few Reformed theologians more capable of explicating the doctrine of the covenant than Geerhardus Vos. In Reformed Dogmatics: Anthropology, trans. Richard B. Gaffin (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), Vos defines covenant in the following manner: “A covenant is always a reciprocal relationship between parties; this is essential to the concept… The priority lies with God in establishing the covenant. It is not He and men who mutually make the covenant. He alone makes it in His condescending goodness. But the condescending character of that goodness is seen precisely in its bringing to pass a genuine covenant. Although God gives man everything, by this giving He enables him to accept it freely and to enter the covenant relationship willingly. The covenant is unilateral in its origin, bilateral in its essence” (Pages 76-77). In summation, it is fundamentally impossible for man to relate to God—at any point of his creaturely existence—apart from covenant.

[34]         Quoting John Calvin in Common Grace and the Gospel, Van Til writes, “For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts toward God in whom he lives and moves because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves, nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone” (Page 183).  Van Til continues Calvin’s line of reasoning on pages 183-184 by stating the following: “The natural man has knowledge, true knowledge of God, in the sense that God through nature and man’s own consciousness impresses his presence on man’s attention. So definitely and inescapably has he done this, that try as he may, man cannot escape knowing God. It is this point that Paul stresses in the first two chapters of Romans. Man has the sense of deity indelibly engraven upon him. He knows God and he knows himself and the world as God’s creation. This is objective revelation to him. Even to the extent that this revelation is within man, i.e., in his own constitution, and as such may be called ‘subjective,’ it is none the less objective to him as an ethically responsive creature, and he is bound to react as an ethical person to this objective revelation.”

[35]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, The Defense of the Faith, 95.

[36]         Ibid, 101.

[37]         The assertion that there is not any “neutral ground” or “neutrality” between the Christian and the non-Christian has resulted in substantial criticisms from non-Presuppositionalists. However, a closer examination of what Van Til and other likeminded Presuppositionalists have actually meant by this assertion would resolve much of the concerns that have been raised by Classical and/or Evidential apologists on this issue. Presuppositionalists make a crucial distinction between neutral ground and common ground when describing the relationship that Believers and unbelievers have with regards to understanding reality. In his treatise Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, Greg Bahnsen helpfully outlines the contours of the neutral ground-common ground distinction that is often made by Presuppositionalists: “Since God is the creator of all things, since He sovereignly controls every event, and since He clearly reveals Himself in every facet of the created order, it is utterly impossible that there should be any neutral ground, any territory or facet of reality where man is not confronted with the claims of God, any area of knowledge where the theological issue is inconsequential. Yet this perspective guarantees that there is common ground between the believer and the unbeliever—common ground of a metaphysical nature. The whole world, the created realm and public history, constitute commonality between the Christian and the non-Christian. But this common ground is not neutral ground; it is God’s ground. There is nowhere to stand in the world—even the world of thought—that is not God’s territory” (44).

[38]         Jason Lisle, The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins Debate, 36-37.

[39]         It has often been posited that Van Til and other likeminded Presuppositional apologists were opposed to the use of evidence throughout an apologetic interaction. However, a thorough reading of Van Til demonstrates that he was completely open to the use of evidence in apologetics, but never as an end to itself. For Van Til, evidence was always used in subservience to analyzing the key presuppositional commitments that undergirded a particular philosophy that stood in opposition to (Reformed) Christianity. In other words, evidence could only function appropriately in the apologetic method if it was interpreted through a (Reformed) Christian lens, because evidence can never be interpreted in a vacuum. All evidence will, ultimately, be interpreted in accordance with one’s underlying presuppositions about God and reality. Van Til makes this principle abundantly clear in Christian Apologetics, 19.

[40]         Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, Christian Apologetics, 108-109.

[41]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, The Defense of the Faith, 241-242.

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