Van Til and the Reformation of Apologetics


K. Scott Oliphint


“It would be difficult to overstate the primary and rad­ical sig­nificance that the late Professor Dr. Cornelius Van Til has had on Reformed thinking. To have the opportunity to contribute to this volume will rekindle memories of my discussions and correspondence with Dr. Van Til as he personally, and through his writings, reformed without my own thought.

Dr. Cornelius Van Til was born in the Netherlands in 1895. When he was ten years old, his family came to the United States and settled among the Dutch immigrants on a farm in Indiana. Van Til graduated from Calvin College, Princeton Theological Seminary and earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University. After teaching apologetics for one year at Princeton Theological Seminary, he left to become one of the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929 where he taught apologetics for forty seven years. Dr. Van Til went to be with Christ on April 17, 1987. Having left us physically, his influence will remain in the church until Christ comes again. No one since Thomas Aquinas has had such an enormous impact on Christ’s church in the area of apologetics. Van Til, like Augustine and Calvin, has pressed the claims of Christ on His Church in a way that cannot be ignored by serious students of theology.



Though it is difficult at times, as one reads Van Til’s works, to tell whether he is first of all a philosopher who is developing an apologetic or an apologist developing a Christian philosophy, there was never any question in Van Til’s mind as to which came first. He considered himself to be a defender of the faith, first and foremost. [1] He was a theologian of the highest order, [2] as well as a penetrating philosopher, [3] but it was the apologetic of Dr. Cornelius Van Til that set him apart as a twentieth century Reformer.

It is interesting to note that while Van Til was without peer in his pursuit of a truly reformed apologetic, he was without competition as well. Any historical survey of Christian apologetics would show that, since Aquinas, the church has done little to develop the discipline of apologetics until Van Til.

It was early in his academic career [4] that Van Til began to see the problems inherent in the “traditional” [5] approach to a defense of Christian theism. He realized that there was an inherent theological and methodolog­ical weakness in any thought, system, or method that attempted to initially exclude God and His revelation in order to bring Him in surreptitiously at a later point. Because all things are “from Him, through Him, and unto Him” [6] , Van Til knew that God must be the ultimate “reason” why any argument, any conversation, any “proof” – anything at all – could exist of his penetrating insight into and application of Reformed theology as it bears directly upon apologetic method. Van Til’s influence will be seen by future generations as a “Copernican revolution” in apologetics. Though there are myriad approaches one could take when delineating the vast influence of Van Til’s approach, I would like to approach his thought from three distinct, yet interconnected, perspectives: (I) A World View Apologetic, (II) A Trinitarian Apologetic and (III) A Covenantal Apologetic.

I. A World View Apologetic

Van Til himself best summarizes what a World View Apologetic entails:

It is not as though we are at the outset dealing with the question of knowledge of the world about us and that the only point in dispute is whether or not God can be and need be known. We…make the question whether God need be and can be known so inclusive that it coincides with the question whether anything can be known. [7]

It is Van Til’s commitment to Reformed theology that causes him to make such an all‑inclusive statement. Van Til’s approach to a defense of Christianity turned apologetics on its head. While traditional apologetic approaches ask the unbeliever to understand his world in order to understand God, Van Til affirms, (with Reformed theology) that because God controls “whatsoever comes to pass”, because it is” in God that we live, move and exist”, the world can never be understood aright at any point without reference to God. Rational apologists seek to agree with the unbeliever on such all‑encompassing concepts as Being, essence, infinity, cause, effect, contradiction, etc. Evidentialists want the unbeliever simply to observe the “facts” and to agree on the “evidence”. Van Til is convinced that no concept of being, essence, cause, fact or evidence can be understood without first understanding the Creator of being, essence, fact, etc.! In other words, there is no neutrality in thought or in life for any of God’s creatures. Because all men are creatures of God, every thought, every act, every word is either for or against God, whether men want to recognize it or not!

To quote Van Til again, “There is not a spot in heaven or on earth about which there is no dispute between the two opposing parties”. [8] This is what separates Van Til’s apologetic from all others. This is what makes Van Til’s apologetic truly Reformed. Only Van Til’s approach allows for the obedient application of a truly Reformed theology. There are two and only two classes of men in the world. Such has always been the case. Such will always be the case. There are those who know God and love Him because they have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light. There are also those who know God and hate Him because they refuse to acknowledge the truth that is known and they worship and serve the creature (Romans 1:18ff.). There is no third party. There is no “honest seeker”. There is no “confused questioner”. There is none righteous, no not one. There is none who seeks for God, there is none who understands, there is none who does good. All have turned aside (Romans 3:10 ff.).

Those who have been delivered from death by the sovereign grace of an omnipotent Father seek subsequently to interpret all things in light of the God who has saved them from the wrath to come. They are the ones who are renewed unto knowledge (Colossians 3:10). In a very real sense, they are the ones who for the first time know their God, their world and themselves.

Van Til’s apologetic method, because it starts with the existence of the God of Scripture, encompasses absolutely everything that exists in the world. Because all is created, all relates directly and absolutely to the Creator. It is biblically insufficient, therefore, to attempt to start with some supposedly neutral “fact” and from it to extrapolate the existence of “a god”. As Van Til has said, those who seek such an approach, “ought first to justify the contention that ‘facts’ exist in total independence of God”. [9] This view of “facts” is all‑encompassing. It not only includes empirical facts but rational facts as well. It is not only that man cannot make sense of that which he observes, (if he attempts to do so and indeed is encouraged to do so by the traditional method) apart from the existence of God. It is also the case that the “fact” of existence itself cannot be intelligibly discussed without reference to God. In speaking of the unbeliever, Van Til says, “What our opponents mean by existence of any ‘fact’ is existence apart from God”. [10] Existence itself, or we could say Being itself, (for Aquinas and Thomists who follow the traditional approach), is thought to be the transcendental notion, fundamental to every other notion. But as Van Til has consistently and persistently shown “Being” or “Existence” cannot be discussed apart from the more fundamental presupposition of God’s existence. “Being” has been one of the thorns in the flesh of philosophy only because philosophy historically has dogmatically presupposed its own epistemological autonomy. Parmenides was no closer to a proper understanding of Being than was Heraclitus. Aquinas was no closer than Hegel. Once one assumes any fact to be apart from God, that fact will never be truly known. “Facts are unaccounted for if Scripture is left out of account.” [11] It is for this reason that Van Til’s approach is seen as a World View Apologetic. Only in a consistently Reformed apologetic can we see not just “Being” or “reason” or “evidence” or “cause” as inexplicable apart from God, but all “things” [12] are inexplicable apart from the presupposition of the God of Scripture.

What has been said above about Van Til’s world view approach, though thoroughly penetrating, seems impossible for a Bible‑believing or particularly Reformed Christian to disagree with. Reformed Christianity has always held that God is the source of all things, all facts, all existence. The problem has come, however, whenever Van Til has attempted to apply consistently his own approach. It is the application of this world view approach that has caused great controversy among theologians and apologists. Particularly, the great controversy seems to center around Van Til’s understanding of man’s reason. For Van Til, “reason and revelation should not be contrasted as two sources of knowledge.” [13] “Reason as one ‘fact’ among others is itself a revelation.” [14] Van Til sees reason as itself coming under the all‑encompassing world view approach. God is the author and revealer of all things. The fundamental question is whether or not reason can reason aright apart from any reference to or renewal from God. If it can, then it would be biblically legitimate to point the unbeliever to any “fact”, be it conceptual or empirical, and to ask him to reason from that fact to the fact of God’s existence. Reason’s role, given this scenario, would be, not to contradict revelation, but to lead us to the revelation of the God of Scripture. There would be, then, a legitimate reasoning process that the believer could engage in with the unbeliever in order to prove God’s existence. Reason would be the anknupfungspunkt [15] , the point of contact, between believer and unbeliever. Unfortunately, while this approach is sensitive to the plight of the unbeliever, it severely restricts rather than encourages the apologetic mandate (l Peter 3:15). If one holds to this view of reason, one of two things is true, depending on one’s theology.

First, from the standpoint of Arminianism which self‑consciously holds to some form of independence from God, man’s reason becomes the final arbiter as to whether or not God’s revelation is authoritative, whether or not God’s salvation is acceptable, whether or not God’s character is comprehensible. These questions can be answered by an appeal to man’s reason. This, of course, follows consistently from any theology that limits the all‑controlling plan of God. If God is not sovereign in salvation, as Arminianism contends, neither is He sovereign over man’s total thought and life. Autonomy is the inevitable result. Autonomy in man’s reasoning process is the norm in this type of theological system. Neutrality is not only possible, but desirable for the Arminian apologist. The inherent problem is that neutrality means autonomy. And autonomy is the opposite of theo‑nomy; [16] it is sinful. The second thing that occurs is prevalent, not in Arminian circles, but in Reformed circles. It is the problem of rationalism or, the absolutization of reason. This type of approach seeks arbitrarily to assign to Almighty Reason the ability to distinguish itself from a depraved heart and to be the final authority as to whether or not God actually did reveal Himself in the world. The dogmatic assertions regarding reason can be summed up in this quote from a Reformed teacher:

Reason, as a function of the mind, is an impartial judge. It carries no brief for paganism nor any case from Christianity. Reason itself has no content. It is merely a means to judge the consistency and coherency of propositions. [17]

It is not by accident that the article continues by offering, not theological or exegetical support for such a view, but it continues by referring to Aristotle’s view of logic! It might seem that the Fourth book of Metaphysics carries with it at least as much authority as the Scrip­tures. These theologians are quick to affirm that the Bible is full of mystery, but deny that these mysteries are, even apparently, contradic­tory. Apparently the mysteries are not so mysterious that some cannot affirm the absolute “logic” of that which is not understood. “We cannot understand these mysteries”, they tell us, “except to affirm that they are logical, consistent and coherent.” They are confident that “even God cannot square a bona fide contradiction.” [18]

The problems inherent in such a rationalistic absolutizing are many from a Reformed, Van Tillian perspective. At stake fundamentally and primarily in these discussions of reason is the character of God Himself and, more specifically, the Creator/creature distinction. When it is said that God cannot resolve a bona fide contradiction, the natural question is “Why not?” If the answer given is that logic carries with it such force, such compelling consent in and of itself that God Himself is subject to it, we must disagree with such a claim. Logic, like all else save God Himself, is created. All things created are absolutely, totally and completely subsumed under their Creator and not equal to him. Logic, like light for example, may reflect the character of its Creator but cannot be said to be above Him (in the sense of being in any way superior to Him), which brings us to one of the fundamental problems in rationalis­tic thought.

Whenever the word “Logic” is debated or used in rationalism (and this is inevitably true of the pagan rationalist but regretfully true of the Reformed rationalist) it is used without reference to the fundamental difference between man’s logic and God’s thought. Those who exalt logic as Lord of the mind fail to distinguish between the Lord and logic. When it is said that even God cannot square a bona fide contradiction, we must ask whether or not a bona fide contradiction is contradictory for man or for God or for both. If it is contradictory for man, what criterion will we use to prove that it is contradictory for God as well? Is everything that man proves contradictory ipso facto contradictory for God also? Because man is unable to resolve a contradiction does not mean that God has the same inability. To use one theological example, rationalists tena­ciously grasp the traditional formulation of the Trinity: “One in essence, three in Person.” There is nothing wrong with this at all. Understood properly it is a formulation that helps us realize the inter‑Trinitarian relationship. But is it biblically correct to assert that God is “One in Person, three in Person?” Van Til would say yes. [19] As a matter of fact, Van Til insists that unless we speak of God in this contradictory way, we surround the Great ‘I AM’ with impersonalism. This approach itself would lead us to believe that the unity of God is impersonal (because articulated only as essence), whereas the diversity of God is personal. Such a description is biblically inadequate. Therefore, it is biblical to say that the one in essence is also the one in Person. Van Til quotes Herman Bavinck in this regard, “Each person is equal to the whole essence of God and coterminous with both other persons and with all three.” [20] Bavinck so much as says what Van Til is trying to emphasize. Are we to insist, because of the constraints of human logic, that God cannot resolve the contradictory elements of the Trinity? Must we say, because logic dictates the nature of God as well as Scripture, that the Bible cannot teach the absolute Personality of the One God? [21] If so, then logic may drive us to contradict Scripture itself.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that God has logic as one of His attributes. [22] Would this mean that God has the need to analyze and evaluate reality and Himself in order to understand it? Would we say that God “needs” logic in order to distinguish Himself from all else? If so, then his logic is of a temporal rather than eternal necessity since there was a time when “all else” was nothing. How can an infinite, eternal God make use of a tool designed to facilitate the thinking process?

This is not to say that God is in any way irrational or inconsistent with Himself. It is only to say that “rationality” in God and “logic” in God mean that He is consistent with who He is not with some exterior principle that determines His consistency. If logic is a part of God’s character, then because He is pleased to act only in accordance with His attributes, He will act rationally or logically. God always acts in accordance with who He is. We know that He is consistent with Himself and thus in that sense is “logical”. The important question, however, that has yet to be addressed by the rationalist, though emphasized by Van Til, is the distinct and necessary difference that must obtain between God’s “logic” and man’s logic. Because God is consistent with Himself, man must be consistent, not fundamentally with man or with logic, but with God! God is our final reference point, not of logic. It is true that God cannot resolve a “bona fide contradiction if by “bona fide contradiction” we mean any proposition or “fact” that is opposed to the nature and character of God, not logic! The most fundamental question the Christian, and specifically the Christian apologist, must ask about logic is whether or not it is created or whether or not it is God! The answer to such a question depends fundamentally on one’s doctrine of God, of creation, and on a more precise definition of logic as that which must be considered within the context of the Creator/creature distinction. In discussing a Van Tillian view of mathematics, one scholar says, “If we identify part of creation with God or part of God with creation, we are guilty of serious idolatry”. [23] It seems those who are concerned to make bare logic their ultimate presupposition are dangerously close to idolatry themselves. God does, however, communicate to man in a way that requires the use of human logic in order to understand God and His world. Van Til goes so far as to say that, “No one can say anything intelligible about God’s revela­tion through Christ in Scripture without the use of the process of syllogistic reasoning.” [24] Van Til goes on in the next sentence to affirm his world view approach.

But to say anything intelligible about God’s revelation through Christ in Scripture and in particular to do so in the interest of challeng­ing the natural man to repent and to seek forgiveness of his sin through Christ, such reasoning (syllogistic reasoning) must be subject to the presupposition of the absolute authority of Christ’s Word. [25]

Is it the case that “reason” is an impartial judge, devoid of content, amoral? It would be interesting to try to prove such an assertion. Would it mean that reason is a sort of neutral tool that depends on its user for its content? If so, then the point still must be that the user is either one who submits himself to the God of the universe or does not. How neutral can reason be when it resides in a depraved mind? How impartial can its judgments be when its user has an ax to grind against its Maker? Reason and logic, though their principles can be objectively defined, can never be objectively applied, due either to the regenerate or to the unregenerate mind of the user.

The rationalist view of reason is restrictive in its apologetical method. Those who insist on the autonomy and the neutrality of reason inevitably defend the Christian faith by an appeal to the reasonableness of reason. There is a self‑defining tendency in rationalism so that it limits its apologetical approach. That is, rationalists must start with reason and are afraid to start with evidences in their argumentation. They define their starting point by an appeal to their “‑ism”. Rationalism’s starting point must be reason, evidentialism’s starting point must be evidence, Thomism’s starting point must be Thomas (and behind him Aristotle/Plato). [26] This brings us back to the original contention that Van Til’s apologetic is a world view apologetic. With Van Til’s approach, one may start anywhere with the unbeliever and challenge him at any point! Though Van Til has been accused of dialecticism, irrationality, illogicism by those who lift logic up to the heavens, in actual fact Van Til insists that the Christian alone can be logical. “The anti‑theist has,” says Van Til, “in effect, denied the very law of contradiction, inasmuch as the law of contradiction, to operate at all, must have its foundation in the nature of God” [27] Van Til is conscious of the enmity against God that flows from unbelief:

It is therefore pointless for Christians to tell non‑Chri­stians that Christianity is “in accord with the law of contradiction” unless they explain what they mean by this. For the non‑Christian will take this statement to mean something entirely different from what the Christian ought to mean by it. The non‑Christian does not believe in creation. Therefore, for him the law of contradic­tion is, like all other laws, something that does not find its ultimate source in the creative activity of God. [28]

Because of the Christian’s foundation in God, because the Christian is redeemed by Christ through whom all things (including logic) came into being, then it is the Christian who can use the created logical principles in accordance with created reality. [29] It is the Christian who can unashamedly use logic to its fullest. If the unbeliever claims to be fully logical, one may either challenge the consistency of using logic apart from its Creator or ask the unbeliever as to the basis of his logic.

But Van Til’s world view approach not only allows for argumentation at the rationalist’s level, it allows for apologetic debate at the eviden­tialist’s level as well. The unbeliever may want to talk about the evidences or the facts of the Christian position whether in archeology or in history. Again, the Christian may talk with the unbeliever about his objections:

Every bit of historical investigation, whether it be in the directly biblical field, archeology, or in general history, is bound to confirm the truth of the claims of the Christian position. But I would not talk endlessly about facts and more facts without ever challenging the non‑believer’s philosophy of fact. A really fruitful historical apologetic argues that every fact is and must be such as proves the truth of the Christian theistic position. [30]

If one understands the biblical emphasis that all things are created and sustained by a Personal God, then one can understand that at any point in thought or in life the unbeliever can be challenged about his unbelief. This, indeed, is a world view approach to apologetics. Christ reigns and is Lord of all of life. All of life can therefore be used against those, in apologetic argument, who insist on denying the God whom they already know (Romans 1:18f) and in whom they live, move and exist. “The Bible claims to have the ultimate truth about all facts” [31] , including logic, reason, and evidence.

II. A Trinitarian Apologetic

It deserves careful thought that Van Til immediately and without embarrassment begins his apologetic with the self‑contained Triune God. Those familiar particularly with Thomistic apologetics know that Thomas and his followers can never begin with the Tri‑unity of God in apologetics because such truth “exceeds all the ability of the human reason.” [32] Again, we see how crucial it is to define reason properly in order to defend Christianity biblically.

For Aquinas, there is a “twofold mode of truth in what we profess about God.” [33] There are those truths which can be proved by natural reason, unaided by revelation. “Such are that God exists, that He is one, and the like.” [34] Other truths which, according to Aquinas, exceed reason’s ability are in need of supplementation by divine revelation. This supplementation cannot disagree with that which comes by way of unaided reason. There are not two different truths but, says Thomas, two ways of knowing. Because the Tri‑unity of God is one of those truths that exceeds the ability of human reason, Aquinas is never able to affirm such a truth in his defense of Christianity. [35]

Van Til, on the other hand, starts with the Triune God of Scripture in his apologetic. He is not content simply to attempt proof of the oneness of a god, only to bring in the three‑in‑oneness of the God later. He is quick to question any method of reasoning that concludes with a half‑truth (which in reality is a falsehood) in order to convince “Reason” that some god somewhere exists:

The demand of the doctrine of the Trinity is that reality be inter­preted in exclusively eternal categories inasmuch as the source of diversity lies in the Trinity itself and could never be found in a sense world beyond God. [36]

What Van Til means is this: The problem of unity and diversity is another of the fundamental thorns in the flesh of philosophy and conse­quently of apologetics. All attempts in philosophy to unify the diversity without diversifying the unity have ended in failure. Thomas Aquinas will serve well again as an example of this failure (given the fact that he self‑consciously, as a Christian philosopher, refused to start his reasoning with the Triune God).

Aquinas was keenly aware of the problem of the one and the many. For him, as for much of philosophy, the one, the unity, must have metaphysical and epistemological priority over the many, the diversity. In order for man to know the essence of a thing, according to Aquinas, he must organize and perfect the diversity that he sees by universalizing those things through the intellect. Being, according to Aquinas, diversifies itself in all things in the universe. Being is limited only by the essence (or quiddity) of a thing. Being is a transcendental notion because it includes all classes and thus transcends them all. But in order for one to know what a thing is, he must unify the diversity around him through the intellect. The job of reason according to Aquinas is to organize the diversity into a unit and thus end up with knowledge of a thing.

For Aquinas, truth and knowledge are the adequation of the immanence in act of our thought with that which exists outside our thought. [37] What our reason does, therefore, in gaining knowledge is to abstract from sensible reality, (i.e. diversity) that which does not exist in reality as such (i.e. as unity). To put it in Aristotelian terms, the form is abstracted from the matter and, though existing in the mind as immaterial and immobile, the form in analogous to, though not identical with, the matter. The form, according to Aquinas, is that in the real (in re) which makes knowledge of it possible. [38] So in order to attempt to unify through reason the diversity of reality as such, Aquinas puts it this way:

Nevertheless, it cannot be said that the character universal belongs to nature so understood, because commonality and unity belong to the character univer­sal… For if commonality were included in the notion of man, commonality would be found whenever humanity was found. But this is false, because in Socrates no commonality is found. On the contrary, whatever is in him is individuated. [39]

The problem of unity and diversity in knowledge becomes acute in Aquinas when one begins to realize that, according to his existential metaphysics, that which is in the mind, i.e., the universal, is not in individuating matter and that which exists in individuating matter cannot be in the mind as individuated but only as universalized. There is, then, no possible way to connect the mind (or reason) with reality. There is no way of knowing if that which is in the mind as immaterial and immutable is also in reality (which is material and mobile). There is no way, on Aquinas’ own basis, to account for knowledge of anything. But the problem does not stop with knowledge of reality. Aquinas encounters the same kind of problem when he attempts to account for knowledge of God. According to Aquinas, God is One in whom essence and existence are identical. Because God is Pure Act, knowledge of him, as knowledge of all else, must be knowledge by way of analogy. [40] Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy asserts that Being belongs to each and every thing analogically, i.e., in proportion to its na­ture. [41] The ultimate basis of such a doctrine, therefore, lies in the proportion that exists between the essence (quod est) and existence (esse) of a thing. [42] Goodness, for example, does not mean the same thing (univoca­lly) when predicated of men and food. The way in which a thing is good is proportionate to its Being. This is call “analogy of proper propor­tionality”. Such a view of analogy is calculated to overcome the problem of unity and diversity.

However, because the analogy of proper proportionality dealt exclusively with the relation that obtains between essence and existence, it was not able to allow for the possibility of One in whom essence and existence were identical. Aquinas was forced to introduce a second type of analogy in order to allow for the existence of a god. This second type, based on the causal process, was called, “analogy of intrinsic attribution”. The analogy of intrinsic attribution relates to the existence of One in whom essence and existence are identical and is calculated to affirm some sort of relationship between God (Pure Act) and His creation (which always, according to Aquinas, combines the transcendental notion of Being with essence).

We must now ask at this point how one can know God, given this type of metaphysical structure. If it is the case that God is One in whom existence and essence are identical, then it would seem that God is of a piece with the metaphysical, transcendental, all inclusive not one of Being as that in which potential existence determines its act of existence. Being, in this case, is the same for God and for man such that God Himself is subject to the transcendental notion of Being. Though Thomists would remind us that the analogy of proper proportionality does not apply to God, they must still account for the so‑called transcendental notion of Being. If they claim that such a notion is accounted for by way of the analogy of intrinsic attribution which seeks to affirm that God is the Unparticipated Being, we could only respond by reminding them that, on their own basis, if God’s Being is unparticipated then it has absolutely no relation to the transcendental notion of Being and thus to reality. The Thomists are forced to wind up either with pure univocism in which the Being of God is identical to the being of man (though their respective essences may differ) or with pure equivocism in which the Being of God has absolutely no relation to the being of His creation. Either result affirms that the God of the Bible is not and cannot be known within the framework of Thomistic metaphysics.

It is important to understand that one of the primary reasons that Aquinas, with all of his genius, could not account for the existence of the God of the Bible is because, in assuming the autonomy of human reason, he refused to start the knowledge transaction with the Triune God of Scrip­ture. For Van Til, “Human knowledge ultimately rests upon the inter­nal coherence within the Godhead; our knowledge rests upon the ontological Trinity as its presupposition”. [43]

It is the Trinity, the “self‑contained” Trinity (which is primarily what Van Til means by “ontological”) that is the basis for all human knowledge. Unless one starts the reasoning process by affirming the necessity of God’s existence, the process itself becomes meaningless, as we have seen in Aquinas. If we begin our reasoning, our philosophy, our defense of Christianity with the truth of the self‑contained Triune God of Scripture, the “problem” of unity and diversity is resolved. That is not to say that the relationship between unity and diversity is exhausted by man, but that the problem is answered only within a Christian framework. In a Reformed apologetic, it goes something like this: The unity/diversity problem has always been approached in philosophy by taking for granted, first of all, the autonomy of human reason. It is the philosopher himself who seeks to resolve the problem of metaphysics and epistemology without once realizing his complete dependence on the God of Scripture in whom he lives, moves and exists. Because he begins from himself, he autonomously assigns priority to either unity or diversity (as we have seen in Aquinas). He begins the knowledge process without ever asking the fundamental question as to the possibility of knowledge itself. In so doing, he inevitably swings back and forth between rationalism and irrationalism in seeking to bring unity into fruitful contact with diversity. This is true with any and every attempt, Christian or non‑Chri­stian, that begins with the assumption that God does not or might not exist.

Van Til jumps into the middle of the debate by asserting that there can be no meaningful prediction at all unless one starts self‑consciously with the Triune God. Not only does he want to say that language and speech are meaningless without reference to the Trinity, but also that predication itself presupposes the Trinity. Thus, non‑Christians, as well as non‑ Reformed Christians, are unable to make sense of their own position because they exclude the Triune God at the outset.

But what is it that makes the Trinity so crucial? Why is it that Van Til says that unless we presuppose the Trinity first of all, all “proofs” for the existence of God as well as all predication are meaningless? [44] The fundamental answer to these questions is that in the Trinity we understand that unity and diversity are equally ultimate! Because the three Persons of the Trinity are mutually exhaustive of each other, that which is diverse within the Godhead is at one and the same time unified. There is no more of a priority to the essential unity of the Godhead as to the essential diversity. The Holy Spirit is no more or less God than is the Father. All that the Father is, the Spirit is also. The two are two and one at the same time and in the same way. Though they have distinct roles in history, “ontologically” (as Van Til would say), there is equal ultimacy. There is no pressure, therefore, to assign absolute priority to unity or to diversity. Our task is no longer to attempt to universalize the diversity or to diversify the unity. Our task is to attempt to understand the great richness of the world that is understood only within the context of the equal ultimacy of the diverse Godhead. In other words, if unity and diversity are equally ultimate in eternity, and since creation reveals the Triune God of Scripture, we can expect that the world and all things in it are understood in the context of this equal ultimacy and are to be interpreted as such. While there may in any investigation be an emphasis on unity or diversity, there is no need, indeed there is no way, to ascribe ultimate priority to one or the other.

This principle of the equal ultimacy of unity and diversity has far‑reaching consequences in apologetics as well as in philosophy, science in general and theology. In the philosophy of science, Stoker has elaborated on the application of the “equal ultimacy principle”. Having discussed the problem of the general (what we have called the unity) he gives us an example of an apricot tree. Though the specific tree outside his window shares characteristics with other apricot trees, other trees, etc., it is at one and the same time, one apricot tree, individuated by its existence. The pagan philosopher would work diligently to attempt to identify such a tree as an apricot tree so that we can know it as such without losing the tree in universal thought. Though it may be like other apricot trees, it is still an individual apricot tree. Stoker’s analysis is this:

The apricot tree…partakes of both the general (having charact­eristics in common with other trees) and the individual (being this individual tree). The general and the individual constitute a coheren­tial contra‑polar contrast in which neither pole is reducible to the other (neither being comprehensible in the other’s terms) while, nevertheless, the one pole is related to and required by the other. By virtue of their mutual irreducibility and coherence primacy bay be accorded to neither the general nor the individual, whereas both are to be recognized and respected in their balance. In the history of science (theology, philosophy, and particular science) however, we repeatedly find primacy being attributed to one of the two poles, while the other, consequently, only appears as the privileged pole’s limiting‑case, being considered in its light only, and from its vantage point. [45]

Because Stoker is a Calvinistic philosopher, he has been able to see what Van Til has seen, (but what non‑Christian philosophy has never seen), that unity and diversity require each other yet are not reducible one to the other. The progress of philosophy and apologetics will move light years ahead when Van Til and Stoker are taken seriously at this point.

In philosophical theology we have another good example of the “equal ultimacy principle” from Professor John Frame. Frame is concerned to use an approach which he has termed “perspectivalism” in order better to understand theology, philosophy, apologetics and life in general. Perspec­tivalism, put simply, means that there are different perspectives from which one can approach a problem and that each perspective is equally valid if articulated within the Christian framework. The diversity of perspec­tives is as necessary as the unity. [46] Frame discusses the validity of a rational approach to apologetics evidential approach to apologetics and a more subjective approach to apologetics provided each one and/or all three together are developed and articulated within the context of Christianity. He prefers to call these different perspectives the normative, the situational, and the existential. In this discussion, it seems, Frame is developing and elaborating the fundamental Van Tillian emphasis, i.e., that if one starts with the self‑contained Triune God, the problem of unity and diversity becomes an opportunity for variety.

Says Van Til:

The demand of the doctrine of the Trinity. . .is that reality be interpreted in exclusively eternal categories inasmuch as the source of diversity lies in the Trinity itself and could never be found in a sense world beyond God. Hence the problem of the one and the many, of the universal and the particular, of being and becoming, of analytic and synthetic reasoning, of the a priori and a posteriori must be solved by an exclusive reference to the Trinity. The only alternative to this is to assume responsibility for trying to explain the whole of reality in temporal terms, and therefore with man as the ultimate point of reference. [47]

Van Til is not afraid to use methods of reasoning such as a priori or a posteriori. He is saying, in the quote above, however, that such methods cannot be absolutized, as is the case in all pagan science and philosophy, so that one method is given ultimate status over all others. [48] There are times when we may employ the empirical method of reasoning (which for Van Til is a posteriori reasoning) and other times when we may employ deductive (a priori) methods. [49] Each and every method has no more priority than the other. Those who have accused Van Til of being simply an a priorist have not understood the basic thrust of his apologetic. [50] Van Til has always insisted that we need not fear any approach or method that takes seriously the existence of the God of Scripture from the outset. The diversity of reality, (including thoughts, things, methods, perspec­tive, etc.) coheres because all things come from the One Person who is Three Persons.

This ingenious application of the importance of the Trinity for all thought corresponds well with our previous analysis of Van Til’s world view emphasis. When one begins an argument resting upon the truth of the Lordship of the Triune God, one is free to defend the Christian faith at any time, on any level, anywhere. There is no inherent necessity, in Van Til’s Reformed apologetic, to turn the conversation in the direction of cosmology, teleology, henology (argument from the many to the one, Aquinas’ “fourth way”), etc. The defense of Christianity is not dependent on such a restricted approach. All things “prove” God’s existence so that proof itself is always accessible to each and every Christian. [51] One of the reasons that metaphysics has maintained its speculative character and epistemology has been historically bankrupt is because there has been no basis for looking at the world if we assume the ultimate autonomy of the human intellect in attempting to discern the one and the many problem. Beginning with the Triune God, there need not be any metaphysical specula­tion nor epistemological bankruptcy because the Creator/creature distinc­tion is presupposed at the outset.

In Van Til’s syllabus, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, he develops this equal ultimacy principle in connection with the biblical view of revelation. [52] In that syllabus, Van Til is concerned to show that disciplines such as physics, psychology, science in general, as well as theology are all understood within the context of the Creator revealing Himself to the creature and of creation itself being revelational. Any scientific endeavor depends upon the fact that the Triune God has revealed Himself and that His revelation is exhaustive of creation. Creation by definition reveals the Creator. All of it is His handiwork. There is therefore no reason to think that any of it, including the things that we see as well as the things that we think, could be independent of His character. Van Til, in this section, wants to allow for the possibility of any method of reasoning if that method conforms itself to the Christian framework. He is working out the Trinitarian principle of the equal ultimacy of unity and diversity. He wants to affirm the validity of, for example, an empirical method as well as an a priori method (rationalism) if those methods (and I use words in terms of methods rather than world views) are constrained by Christian theism.

Says Van Til:

It is customary on the part of some orthodox theologians to depreciate the objects of sensation as a source of knowledge. They would therefore substitute an a priori approach for that of the empiricist, thinking that thus they represent biblical thought. Two points may be mentioned with respect to this. In the first place, to flee to the arms of an a priorism from those of empiricism is in itself no help at all. It is only if an a priori is self‑consciously based upon the concep­tion of the ontological Trinity rather than upon the work of Plato or some other non‑Christian philosopher that it can safeguard against skepticism. The a priori of any non‑Christian thinker will eventually lead to em­piricism. It can keep from doing so only if it keeps within the field of purely formal prediction. In the second place, if we do place the ontological Trinity at the foundation of all our prediction then there is no need to fear any skepticism through the avenue of sense. Sensation does “deceive us” but so does ratiocination. We have the means for their corruption in both cases. The one without the other is meaningless. Both give us true knowledge on the right presupposition; both lead to skepticism on the wrong presupposition. [53]

Notice that Van Til is quick to affirm the mutual interdependence both of ratiocination and empiricism within the context of presupposing the self‑contained (ontological) Triune God! We quote the full paragraph above because those who continue to critique Van Til continue to misunder­stand the fundamental and foundational place that the Tri‑unity of God plays in his method of reasoning. [54] Van Til affirms the meaninglessness of a priorism and of empiricism when an attempt is made to affirm one at the expense of the other within a non‑Christian framework. Rather, he says, both give us true knowledge if used within the context of the equal ultimacy principle, i.e. presupposing the triune God in all that we do. Non‑Christian philosophy as well as Christian apologetics and philosophy go astray at this point when they fail to understand the radical sig­nificance of the Trinity in philosophy, apologetics and philosophical theology.

It might be argued that the doctrine of the Trinity is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore not exclusive to Calvinism. That is true in one sense. What is exclusive to Reformed theology and more specifically to Van Tillian apologetics is the applica­tion of a doctrine as mysterious as the Trinity to the perennial and persistent problems of Christian philosophy and apologetics. Because Van Til is willing to admit that “mystery is the vital element of Dogmatic,” [55] he is not afraid to develop and apply that which is mysterious nor is he content simply to deal with the less problematic fundamentals of the faith. In this sense, Van Til’s apologetic as a Trinitarian apologetic is thoroughly Reformed and Reforming. He has been able to glory in the mystery while at the same time use it for the development of a truly Reformed apologetic.
III. A Covenantal Apologetic

There is a sense in which Van Til’s covenantal emphasis in his apologetic could be seen as his most important contribution. Anyone who is familiar with Van Til’s chalkboard ‘graffiti’ will think first of all of his now famous illustration of the two circles, one larger and above the other, both connected by two vertical, parallel lines. This illustration has been used by Van Til and others to sum up, in picture form, the essence of his entire approach. [56] It is a picture of the covenant. It is a picture of the necessity of revelation from God to man in order for man to know anything at all. The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VII, says it this way:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

Though Van Til’s “circles” represent a broad range of his thinking, fundamentally that picture represents the covenant as explained in Chapter VII of the Westminster Confession, and Van Til’s innovative and ingenious application of the truth of the covenant to apologetics and Christian philosophy. For Van Til, covenant theology and the Trinity are two mutually dependent truths within Reformed theology. [57] In elaborating on this mutual dependence, Van Til wants to emphasize not only the Tri‑unity of the Godhead, but the Tri‑Personality as well. Since the omnipresent God is Personal (“Absolute Personality”, to use Van Til’s words), both in His unity and His diversity, [58] man always and everywhere lives his life coram deo. [59]

The implications of the Personal God being everywhere and always in relation to men are far‑reaching for apologetics and philosophy. The fundamental premise apologetically is this, “Covenant theology is the only form of theology which gives a completely personalistic interpretation to reality.” [60] It is of the nature of non‑Christian philosophy/apologetics as well as inconsistent Christian philosophy/apologetics to assume that man is placed in an impersonal universe. Though not expressed so boldly in non‑Christian thought, this line of thinking seeks to give credence to, indeed to argue for, the necessity of what Van Til calls “brute fact”. Brute facts are those facts discovered by science or used by the philosopher or appealed to by the inconsistent apologist that are assumed simply to be “there”, uninterpreted, manipulated ultimately by man and his activity. Correlative to this view of brute fact is an appeal to neutrality, i.e., assuming that such facts are neither created by God nor interpreted by Him in His Word. The only way that such an argument can be presented is by neglecting the covenantal emphasis of reality as expressed in a Reformed apologetic.

For Van Til, there are no brute facts, there is no neutrality, the universe is not impersonal. Every fact, every interpretation, every spot in the universe reveals the covenant God and every man, in living in God’s universe, is responsible for his use of the facts, the laws, and the interpretation of such. To put the matter simply, men, all men, are either covenant‑keepers or covenant‑breakers:

The phrase (covenant‑breakers) has come into common usage among Reformed theologians. Common as the usage of the phrase may be, however, the point we have made perhaps needs stressing. All too easily do we think of the covenant relation as quite distinct and independent of natural revelation. The two should be joined together. To speak of man’s relation to God as being covenantal at every point is merely to say that man deals with the personal God everywhere. Every manipulation of any created fact is, as long as man is not a sinner, a covenant‑affir­ming activity. Every manipulation of any fact, as soon as man is a sinner, is a covenant‑break­ing activity. [61]

One can begin to see how Van Til’s world view apologetic is intertwined with his covenantal emphasis. Every fact everywhere is revelational of the God of Scripture. Thus man is always and everywhere either denying God or submitting to Him, depending on how he uses God’s facts. The environment of man is by no means impersonal but is exhaustively personal and, because personal, revelational of the Triune God.

In traditional apologetics, not only is the reason of man considered to be a brute fact, [62] but the very facts to which the traditional apologist appeals (the order of the cosmos, the design of the universe, the cause of the effect) are all thought to be initially uninterpreted until interpreted by the unbeliever. The initial assumption in the traditional proofs for the existence of God is that the facts require an unbeliever’s interpretation in order to lead to a god. If Van Til is right in his application of the covenant, however, every fact is, fundamentally, God’s interpretation and is therefore only truly known if re‑interpreted in light of God’s initial interpretation (revelation) of and through that fact. Traditional apologetical approaches seek to exclude God from the analysis and understanding of certain facts, certain laws, in order to include Him later as a kind of “concluding unscientific postscript” to the main body of argumentation. For Van Til, “when man faced any fact he would ipso facto be face‑to‑face with God”. [63] Man always and everywhere either breaks or keeps covenant with God by the way he sees and lives life in God’s world.

In the paragraph quoted above, Van Til affirms that the covenant relation should go hand‑in‑hand with natural revelation. The two should be thought of as mutually interdependent. The implications of this idea are exhilarating for Reformed apologetics as well as for Christian philosophy, science and theology, not to mention daily life. Van Til has always wanted to maintain the correlativity of natural and special revelation. He has wanted to show that the two have always gone together and that the so‑called “attributes of Scripture” apply also to natural revelation. [64] He has always been willing to apply and develop the correlativity between natural and special revelation. Both have always been necessary for man to live in God’s world, even before the fall:

Being from the outset covenantal in character, the natural revelation of God to man was meant to serve as the playground for the process of differentiation that was to take place in the course of time. The covenant made with Adam was conditional. There would be addition­al revelation of God in nature after the action of man with respect to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [65]

Van Til goes on to discuss the necessity both of natural and special revelation in the Garden. The natural revelation provided the substance of Adam’s covenant‑keeping activity as he subdued the earth to the glory of God, as he ate from any tree in the Garden, save one. Yet that one tree, to be covenantally qualified, needed interpretation by God through special revelation in order for Adam’s task to be clearly delineated. Covenant‑keeping and covenant‑breaking depended on God’s gracious revela­tion of Himself through His handiwork and through His verbal communication to Adam. Both were required. Both necessitated the covenant activity of Adam. Adam’s world was as covenantally qualified, as personalistic, as our own. Natural revelation must be seen as just that, revelation, of the God of history. For a man to take the things of nature and to use them for his own glory is to break God’s covenant based on the revelation given to that man in nature. While God is revealed through nature, man is suppress­ing that revelation by abusing it (Romans 1:18f.). Man’s task, man’s calling, man’s responsibility, is defined for him and delimited for him by the revelation of God.

Reality places demands upon men. All men, because fundamentally covenant creatures, are responsible to use the things of God to the glory of God. To use Van Til’s terminology, rather than thinking of himself as creatively constructive of the facts of the world, man is to view himself as receptively reconstructive of the facts of God’s world. This is covenantal epistemology. [66] The covenant of God forms the backdrop for all knowing, all analyzing, all perceiving. The things of this world must first of all be seen as revelatory both of what the thing itself is and of its Creator! It has the character, therefore, both of transcendence (in revealing its Creator) and of immanence (in revealing itself). Because it is revelation (and that revelation is given to revealing man, not only discovered by him) [67] man is responsible and held accountable for its use, both to know it in its relation to the world and to know it as a fact of God’s creation.

The application of the covenantal approach to Reformed apologetics is almost limitless. Unlike the traditional approach, the fact of God’s existe­nce and of His activity in the world is given full reign. Rather than seeking to discover the existence of a god by an appeal to uninterpre­ted facts, the Reformed apologist realizes and challenges unbelief on the basis of the real states of affairs in the world. The Reformed apologist does not come to the unbeliever with a pretended scenario of reality in order to “jump” to the real states of affairs in his conclusion, he comes to the unbeliever with the full realization that by definition the unbeliever is taking and will continue to take the facts of God’s world and Word and twist them beyond recognition. He is, at bottom, always and everywhere a covenant‑breaker. Van Til calls this misuse of God’s facts by the unbeliever “borrowed capital” because the unbeliever takes the things of God’s kingdom and seeks to build his own kingdom. The Reformed apologist knows who the unbeliever is. He knows the unbeliever even better than the unbeliever knows himself. He knows that the unbeliever is one whose mind is defiled (Titus 1:15), who indulges the lustful desires not only of the flesh but of the mind because he is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3), who cannot submit himself to the law of God because he is not able to do so (Romans 8:7), who does nothing good, who cannot seek for God, who cannot understand (Romans 3:10f.), who takes the things of God, which reveal the truth of God and misuses those things in suppression of the truth so that he might worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18‑25), who must needs be renewed unto knowledge before he can know any one fact truly (Colossians 3:10; Psalms 10:4). The Reformed apologist takes seriously the covenant‑breaking status of the unbeliever. He knows that no matter how “moral”, no matter how “acce­ptable”, no matter how “civil”, the unbeliever is a much busier man than he appears to be, day and night suppressing the constant and persistent truth that bombards him from the God whom he knows. How “reasonable” is it to approach such a one and ask for an “honest” inquiry? How “rational” can it be to ask the one who has an ax to grind against God by virtue of his very nature to make a moral judgement? How can God be honored in apologetic argumentation when the covenant‑keeper approaches the covenant‑breaker as a close relative rather than an enemy of the Christ and of His family? The unbeliever’s mind is of the flesh, hostile toward God and unable to please God at any point (Romans 8:7‑8). To approach him on the basis of a mutual concern to discover truth is like the doctor giving aspirin to his dead patient.

The Reformed apologist, because he is a covenant‑keeper by the grace of God, approaches the unbeliever at the root of his unbelief. He comes to him and challenges him to make sense of the fact that he has taken the “borrowed capital” and attempted to transplant it into a foreign kingdom. Just as an organ from a foreign donor can be rejected when transplanted into another body, so the Reformed apologist acts as the catalyst to the unbeliever, showing him how God’s interpreted facts cannot survive the foreign interpretation of unbelief. The unbeliever cannot make sense of his “facts”, he cannot put a foreign organ into another body and expect it to survive. The challenge to the covenant‑breaker is just that, to challenge his covenant‑breaking. To ask him, as the traditional apologist wants to do, simply to reason together with the believer without making the fundamental covenantal distinction is to encourage him in his covenant‑bre­aking efforts. To get him to agree, perhaps, that a god exists is to assure him that the covenant God, whom he knows to exist, does not in fact exist after all. It is to encourage rather than discourage the suppression that is the warp and woof of the entire thinking and doing of the un­believer.

This is what is meant when Van Til insists upon argument by presupposi­tion. The word “presupposition” carries with it some confusing and false connotations that critics of Van Til attempt to use against him. Some think a presupposition is that which we conclude in an argument, others think that Van Til is so crass as to think of God simply as a presupposi­tion. Van Til’s use of the word, however, runs much deeper than any of his critics have yet to see. Perhaps it is because they fail to grasp the fundamental covenantal emphasis of his approach. Presupposition, for Van Til, simply means that God is present, always and everywhere, revealing Himself through and to men who are either covenant‑keepers or covenant‑br­eakers. Though this understanding of “presupposition” does not at all fit the standard philosophical view, it describes for the Reformed apologist what his task must be. It defines for him his ultimate commitment. It delineates the importance of taking God at His Word in Scripture in order properly and biblically to challenge the sin of unbelief. Argument by presupposition, for Van Til, is argument by covenant, argument that takes for granted, at the outset, that each and every person with whom we come in contact is fundamentally and covenantally related to God. It is this covenantal relationship to God that makes man’s unbelief culpable.

According to Romans 1:18f. unbelief is not something that is lived out in a vacuum of blindness and emptiness with regard to the knowledge of God. Such would be the case if we, like the traditional apologist, assumed that God was not known except by the use of unregenerate reason. Unbelief, however, is itself covenan­tally qualified in that it is the working out of the suppression of God’s truth. It is the most obvious expression of covenant‑breaking. The very revelation of God, as we have seen, has as its mutual corollary and covenant relationship. Thus, for example, the sins that run rampant in a given society evidence the fact that God continues to lift His gracious restraints from those who continue to fight against the clearly understood revelation of God to men (Romans 1:24,26,28).

The necessity of a proper understanding of Romans one for a Reformed apologetic must be emphasized. Even Reformed theologians who want to emphasize a Christian rationalism affirm the covenantal emphasis of Romans one. Says one traditional apologist who holds to the Reformed confessions, “We conclude that the apostle Paul teaches clearly and unambiguously that humans possess a natural knowledge of God which rests upon the foundation of general revelation.” [68] The sad fact of the matter is that these same theologians must turn around and contradict the covenantal emphasis of general revelatory knowledge of God to all men in order to maintain their traditional approach. [69] Because they have neglected to see the general ­revelation from God to men as covenantal, they want to appeal to such nebulous abstractions as “human nature”, as if such a nature has no covenantal qualifiers to it. Human nature is only such as is described and defined in Scripture. Human nature, if synonymous to unregenerate nature, is that which suppresses true knowledge of God in defiance of God’s gracious gift of revelation which is calculated to lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4). Human nature, if synonymous to regenerate nature, is that which seeks to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). A proper understanding of Romans one abolishes any abstract notion of “human nature”. General revelation is covenant revela­tion.

Van Til’s emphasis on a covenantal apologetic has also to do with the controversial question of one’s starting point in apologetics. Though Van Til sometimes uses the idea of starting point with differing emphases, his primary meaning is that one’s starting point is his “launching pad” or the place where one self‑consciously stands to begin his apologetic reason­ing. [70] Those who criticize Van Til for insisting that God, not the self, must always be the ultimate starting point in apologetic reasoning, attempt to do so by making Van Til sound as if people must get outside of themsel­ves in order to start somewhere else besides themselves. [71] Anyone who has read Van Til can readily see that he never insists that our knowledge and our arguments must come from someone else’s mind. Van Til is not talking about starting point in the sense of the actual brain from which one’s argument begins:

…the question at issue is not that of what is the immediate starting point. All agree that the immediate starting point must be that of our everyday experience and the facts that are close at hand. Neither Augus­tine nor Calvin would have objected to saying that knowledge of self was their immediate and temporary starting point. [72]

Van Til goes on to compare Calvin and Descartes. It was Calvin who began with the self as a proximate starting point and Descartes who began with the self as an ultimate starting point. [73] Notice, however, that both men began with the self! Van Til knows (and his critics should realize) that all men argue, think and know as selves. His only contention, however, is that the self who begins his argumentation must self‑con­sciously argue from the “launching pad” of the personal face‑to‑face encounter with God when considering any fact or any experience. An ultimate starting point for Van Til could be seen as synonymous to what Herman Dooyeweerd has called an “Archimedean point” (the place on which one stands) in order to do apologetics. The rational apologist self‑consc­iously stands on the bruteness of the fact of, for example, cause/effect, design, Being, while at the same time assuming the neutrality of un­regenerate man’s reason. The reason that Van Til accuses Descartes of seeing himself as the ultimate starting point is because Descartes contends that knowledge of his existence is foundational (a “launching pad”) the place on which he stands, only later to affirm the existence of a god. So the rationalistic apologist wants to affirm that unregenerate man can know the facts of the word truly without recognizing that to know a fact truly is to know it as created by God. The ultimate staring point for the rationalistic apologist is himself and his world.

Because Van Til’s apologetic takes seriously the implications of the covenant, he knows that self‑knowledge and God‑knowledge are coterminous. One cannot simply seek the facts without answering the fundamental question of the possibility of those facts themselves. Covenantal apologetics assures us of the proper starting point for reasoning with the unbeliever because the Creator/creat­ure distinction is taken seriously at the outset by a proper view of revelation within a covenant context. No fact can be truly known without reference to the One who created that fact and who consequently reveals Himself through that fact. The ultimate starting point, God, therefore, is the decisive element in apologetic reasoning.

IV. Conclusion

In our analysis of Dr. Cornelius Van Til, we have tried to avoid some of the most familiar terms and categories applied to him, particularly in the United States. Van Til has been called “the father of presup­position­alism”, a “presuppositional apologist”. The problem with this kind of category has been that Van Til has been included with other apologists, some non‑Reformed, who use the word “presupposition” yet are more in line with rationalistic apologetics than with a truly Reformed apologetic. [74] The reason that we have looked at Van Til from the three different perspectives of World View, Trinity and Covenant is in order to highlight the specifically and truly Reformed emphasis of Van Til’s approach, an emphasis that escapes others in Reformed circles who have refused to implement the unique and innovative efforts of Van Til.

If we agree with B.B. Warfield that Calvinism is “Christianity come to its own”, then we would also agree that Van Til’s defense of Chris­tianity is “Christian apologetics come into its own”. No other approach in the history of the church is so liberating to the believer while at the same time being so challenging to unbelief. For this reason, Van Til’s approach must be seen as the most significant advance in Reformed theology in the twentieth century.

Semper Reformanda!”

(Oliphint, Van Til and the Reformation of Apologetics)


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