Van Til to His Critics

“If my critics had fairly stated and then criticized my efforts at constructing an apologetic that is in accord instead of out of accord with the Reformed faith, it would possibly mean progress. As it is they have, except Orlebeke, taken for granted that the traditional view is true. All their detailed criticisms are based on the assumption that apologetics requires an area of interpretation that the unbeliever and the believer have in common. When I point out that this view leads inevitably to a compromise of the Reformed Faith, they take no notice of it. If the natural man can correctly interpret the realm of the phenomenal on the assumption of man’s autonomy, the noncreatedness of facts, and the idea of a system of logic that envelops God as well as man, it is too late to ask him to accept Christianity.

When I point out that in terms of ‘common notions,’ which ignore the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian principle of interpretation, it is impossible to show he non-Christian why he should become a Christian, my critics again take no notice.

Instead of this, they raise objections of details of such a nature as Romanists and Arminians have always raised against those who hold the Reformed faith.

I assume that my critics really want me to follow Calvin rather than Aquinas. On that assumption I ask them:

1. Why do you object when with Calvin over against Aquinas I seek to interpret man, the interpreter, exclusively in terms of his creatureliness and sinfulness, instead of thinking of him as intelligible without these concepts?
2. Why do you object when with Calvin I therefore take the meaning of analogy from the scriptural ideas of God, of creation, of sin, and of historical redemption instead of from the vague Aristotelian notion of analogy of being, which envelops God and man in a common reality?
3. Why do you object when I begin by saying that by virtue of their creation in the image of God and by virtue of the revelation of God in nature, all men know God and are therefore in contact with the truth?

The foundation of the thinking of both the Amsterdam and the Old Princeton men was that which both derived via Calvin from Paul, namely, the fact that God has unavoidably and clearly revealed himself in general and in special revelation. The whole Triune God is involved in this revelation. The whole Triune God testifies to man in this revelation. This is the general testimony of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is nothing more than the Reformed philosophy of history. God controls and therefore manifests his plan in “whatsoever comes to pass.” It is his will of decree that comes to expression in a measure in nature and history. In this decree lies the basis, the unity, and the guarantee of the success of science.

4. Why do you object when I say that the non-Christian philosophy of history is based on the assumption that man is not a creature, and that the world is not created and controlled by God? Is that not true of Plato and Aristotle as much as of the modern idealists and pragmatists?
5. Why do you object when I point out that the philosophy of the non-Christian cannot account for the intelligibility of human experience in any sense? Would counting, weighing, and measuring be possible in a universe that is run by chance? Is it not true that unless the world is controlled by God, there could be no science?
6. Why do you object when I account for the non-Christian’s scientific accomplishments by virtue of the fact that in spite of his principle of chance, he is borrowing, without recognizing it, the Christian ideas of creation and providence?
7. Can you show how the scholastic idea of analogy of being and of degrees of knowledge does not involve compromise of the scriptural doctrines of God, of creation, or providence, and of the fall?
8. In short, can you show how, on the traditional method and view, there can be said to be a Reformed philosophy of history at all? All of your objections are made on the assumption that there is an area of interpretation, of commonness without principial difference between the believer and unbeliever. This is involved in Masselink’s defense of Hepp’s view of “central truths”.

I have discussed this at length in An Introduction to Systematic Theology. It is involved in Cecil De Boer’s advocacy of the scholastic view of degrees of knowledge. He even interprets Romans as being consistent with this scholastic view of degrees of knowledge. Is is involved in Jesse De Boer’s defense of “classic realism” and modern phenomenalism. Is there then no such thing as a Reformed philosophy of fact, of logic, in short, of science that differs from the scholastic view? How then would you justify the erection of a science building on the campus of Calvin College, or on the campus of any other Reformed institution, on your view?

9. And what will you do with the general testimony of the Holy Spirit on your view? The Holy Spirit surely testifies only to the truth. He testifies to the revelation of God in all the facts of the created universe. I take it that Christians must give their testimony to the world of unbelievers in subservience to this general testimony of the Spirit. Christians must therefore be servants of the Spirit in seeking to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. They can do so only if they point out to men that it is sin to serve and worship the creature more than the Creator. And do not scientists and philosophers worship the creature when they interpret reality in terms of man as the ultimate point of reference? Does not Aristotle seek, as a sinner, to suppress the sense of deity, the sense of his creatureliness, within him when he “proves” that a god exists who is not the Creator of man?

How can you, on your basis, prevent the Holy Spirit from wiping out the difference between truth and falsehood? If you defend the traditional method of apologetics you are committed to an area of common or neutral interpretation, and thus you would destroy the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the truth.

In this area the Holy Spirit does not testify to the nonbeliever through the believer to the effect that he must turn from idols to service to the living God. On the contrary, in this area the Spirit testifies to both believer and unbeliever that they are right in believing in God.” – Defense of the Faith (4th Ed), CVT, 341-344 (Footnotes not cited)


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