Bahnsen and Van Til

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Puritan Board Freshman
For those of you who are well-versed in Van Til and Bahnsen, I have a question: Is there any point at which Bahnsen disagrees with Van Til? From everything that I have read (which, I will admit, is not much), it seems like Bahnsen followed Van Til pretty closely. I was just wondering if there was an issue on which they disagreed.



Puritan Board Freshman
Bahnsen was very close to Van Till but they are not clones Bahnsen for Bahnsen focused more on applying the method while Van Till usually argued for the method. So when one reads their words one will find Van Till arguing with other Christians and Bahnsen arguing with Atheist (though that is just a general rule of thumb Bahnsen did argue with Christians and Van Till did argue with atheist and evaluate other worldviews). Van Till was also an idealist whereas Bahnsen was a realist.

To the glory of Christ-Tertullian


Puritan Board Sophomore
Tyler and Paul,
Please give a brief working definition of idealism and realism. I ask for two reasons. First, so those reading will be able to follow the conversation. Second, do you both agree on the terms you all are using?


Puritan Board Freshman
I have heard it said that while Van Til appealed to the Trinity to solve the philosophical problem of the One and the Many, Dr Bahnsen never appealed to it or used this line of argument in debate. Granted, this is an argument from silence, but I find it interesting that in the Bahnsen-Sproul debate, when Sproul asked Bahnsen what prevented a muslim from arguing presuppositionally, Dr Bahnsen did not respond with an appeal to the One and the Many solution (even in the supplemental tape that Covenant Media Foundation included in which Bahnsen addresses Islam.)

Regarding Bahnsen's criticism of Van Til's examples or wording, Dr. Bahnsen does say that Dr. Van Til's use of the word 'analogous' to describe how creatures understand God was ripe for misunderstanding. He does not disagree in substance; only that Van Til's use of the language may have contributed to the misunderstanding. He mentions this in a taped lecture discussing Van Til's and Gordon Clark's similiarities and differences.


Puritan Board Freshman
Food for thought:

Definition: Idealist Van Till was both a "metaphysical idealist" and "epistmologicial idealist" in that he thought that the reality was reduciable to thought. Bahnsen was a "metaphysical realist" and an "epistmological idealist" in that he though that reality must be preceived mentally but that realitywas reduciable to objects beyound our mental awareness.

"Immanuel Kant used to argue that he was an empirical realist but a transcendental idealist, meaning by this that what we perceive is in general not illusory, but as real as perceptible things can be, but that nevertheless philosophy forces us to assume that they are appearances of things which in themselves are quite unknowable by us" (A. R. Lacey, A Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 137,)

Kant then created two worlds one world rational and intelligible the other world beyond intelligible experience- hence Kant created the "Phenomenal" and "Nominal" Distinction and accused all metaphysicians of failing to realize that this Distinction cannot be bridged for all that people can know about what really is how it appears to us and therefore metaphysicians because they misunderstood the purpose of reason have attempted to understand the world as it really was and therefore have gone beyond the limits of reason. Every philosopher after Kant has attempted to put together what Kant separated, namely, the rational world and the real world. Hegel did this by arguing that reason is what is real to began with and therefore reason and those who have rational minds do perceive reality for the whole nominal world does not even exists only the phenomenal world is. To prove that reason was what was absolutely real Hegel developed his famous synthesis philosophy. Hegel's master argument against Kant was that Kant had no reason to suppose that their was a nominal world and therefore Kant was attempting to swim before he entered into the water. Butler summarizes Hegel's argument as follows, "The contention that the move from conceptual necessity to necessary existence is unwarranted" Therefore Hegel was both a metaphysical idealist and an epistemological idealist.

Van Til had mastered Hegel when he was twenty years old and no doubt having been introduced to this tradition and many including myself think that Van Til may have been among the idealist tradition only siding with Hegel over Kant for it seems quite impossible to get around this objection by Hegel to Kant. So by analogy one could say that even if Christianity was necessary epistemologically it still does not follow that Christianity is true metaphysically! Van Till as far as I know never struggled to answer this objection, the reason because he followed Hegel and not Kant and agreed that the mind and matter are but of the same creation and that it is God that is absolute above both. Others have also seen this side of Butler although Butler disagrees with them he notices them as also being possible right when he says,

As Michael Butler writes:

"If, as some have maintained, Van Til was something of an idealist, we can see how he was able to bridge the gap between thought and reality. This reading of Van Til, however, is not only implausible, but there is nothing in his writings that indicates that he relied upon some version of idealism to make the move from what we must believe to what the world is like. Furthermore, even if Van Til was an idealist, this would be of little help to the Christian who, like Bahnsen, an epistemological realist. But the major problem with this move is that Christian theology and idealistic metaphysics and/or epistemology are foundationally at odds with one another" (Butler, The Standard Bearer, p 123)

Bahnsen on the other side I believe followed Kant and was an idealist epistemologist but with realist metaphysics. I know this because Bahnsen says in one place that he agrees with Kant's method and unlike Van Til Bahnsen did try to answer Hegel's objection and argued the "assumption between the Christian and the non-Christian assumes that one of the vies has to be true" and Bahnsen called this the "gratuitous assumption." Basically Bahnsen states that although it is true that we cannot know that what is epeistmologicially necessary must be metaphysically necessary one can make that assumption because in reality nobody doubts besides a philosopher- but philosophers ask for proof that they exists as well! Therefore this shows that Bahnsen did recognize Hegel's argument whereas Van Til never mentions it, indicating that the two had a different approach and what was a problem for one conception was not a problem with the other.


[Edited on 4-8-2004 by Tertullian]


Puritan Board Freshman
Van Til was no idealist or Hegelian! All God's people s


I never accused or charged Van Til with being a hidden idealist or Hegelian in Christian disguise and I can flatly and frankly agree that, "Van Til was no idealist or Hegelian!" but what has this to do with what I wrote? My references Hegel was that Van Til was historicially familiar with Hegel's works and in fact many of the terms Hegel employed Van Til also utilized though I believe Van Til applied different meanings to the terms but nonetheless my point still stands that Van Til was influenced by Hegel. Hegel taught Van Til the questions and Scripture taught Van Til the answers! Therefore Van Til was no Hegelian and I would never charge Van Til with such a gross misrepresentation of his teachings.

Perhaps we are using the word idealist differently? For you seem to present the term "idealist" as the anitChristian and that you could not hold to one with the other and no doubt that can be true if the word idealist is meant to convey a pantheist Hegelian conception of the universe but that is not the only use of the term unless you want to kick Jonathan Edwards out of the Kingdom when you called him an idealist (which I do not think you would ever want to do). Therefore seeing that we have two working definitions of the world "idealist" one which could be used of a Christian and one that cannot it is incumbent upon us to see, which meaning of the word, did I intend when I said that Van Til was an idealist along with Edwards. For the records I would like to point out I believe Van Til was a man of God and true Christian who taught Christianity not Hegelian pantheism!

I only argued that Van Til did not have to answer Hegel's objection to the Kantian belief in epistemological idealism but metaphysical realism because Van Til did not hold to epistemological idealism and metaphysical realism. Bahnsen on the other hand did hold on to both and therefore attempted to bring the two together- thus what was a problem for one was not a problem for the other.

Bahnsen and Van Til held to the same Christian worldview but they differed on the application of specific details like eschatology and ethics (i.e Theonomy) and I think it is safe to say that they may have held (though I am not dogmatic about it) to different conceptions about stuff like metaphysical realism or metaphysical idealism but that is not to call either of them non-Christian but just recognize that they are not carbon clones and that presuppositionalism is not tied down to specific non-foundational beliefs but rather gives an explanation as to how there can be true disagreement between Christians and true unity of thought.

Paul I agree with you that Van Til can and has been misrepresented because of they way he wrote and let us confess that Van Til was not always right nor was he always clear and in some cases he invited confusion for not being clear... Van Til was a great man to start from but not a great place to end... people like Bahnsen need to continue what Van Til started and one of the ways they can do it is to edit out some of the Hegelian words that are not essential to presupposition.



Puritan Board Freshman

[quote:f8e1b8b3a3][i:f8e1b8b3a3]Originally posted by Paul manata[/i:f8e1b8b3a3]

I disagreed that Van Til thought "reaity was redcible to thought," as you sad in your original long post. [/quote:f8e1b8b3a3]

Alright? But I think you have massively misunderstood what I am saying... to say that reality is reducible to thought obviously does not mean that reality is not real is just means that what we experiences as reality does not spring from objects. You see take Edwards philosophy for example Edwards would probably assert that we never see anything but only the impressions of things... these impressions are what we interact with... if you agree with that you could be considered an idealist of sorts at least epistemologicially speaking but if you take it a step further and say that just the impressions are there and there is no reason to assume that an object contains the impressions but God has just created the impressions which you preceive you would be both an epistemologicial idealist and metaphysial idealist. I am of course not saying that Van Til's version of idealism if he held to it was that simple.

[quote:f8e1b8b3a3] I disagreed that Bahnsen was an "epistemologica idealist," as you said in that same post. [/quote:f8e1b8b3a3]

Of course he was... but he was not a metaphysical realist... just like Kant. Bahnsen even says at one point he agrees with Kant on that issue.

[quote:f8e1b8b3a3] I disagreed with your interpretation of Butler saying that is was possible that those who said Van Til was an idealist were correct. [/quote:f8e1b8b3a3]

Alright but Butler does say- [b:f8e1b8b3a3] even if Van Til was an idealist, this would of little help to the Christian who is, like Bahnsen, an epistemologicial realist (Butler) [/b:f8e1b8b3a3]- maybe Butler was trying to say that it was impossible that Van Til could be an idealist but it seems that he was saying that it was possible but he personally did not think it was due to the reasons he listed when one considers this quote.

[quote:f8e1b8b3a3] Also, Edwards was wrong but that does not imply reprobation. [/quote:f8e1b8b3a3]

So you would argue that you can hold to "idealism" and still be a Christian even if idealism is wrong... therefore we cannot put idealism and Islam for example in the same category right? So now we can say that to call Van Til a idealist is not to call him a Hegelian or worse.

[quote:f8e1b8b3a3] I am using idealist in the sense that reality is reducible to thought. This was your definition, and I think the quotes prove otherwise. [/quote:f8e1b8b3a3]

That is not my definition that is what the term means in philosophic circles... Berkley, Kant, Edwards, Hegel call all be called idealist but that does not mean that they were clones there are different degrees and conceptions of idealism... but what they basically all have in common is that the mental is an aspect of reality and therefore reality can be reducible to the mental... not necessarily metaphysically but epistemologically.

[quote:f8e1b8b3a3] I uderstand, though, your sayng that he was an idealist. (To those not familar with presuppositional concepts and Van Tilian language this may not make sense, but I am writting to Tyler). So, on your efinition I understand and would then say thaVan Til (and Bahnsen)were not only Idealists but empericists, pragmatists, Wittgenstinians, Quinians and the like. [/quote:f8e1b8b3a3]

This does not follow I am not sure if you understand what I mean by idealist? Empericists, pragmatist, Wittgenstein's are not compatible. At least they are not compatible anymore then say Islamic, Jewish, and Mormen thought is.

[quote:f8e1b8b3a3] p.s. do you have R&A? And have you read it? [/quote:f8e1b8b3a3]

I am not sure what you are referring to?

[quote:f8e1b8b3a3] p.s.s. what i your answer to the conceptual/reality problem? Is it the same as Butler's and d you have more to say about it than Butler's paragraph?

-Paul [/quote:f8e1b8b3a3]

I read that chapter and I think Butler's insights were helpful but not decisive.


[Edited on 4-10-2004 by Tertullian]


Puritan Board Freshman
How would you advise someone just starting to get into presuppositionalism? What order of books or lectures should one pursue to understand it?
I would assume that The Defense of the Faith would be in there, as would Van Til's Apologetic. However, what additional books should be consulted? Also, what tapes/mp3s should one listen to?
I am intrigued, if not completely persuaded, by the presuppositionalist position. It seems to me to be the most biblical, although I admit that I am just starting to formulate my ideas about apologetic methodology.
I have tremendously enjoyed reading what the people on this board have to say, especially Paul Manata. Paul, you have challenged me in more ways than you know. Thanks.



Puritan Board Post-Graduate
How would you advise someone just starting to get into presuppositionalism? [/quote:71e04d8a85]
One word: [u:71e04d8a85]DON'T[/u:71e04d8a85]:eureka:
Do I hear an "Amen"?


:help: (just in case Paul reads this)


Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I was just sort of kidding around. I am serious about that, but I would not really advise you on that.

I do have some things against Presuppositionalism, but they have to be stated very, very carefully.

All I really ought to say is that you have to be careful that you don't indulge in some traits that some Presuppositionalists are keen on. Remember that there is not just a little difference between the clear meaning of a text and a text that has been used to bolster a certain point of view. Be very careful not to condemn people, or to criticize them too harshly based on your interpretation of a text, expecially if you are using your theory as a pretext for interpreting that text. You can only bind people by what Scripture commands, not by what you think Scripture commands.

You have two ears, and one mouth; not two mouths and one ear. Before you condemn me for what I believe, know what it is that I believe, not just what you think I believe according to your analysis of it. There is a great deal more to it than a narrow logic.

I'm not saying this is true of all Presuppositionalists, nor do I say that about any that are on this Board. All I am saying is that this is too often part an parcel of the concept, though it really does not have any basis for it. Those who are Presuppositionalists and are also sensitive to this are nice guys and are my friends. We can disagree amicably, because you will find this trait in other "isms' as well, which we will fight against together.


Puritan Board Freshman

Seriously, though, I agree with John but for different reasons. My concerns are similiar (if not identical) to E. Calvin Beisner's concerns. You can find them on the Knox Seminary website, where you can download E. Calvin Beisner's Introduction (to the Knox Colloquium, a debate about Auburn Avenue theology). Specifically pg xxix (starts at line 649 throught line 769.) Basically Dr. Beisner is concerned about the willingness of some groups within the Reformed community to embrace premises that are, in the final analysis, contradictory.
Another article that has influenced me tremendously, which has the same concerns regarding Cornelius Van Til's system is located at:

When Paul gets back from vacation, he will see where I've been getting some of the material that I've used in my posts with him, if he checks out the above link.

Another article that I've found very helpful (but, which I'll admit, I have not read entirely) is found at:

It has a section concerning apologetics in Reformed circles. It's written by Dr. Michael Sudduth, a Reformed Epistemologist.


Puritan Board Freshman
Firstly, Paul, I'm glad to see you're back from vacation. I hope you had a good time :smile:

Now, quote:
"So far as a choice had to be made between the two positions, I took my position with Kuyper rather than with Hodge and Warfield..........Negatively Kuyper was surely right in stressing that the natural man does not, on his principles, have any knowledge of the truth." Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel, page 184, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972.

What Dr. Sudduth was trying to communicate is, in my opinion, what Dr. Van Til himself affirms in the above quote. As Sudduth points out, they [i:f1291fd5df]share[/i:f1291fd5df] "the rejection of arguments for the existence of God and an emphasis upon taking belief in the God of Scripture as the starting point for every dimension of human life." So since CVT borrowed this idea from Kuyper, Dr. Van Til's system is based on Dr. Kuyper's.

But according to you, VT Presupp'ism is not based on Kuyper, but according to CVT he is based on Kuyper. Unless a distinction is made, I'm confused.

To quote Trethewie:
"You may feel that a point that he has made is objectionable, but elsewhere he seems to affirm your belief on the same matter."

This is, of course, my primary concern with Van Tillian presuppositionalism. Finding contradictory statements in CVT's writing is like shooting fish in a barrel. :zapped:

For example:
"When the multitudes wanted to make Him king because Hehad given them bread, and they thought it would be easy to have a handout, Jesus said, when they found the other side, "Rabbi, when did you get here?"Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, ye seek me not because ye see signs butbecause you ate the loaves and were filled."
Now then comes the crucial point. "Do not work forfood which perishes but for food which endures to eternal life which the Son ofMan shall give to you, for of him the Father even God has been sealed." They therefore said, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said unto them, "This is the work of God, that ye may believe on Him Whom He hath sent."
[b:f1291fd5df]Here faith and works are identical. Not similar but identical.[/b:f1291fd5df] The work is faith; faith is work." Cornelius Van Til

"We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is [b:f1291fd5df]one person[/b:f1291fd5df] ... that God's being presents an absolute numerical identity" Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 229.

I can't help but conclude from these statements that 1) faith = works; 2) God is both one person and three persons.

Paul, my commitment is not to a system but to the truth:

John 17:17  Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth.

And a contradiction is at it's heart a lie:

Matthew 5:37  But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No' be 'no.'
Isaiah 5:20  Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.

If it helps, "A = A"; "Non-A = Non-A"
and "do not call 'A' 'Non-A' and 'Non-A' 'A' "

In this respect, Dr. Bahnsen does a much better job than Dr. Van Til of trying to avoid contradiction, but he did not escape it in his theology - theonomy as expressed by Dr. Bahnsen is contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith which Dr. Bahnsen subscribed to. (Don't mean to get side-tracked, we can always start a thread in WCF forum if you wish to discuss this further.)
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