Van Til's synopsis of presuppositionalism

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Puritan Board Graduate
Van Til\'s synopsis of presuppositionalism

Too often it is hard to work through all of the ins and outs of presuppositional apologetics. Here is one of the best condensed views (outline) of it from the pen of Cornelius Van Til himself. This was the 4th part of his My Credo that was in his Festschrift: Jerusalem and Athens. He was 75 at the time so this had been thought through for a time. There should be an attachment of this in MS Word that has better formatting if that is helpful. It can also be found here scroll down for the outline, although the first part is good as well.

Just a suggestion, but this could be used as a reference when discussing these matters as shorthand. I disagree with A.1.a. or the like. or if someone feels that a strawman is proposed - point to this thread and cite the info.

IV. The Total Picture

  • My problems with the "traditional method."
      1. This method compromises God himself by maintaining that his existence is only "possible" albeit "highly probable," rather than ontologically and "rationally" necessary.
      2. It compromises the counsel of God by not understanding it as the only all-inclusive, ultimate "cause" of whatsoever comes to pass.
      3. It compromises the revelation of God by:
        • Compromising its necessity. It does so by not recognizing that even in Paradise man had to interpret the general (natural) revielation of God in terms of the covenantal obligations placed upon him by God through special revelation. Natural revelation, on the traditional view, can be understood "on its own."
        • Compromising its clarity. Both the general and special revelation of God are said to be unclear to the point that man may say only that God's existence is "probable."
        • Compromising its sufficiency. It does this by allowing for an ultimate realm of "chance" out of which might come "facts" such as are wholly new for God and for man. Such "facts" would be uninterpreted and unexplainable in terms of the general or special revelation of God.
        • Compromising its authority. On the traditional position the Word of God's sell-attesting characteristic, and there with its authority, is secondary to the authority of reason and experience. The Scriptures do not identify them selves, man identifies them and recognizes their "authority" only in terms of his own authority.
        • It compromises man's creation as the image of God by thinking of man's creation and knowledge as independent of the Being and knowledge of God. On the traditional approach man need not "think God's thoughts after him."
        • It compromises man's covenantal relationship with God by not understanding Adam's representative action as absolutely determinative of the future.
        • It compromises the sinfulness of mankind resulting from the sin of Adam by not understanding man's ethical depravity as extending to the whole of his life, even to his thoughts and attitudes.
        • It compromises the grace of God by not understanding it as the necessary prerequisite for "renewal unto knowledge." On the traditional view man can anti must renew himself unto knowledge by the "right use of reason."
      4. My understanding of the relationship between Christian and non-Christian, philosophically speaking.
          1. Both have presuppositions about the nature of reality:
            • The Christian presupposes the triune God and his redemptive plan for the universe as set forth once for all in Scripture.
            • The non-Christian presupposes a dialectic between "chance" and "regularity," the former accounting for the origin of matter and life, the latter accounting for the current success of the scientific enterprise.
            • Neither can, as finite beings, by means of logic as such, say what reality must be or cannot be.
              • The Christian, therefore, attempts to understand his world through the observation and logical ordering of facts in self-conscious subjection to the plan of the self attesting Christ of Scripture.
              • The non-Christian, while attempting an enterprise similar to the Christian's, attempts nevertheless to use "logic" to destroy the Christian position. On the one hand, appealing to the non- rationality of "matter," he says that the chance- character of "facts" is conclusive evidence against the Christian position. Then, on the other hand, he maintains like Parmenides that the Christian story cannot possibly be true. Man must be autonomous, "logic" must be legislative as to the field of "possibility" and possibility must be above God.
              • Both claim that their position is "in accordance with the facts."
                • The Christian claims this because he interprets the facts and his experience in the light of the revelation of the self-attesting Christ in Scripture. Both the uniformity and the diversity of facts have at their foundation the all-embracing plan of God.
                • The non-Christian claims this because he interprets the facts and his experience in the light of the autonomy of human personality, the ultimate "givenness" of the world and the amenability of matter to mind. There can be no fact that denies man's autonomy or attests to the world's and man's divine origin.
                • Both claim that their position is "rational."
                  • The Christian does so by claiming not only that his position is self-consistent but that he can explain both the seemingly "inexplicable" amenability of fact to logic and the necessity and usefulness of rationality itself in terms of Scripture.
                  • The non-Christian may or may not make this same claim. If he does, the Christian maintains that he cannot make it good. If the non-Christian attempts to account for the amenability of fact to logic in terms of the ultimate rationality of the cosmos, then he will be crippled when it comes to explaining the "evolution" of men and things. If he attempts to do so in terms of pure "chance" and ultimate "irrationality" as being the well out of which both rational man and a rationally amenable world sprang, then we shall point out that such an explanation is in fact no explanation at all and that it destroys predication.
                • My proposal, therefore, for a consistently Christian methodology of apologetics is this:[/list=A]
                      1. That we use the same principle in apologetics that we use in theology: the self-attesting, self-explanatory Christ of Scripture.
                      2. That we no longer make an appeal to "common notions" which Christian and non-Christian agree on, but to the "common ground" which they actually have because man and his world are what Scripture says they are.
                      3. That we appeal to man as man, God's image. We do so only if we set the non-Christian principle of the rational autonomy of man against the Christian principle of the dependence of man's knowledge on God's knowledge as revealed in the person and by the Spirit of Christ.
                      4. That we claim, therefore, that Christianity alone is reason able for men to hold. It is wholly irrational to hold any other position than that of Christianity. Christianity alone does not slay reason on the altar of "chance."
                      5. That we argue, therefore, by "presupposition." The Christian, as did Tertullian, must contest the very principles of his opponent's position. The only "proof" of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no possibility of "proving" anything at all. The actual state of affairs as preached by Christianity is the necessary foundation of "proof" itself.
                      6. That we preach with the understanding that the acceptance of the Christ of Scripture by sinners who, being alienated from God, sock to flee his face, comes about when the Holy Spirit, in the presence of inescapably clear evidence, opens their eyes so that they see things as they truly are.
                      7. That we present the message and evidence for the Christian position as clearly as possible, knowing that because man is what the Christian says he is, the non- Christian will be able to understand in an intellectual sense the issues involved. In so doing, we shall, to a large extent, be telling him what he "already knows" but seeks to suppress. This "reminding" process provides a fertile ground for the Holy Spirit, who in sovereign grace may grant the non-Christian repentance so that he may know him who is life eternal.

                    [Edited on 9-2-2005 by crhoades]


Puritan Board Graduate
Updated with better formatting - much thanks to Bob and Fred for outlining helps. I'm still not sure that I understand it fully but this looks better...


Puritan Board Post-Graduate
[Note to Moderators: you may wish to move this to a thread on its own, as it may contravene the intent of Chris' posting here as a reference rather than a discussion.]


I can't download it, probably because of my outdated programs. You say you disagree with A,1,a.; but I don't see an A,1,a.

I have difficulty getting past section A because I am not a Presuppositionalist, and I don't agree with his summary rejections. In order to understand these rejections I need to know more.

For example: in reference to the "traditional method",
This method compromises God himself by maintaining that his existence is only "possible" albeit "highly probable," rather than ontologically and "rationally" necessary.
I don't know what he means by "traditional method", as it could summarize many conflicting things that I also disagree with as well as the concepts behind all the attempts to present them, which I do agree with. I agree with the concepts, but disagree with quite a number of ways in which they are presented. I find it most difficult to just lump them into one category of "traditional method" because I don't know who defines it as such.

The rest in that section just does not follow in my concept of the proofs and necessity of revealed truths in general and special revelations. But I think it is important to understand this in order to understand why he proposes an alternative. I've read many a critique of what is now commonly called Evidentialism or Classicalism, and I just don't see how they apply to what I believe, though I claim to have faith in the proofs and the concepts/precepts that these arguments are built upon. They critique Evidentialism and Classicalism, but not what I believe concerning the building blocks of these views.

So this is not presented as an alternative to my way of thinking. As to my way of thinking, I am quite content to include a number of precepts of Presuppositionalism into the Classical argument, without compromising in the least, but rather enhancing the Classical approach. What the Classical approach does with ontological necessity is reflected in the presuppositional necessities that logically follow; there is consistency in applying the same norms. I can add a number of things that Van Til adduces, but these don't change what I believe as much as they add to it.

Yet I have faith in the truth of the evidences, not in the trustworthiness of my presuppositions. My mind is changeable, but the truth is not; my understanding is changeable, but the facts are not.

When things are presented to me in the form "no such thing as brute facts", even if that is mitigated by the phrase that "brute facts are mute facts", it makes no sense to me. It appears as if truth is changeable, that facts can be whatever one interprets them to be. And that is outright nonsense. We don't conform the truth or the facts to our way of thinking, but rather change our way of thinking to conform to the facts.

Otherwise we are left with this conundrum: my presuppostions, based upon God's revealed will in His Word, are that the revealed facts in special and general revelations speak for themselves, and that I had better take note and change my presuppositions accordingly.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks Chris.

I'll have to print this out when I'm at a different computer so I can take the proper time to mull these things over, etc.
I'm convinced that Van Til is the future for some time to come in Christian reformation.
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