A Commentary of Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith: An excursus of Introduction by Thomas W. Linton, DRS
Van Til begins by addressing the critics of his theology and apologetics. Van Til states:
“The present writer and his critics are all adherents of orthodox Christianity. More than that, they have expressed allegiance to the Reformed Faith as set forth in its historic creeds. The historic Reformed Faith is distinguished from Roman Catholicism. Also within the Protestant fold it is distinguished from Arminianism; in the current theological situation it is distinguished from dialectical theology. The critics may therefore be expected to use the Scripture, taken to be the infallible rule of faith and practice, as their ultimate criterion and the historic Reformed Confessions as their secondary criterion in their evaluation of my thinking.”Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 9.
Van Til states that he and his critics hold Calvin, Kuyper, Bavinck, and Warfield all in high regard and are all considered authoritative in the Reformed Tradition. This means that the criticism of Van Til comes from those with likeminded theology.
Regarding the criticism Van Til states:
“Now the charges against me are that I have not only departed from the classical tradition of Reformed thinking, but that I have departed from the creeds and even from the idea of the Bible as the infallible standard of faith and practice.”Van Til, The Defense the Faith, 9.
This is a suggestion that Van Til has departed from orthodox Christianity. This is a charge that anyone would take seriously and Van Til is no exception.
Some specific critics were William Masselink (1897-1973) and was an ordained minister with Lafayette CRC. Th, as a group from Calvin College, wrote in Forum Articles from Calvin College and Theological Seminary. Also was James Daane who was the founding editor of Reformed Journal, was assistant editor for Christianity Today, and served as assistant professor of Ministry and Theology at Fuller Seminary until his retirement in 1979.
In the section titled “Meeting of Two Extremes” , Van Til points out one particular extremes:
“First, there is the extreme seriousness of these charges. I am accused of borrowing my epistemology from idealism and presenting a compound of Hegelian rationalism and modern existentialism. Idealism and existentialism do not take the Scriptures to be the Word of God; they do not believe in the God of the Bible. They do not believe in the creation of this world and of man by God. They do not believe in God’s providential control over the world. They do not believe Jesus Christ to have been the Son of God and Son of man. They do not believe in atonement, nor in the return of Christ on the clouds of heaven to judge the quick and the dead. Yet I am said to have borrowed my epistemology from such enemies of the Christian Faith, and Daane asserts that the structure of the argument in Common Grace is not taken from Scripture but from modern existentialism. Such charges are serious indeed.”Van Til, The Defense the Faith, 13.
The first extreme can be properly labeled the Identity Thesis. This thesis essentially identifies and equates Van Til with absolute idealism and modern existentialism. In this perspective Van Til has compromised biblical theology with idealism and existentialism. Many from this perspective state Van Til has completely compromised biblical truth for a commitment to absolute idealism. This is known as the Rejection Thesis, which accuses Van Til of rejecting biblical truth altogether for Idealism.
On the other extreme Van Til says:
“On the other hand Masselink’s main charge is that I hold to an “absolute ethical antithesis,” and this implies that I have no appreciation at all either of the knowledge or of the work of unbelievers. “Van Til contends that the reaction of unbelievers to common grace is only negative, and, therefore, they have nothing in common epistemologically with the believers.” This too is a serious charge, though not nearly so serious a one as that pertaining to idealism and existentialism.”Van Til, The Defense the Faith, 13.
This other extreme is the Absolute Antithesis thesis that sees Van Til as having no common ground with the unbeliever. Van Til makes note of the two apparent extreme positions. On the one hand, he is said to be a Hegelian Idealist who rejects Scriptural authority and on the other hand, he accepts an ethical antithesis and there is no common ground between believers and unbelievers.
In the remainder of the Introduction, Van Til addresses the other criticisms that are made against his theology and apologetics. Van Til maintains through all this that his goal is to be faithful to Reformed Theology in both his theological commitments to the Westminster Confession of Faith and for his apologetic method to be consistent with Reformed Theology.
My assessment of the Introduction of Van Til’s The Defense of The Faith is that many of the critics of Van Til and Presuppositionalism continue to fall into one of the two extremes that Van Til mentions in this book.
See Van Til Group for more content.