Review by Thomas Linton, DRS

In this review of Van Til’s Survey of Christian Epistemology, the focal point will be the Introduction and the first chapter. The introduction points out the purpose of the book, which is a course syllabus that is to serve as both a systematic approach epistemology and a historical survey. Chapter 1 focuses on the terminology and Van Til seeks to show how philosophical terminology used by contemporary philosophers has to be used in order to be consistent with the Christian Worldview. The Christian Worldview does not allow for equal ultimacy between the mind of man and the mind of God. This is why circular reasoning is necessary.


In the Introduction, Van Til mentions that the book is based upon a course syllabus and is a broad survey and a method for defending the Christian worldview. Van Til’s intention is to deal with the subject of epistemology both systematically and historically. Regarding this approach, Van Til says:

“The real point of the problems of philosophy that confront the human race today cannot be understood if they have not been observed in their growth. The problems of philosophy are today more pointed and more specific than they have ever been. But we cannot deal with the more pointed and the more specific until we have dealt with the more general. On the other hand, our final interest is very definitely in the systematic development of our subject. We do not study history just for the sake of a certain amount of interesting information. As Christians we have a very definite philosophy of history. For us history is the realization of the purposes and plans of the all-sufficient God revealed through Christ in Scripture.”

CVT, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, Kindle Edition, loc. 136-144.

Van Til sought to uphold a distinctively Christian and biblical view of the philosophy of history. This is an important distinction that Van Til made and it helps distinguish his Presuppositionalism from other forms of defending the faith. Other ways of defense seek to assume the assumptions of contemporary philosophers view of man and the philosophy of history. To assume the ultimacy of the human mind and the evolutionary worldview in history instead of a redemptive historical biblical narrative in history is what many Christian apologists have done.

Van Til mentioned that the main divisions he will deal with are first in epistemology and then secondary is metaphysics. This is because every philosophy and worldview is based upon whether knowledge of the whole of reality or even part of reality is possible or impossible. According to Van Til, philosophy and theology both deal with the same concepts with the only difference being the matter of terminology. This topic of terminology and the language of the philosophers is what Van Til addresses in chapter 1.

Chapter 1: Epistemological Terminology

The major themes of this chapter are Revelation, Analysis And Synthesis, Correspondence, Coherence, Objectivity, Method, Knowledge, Implication, Deduction And Induction, A Priori And A Posteriori, and Transcendental. Each term has significance with Van Til’s development of epistemology. The thesis of chapter 1 is how philosophical language can be used and interpreted according to a biblical worldview and theologically in contrast to how the . This is essentially what Van Til means when he says the difference between Philosophy and Theology is terminology. Van Til identifies crucial philosophical terminology defined according to Biblical truths and Reformed theology.

When examining the revelation of God, the main idea is the Creator/creation distinction. Van Til says:

“We may characterize this whole situation by saying that the creation of God is a revelation of God. God revealed himself in nature and God also revealed himself in the mind of man. Thus it is impossible for the mind of man to function except in an atmosphere of revelation. And every thought of man when it functioned normally in this atmosphere of revelation would express the truth as laid in the creation by God. We may therefore call a Christian epistemology a revelational epistemology.”

Ibid, loc. 188.

For Van Til, correspondence means that “True human knowledge corresponds to the knowledge which God has of himself and his world.” This is different from the correspondence theory proposed by contemporary philosophers today. For the contemporary philosopher, the Correspondence theory of truth is that truth is what corresponds to the facts of the world. The Correspondence Theory of Truth can be stated:

“The theory’s answer to the question, “What is truth?” is that truth is a certain relationship—the relationship that holds between a proposition and its corresponding fact.”

Van Til has a different definition of the Correspondence Theory and says:

“From this presentation of the matter, it is clear that what we mean by correspondence is not what is often meant by it in epistemological literature. In the literature on the subject, correspondence usually means a correspondence between the idea I have in my mind and the “object out there.” In the struggle between the “realists” and the “subjective idealists” this was the only question in dispute. They were not concerned about the question uppermost in our minds, i.e., whether or not God has to be taken into the correspondence. We may call our position in epistemology a Correspondence Theory of Truth, if only we keep in mind that it is opposed to what has historically been known under that name.”

CVT, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, Kindle Edition, loc. 206.

When it comes to coherence in epistemology, Van Til doesn’t mean what philosophers mean by the Coherence Theory of truth. The Coherence theory of truth is typically held by Idealist philosophers. According to Van Til, the Coherence theory does not lead to true coherence because it omits the Triune God of the Bible.

The term “objectivity” and how objectivity is used in philosophy and science seeks to make sense of the object independently of the mind and without reference to God. Van Til says:

“For us, too, the primary question is not that of the out-thereness of the cow. What we are chiefly concerned about is that our idea of the cow shall correspond to God’s idea of the cow. If it does not, our knowledge is false and may be called subjective. But the exact difference between the Idealistic conception of objectivity and ours should be noted. The difference lies just here, that, for the Idealist, the system of reference is found in the Universe inclusive of God and man, while for us, the point of reference is found in God alone.”

Ibid, loc. 241.

Objective truth corresponds with the mind of God and what God says the world is through his revelation.

The next term that Van Til discussed was Method. According to Van Til, the fundamental starting point and conclusion for Christianity is the fact that God must exist. Van Til says:

“The contention of Christianity is exactly that there is not one fact that can be known without God. Hence if anyone avers that there is even one fact that can be known without God, he reasons like a non-Christian. It follows then that such a person in effect rejects the whole of the Christian position, the final conclusions as well as the starting point.”

Ibid, Loc. 277.

According to Van Til, the implications of this method is that there are two opposing positions: the Christian and the anti-Christian. Regarding the deduction and induction, Van Til says:

“We are certain, as certain as our conviction of the truth of the entire Christian position, that certain “facts” will never be discovered. One of these, for example, is “the missing link.” The term “missing link” we take in its current meaning of a gradual transition from the non-rational to the rational. As such, it is an anti-Christian conception, inasmuch as it implies that the non-rational is more ultimate than the rational.”

Ibid, Loc. 318.

This can also be used in an argument against the Darwinian theory of evolution. Then Van Til turns to the issue of circular reasoning. This has become a very important issue. Van Til said:

“And this brings up the point of circular reasoning. The charge is constantly made that if matters stand thus with Christianity, it has written its own death warrant as far as intelligent men are concerned. Who wishes to make such a simple blunder in elementary logic, as to say that we believe something to be true because it is in the Bible? Our answer to this is briefly that we prefer to reason in a circle to not reasoning at all. We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning that is possible to finite man. The method of implication as outlined above is circular reasoning. Or we may call it spiral reasoning. We must go round and round a thing to see more of its dimensions and to know more about it, in general, unless we are larger than that which we are investigating. Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about him any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of opposition to Christianity. Reasoning in a vicious circle is the only alternative to reasoning in a circle as discussed above.”

Ibid, Loc. 412.

This brings much criticism and Van Til was aware of that fact. The problem with the criticism that Van Til points out is that essentially man creates a god in his image instead of arguing for the God of all things. The ultimacy of the human mind makes for arguing for a finite god. The Christian God is not a finite God so Van Til states the spiral reasoning and the use of transcendental argumentation is required.

Concluding Thoughts

In A Survey of Christian Epistemology, with the introduction, Van Til seeks to present the thesis of the book. The thesis of the book is a syllabus for examination of epistemology both systematically and historically. In the first chapter, the purpose is to examine the terminology used by philosophers and how Christian theologians can define the same terms. Some of the terms are with regard to logic and reasoning.