Frame Summarizes Van Til

by Jan 30, 2010Mission, Theology4 comments

I really do not have a very good understanding of the Van Til/Clark debates or the Frame/Ligonier debates, but I hope to grow in that understanding. These are all serious men worth taking seriously.

For what it’s worth, here’s how Frame summarizes Van Til’s apologetic:

Van Til’s apologetics is essentially simple, however complicated its elaborations. It makes two basic assertions: (1) that human beings are obligated to presuppose God in all of their thinking, and (2) that unbelievers resist this obligation in every aspect of thought and life. (Westminster Theological Journal Volume 47, 1985: 282)

One thing I can say is that it has been incredibly useful to me in my work on What in the World! to recognize that everyone has presuppositions. That’s why, for example, people today are so quick to find evolutionary explanations for human behavior. Any questions they face—say, the reason for the existence of religion—are fed through the grid of their evolutionary presuppositions. It’s no surprise that out comes evolutionary explanations (e.g., “Religion evolved as a social mechanism for curtailing behavior detrimental to the group”).

I have presuppositions, too, but at least I admit it.

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  1. Don Johnson

    Mark, I just finished a book on Van Til last night that might be helpful. Duncan gave it to me last summer, but I didn’t get around to reading it till the last couple of months. It is “Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman” by John R. Muether. It is very interesting and gives an overview of the Clark/Van Til dispute.

    I have to say that there were a lot of things in the book that I didn’t understand because I don’t know that much about Van Til either. I have an impression that a lot of people talk about themselves as Van Tillians who really don’t get Van Til either. But I think this book is a good introduction. I’m going to write a review of it sometime this week, Lord willing.

    I agree that we all have presuppositions. I think that Van Til was arguing that only Christians (especially Reformed Christians) have right presuppositions and that it is impossible to convince unbeliever’s based on evidence due to their false presuppositions. (I am not sure if I am getting Van Til exactly right on this, my exposure is very limited.) If my perception is right, I am not sure I agree with the second part. But then Van Til would surely level his guns at me anyway, because I am not Reformed!

    An interesting subject though, worthy of more study.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      Pastor Johnson, you’ll definitely want to read some of John Frame’s descriptions of Van Til’s work. I just read, for example, an article he wrote for WTJ in 1985 reviewing Sproul and Gerstener’s Classical Apologetics. Frame is a lot easier to read than Van Til.

      The only thing I’d add to your summary of Van Til at this point would be that it’s not merely that lost people have chosen to adopt false presuppositions but that they are morally incapable of having the right ones because of the Fall.

  2. Brian

    And the only thing I’d add to Mark’s addition to Pastor Johnson’s summary 🙂 is that Van Til (and Frame,etc.) would say that evidence needs to be interpreted in light of Scripture, our only sufficient authority. Evidence can’t be allowed an autonomous role of standing over Scripture.

    In addition to Frame, another good summary of Van Til are Roland McCune’s chapters on apologetics in Promise Unfulfilled.

  3. Don Johnson

    Hi guys, thanks for the responses.

    I do have the WTJ from Galaxie in Logos format so plan to do some reading there. Thank you for the pointer to Frame in WTJ.

    Thanks also for the reference to Promise Unfulfilled. It is in my stack of unread books (fairly near the top – I’ve at least started it).

    Don Johnson
    Jerimiah 33.3