Cornelius Van Til: A Reformed Witness
In today’s post I begin a series of excerpts from Dr. Van Til’s writing. As I have tried to show, Dr. Van Til stands at the end of an intellectual line that begins with Plato who heavily influenced Augustine of Hippo who in turn was a major influence on John Calvin. The influence of John Calvin on Cornelius Van Til is very much in the open in Dr. Van Til’s writing. At times Dr. Van Til quotes from the Westminster Confession of Faith (a Calvinist document) as I would scripture. It becomes clear in Dr. Van Til’s writing that he developed an apologetic specifically for those Christians who hold to Reformed/Calvinist doctrine which really isn’t surprising.
I would also like to point out that all of these men in the “Great Chain of Theology”, from Plato to Van Til, hold the common belief that all events in human history are predetermined (see Causal Determinism and The Ten Dogmas of Determinism). This comes out in Van Til’s writing and as we go along I will endeavor to point it out. Plato used his pagan philosophy to justify this belief while Calvin cites the Divine Decrees but the concept is the same root and branch.
The extended quote provided below sets the foundation for why I don’t believe that Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics should be taught in any Dispensational seminary or church. If you hold to Reformed theology then whether or not you hold to Van Til’s apologetic is your decision but for the non-Reformed (I won’t use that ignorant term “Arminian”) protestant to use it is counterproductive at best. Why do I believe that? The reason is simple: if you do not hold the same presuppositions as Dr. Van Til then it will definitely impact your Gospel presentation and your relationship with other believers. That is one thing that Dr. Van Til and I agree on.
I need to make one more point before I quote Dr. Van Til. I have stated before, and still believe, that a person can be both Reformed and Dispensational at the same time. I still hold to Laurance Vance’s definition of what it means to be Reformed/Calvinist:
All Calvinists, whether they be Presbyterian or Reformed, Primitive Baptist or Sovereign Grace Baptist; all Calvinists, whether they be premillennial or amillennial, dispensational or covenant theologist; all Calvinists whether they go by the name or not; all Calvinists have one thing in common: God, by a sovereign, eternal decree, has determined before the foundation of the world who shall be saved and who shall be lost.
The Other Side of Calvinism
by Laurence Vance
However do not make the mistake of thinking that just because I use this definition of Calvinism that Cornelius Van Til also does. Cornelius Van Til was ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and as such held to the Westminster Confession of Faith as being the definition of orthodoxy. Just be aware that I will blur certain lines that Van Til would never dream of doing.
Here is Dr. Van Til:
A Common Witness?
A highly important as well as highly practical question now faces the adherents of the Reformed Faith in the modern world. It is that of cooperation with Fundamentalists or Evangelicals in a common witness for the Christian Faith. There are two opinions on the subject of cooperation with Evangelicals among Reformed Christians. According to the one opinion, it is, and according to the other opinion, it is not, possible for Reformed Christians to engage in a common witness with Evangelicals or Fundamentalists, without compromise. The two groups holding these opposite opinions agree that the Reformed Faith is not merely a matter of the five points of Calvinism, but that it is the Christian faith. It therefore includes all the doctrines of the Christian faith. The difference between the two groups centers on the question of the nature of the witness to the Christian faith as this is given by Fundamentalists or Evangelicals. The nature of that witness we have found to be one of compromise with unbelief at every point. A common witness is, therefore, we believe, the same in effect as a compromising witness.
A common witness is of necessity the lowest common denominator witness. This would be true even if, in any given organization, the representatives of the Reformed Faith were in the majority. Any witness to the Christian faith must be positive as well as negative. It is always both at the same time. It cannot be otherwise. There is no intelligible witness against the wisdom of the world except in the name of the wisdom of God. And a common witness involves, therefore, a common responsibility for the positive affirmations of the faith as well as the negations against unbelief. Now the positive affirmations of Evangelicals are, without exception, confused and compromising in character. It is for the confused and compromising witness of Fundamentalism that Reformed Christians become co-responsible in any effort at giving common witness to the world.
A Reformed Witness
Do Reformed Christians want their own witness to be identified before the world with those who cannot speak otherwise than words of compromise? Of course they do not. Then let them not either as churches or as individuals be joined to the councils or associations where such compromise necessarily occurs, either through organizational or doctrinal relationships.
Do Reformed Christians want their own witness, the only consistent witness to the Christian faith, to be heard in the world? Then let them band together with all Reformed men and groups of Reformed men everywhere for a common testimony to that which alone can really challenge the wisdom of the world.
The end of time approaches. Unbelief is more consistent in the expressions of its principles than it has ever been. The modern prophets of doom, and of bliss, the modern naturalistic theologians such as Barth and Brunner, make man and his own experience the standard and the test of truth. The Reformed Faith consistently expressed is the only thing that can challenge the God-defying humanism of this latter day. Will Reformed churches and individual Christians then squelch their own voice? Will they create static for themselves as they try to make themselves heard? We trust they will not. We trust on the contrary, that they will make themselves heard without compromise.
Exerpt From: Wanted — A Reformed Testimony
By Cornelius Van Til