In the late 1940’s, Professor Cornelius Van Til wrote a series of articles for the Westminster Theological Journal. The articles analyzed Abraham Kuyper’s1 view of Common Grace. It was in a sense a brief analysis of Kuyper’s great three-volume work on Common Grace published in the Netherlands. As a philosopher and a Dutchman, Van Til was amply qualified to deal with this topic. The book is a helpful overview of the Kuyper’s position, but also a recapitulation of the debates that ensued in the Christian Reformed Church in the early 1920’s.
This subject is particularly pertinent to Van Tillian philosophy since as Van Til states:
The question of where he may find a point of contact with the world for the message that he brings is a matter of grave concern to every Christian minister and teacher.2
Inherent in VanTillian (or Presuppositional) thinking is the idea of the “starting point” or “presupposition” of discourse with the unbeliever (unbelief). If common grace is after all common to all, then a point of contact is therefore established.
Van Til’s concern at the outset is to ensure the reader that the interpretation of facts differs depending on how one views the philosophy of history. Some attempt to look through facts as brute concepts—brute facts, as some may assume. Nevertheless, Van Til claims that the “believer and the unbeliever differ at the outset of every self-conscious investigation.”3 Philosophers continue to debate the nature of epistemology4 and their consequences for philosophical discourse. Even in the Reformed tradition there is strong disagreement over the starting point of investigation. Some will claim that reason is the starting point5 and from there we may come to an objective conclusion. Van Til, however, argued strongly that the starting point of Christian philosophy is the counsel of God. For instance, according to Van Til:
Current scientific description is not merely explanation, but it is definitely anti-Christian explanation.6
Hence, Van Til’s philosophy of history understands un-Christian thought to be at all points in contradiction with the nature of reality. Reality, finds itself only in the Christian worldview; objectivity is by definition a Christian property, since objectivity needs a metaphysical entity to make sense of the data. The modern scientist will always and continually ascribe to the mind of man their discoveries and their conclusion, on the other hand, the Christian thinker will never attribute glory and honor to autonomous creatures, but always to God himself. God is the starting point of history, since He alone is the Creator and Sustainer of history.
The unbeliever cannot begin his investigation with a Christian worldview. The believer cannot begin his investigation with an unchristian worldview. The two are diametrically opposed. One seeks to sustain an anti-God proposition, while the other seeks to bring into submission all things to the Lordship of Christ. As Van Til appropriately concludes:
…the believer and the non-believer, are epistemologically self-conscious and as such engaged in the interpretative enterprise, they cannot be said to have any fact in common.7
Though epistemologically they are different, it must be mentioned that in Kuyperian view of common grace, there is a sense in which there are elements of commonality among believer and unbelievers, thereby providing certain venues for proper public discourse. For instance, both were created by God in His image and both are part of the same God-created universe. However, unless the unbeliever operates within a Biblical framework, his philosophy will always be by nature anti-Trinitarian.8
- For two previous articles on Abraham Kuyper go here. [↩ back]
- Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. pg. 1. [↩ back]
- Ibid. pg. 3 [↩ back]
- How we know what we know [↩ back]
- For instance, Descartes [↩ back]
- Van Til, pg. 3 [↩ back]
- pg. 5 [↩ back]
- Further discussion on Kuyperian view of Common Grace in articles to come. [↩ back]