A Reformed View of Apologetics, Part 1

Editor’s Note: In these posts, I have tried to offer a simple introduction to Presuppositional apologetics. Many in our day are unaware of the incredible influence of Professor Cornelius Van Til. These posts serve to distinguish the Reformed View of apologetics from Thomistic approaches and to encourage Christian thinkers to self-consciously presuppose God’s existence in every apologetic encounter.

Just as Calvinism distinguishes itself from other systems of thought in the area of cultural transformation,[1] so too, does Calvinism differ itself in the area of epistemology.[2] The superiority of the Reformed tradition over other philosophical approaches to epistemology is even clearer when we examine the foundation of their thinking.

We are how we reason; we reason how we were made to reason. Though Christian humanity is filled with dignity, we are also filled with sin. This is what some call the “noetic effects of the fall.” Simply put, our minds are in the “valley of the blind.”[3] Our new humanity rescues us from our autonomous epistemology. It is for this very reason that we are to think as God intends us to think.

180px-cornelius_van_til.jpgThe Reformed tradition differs substantially from Roman Catholic, Arminian, and atheistic thought.[4] All three of these systems begin their reasoning process from an autonomous framework. They all follow a Thomistic[5] approach to reason, and hence, do not begin as God intends them to begin. God’s intention is that the Christian begin his thinking with God’s counsel as the presupposition of all reasoning. The consequences of denying God’s counsel as a presupposition to all thought is disastrous. As Van Til summarizes:

Romanism and Arminianism[6] have virtually allowed that God’s counsel need not always and everywhere be taken as our principle of individuation. This is to give license to would-be autonomous man, permitting him to interpret reality apart from God.[7]

The Reformed thinker cannot fathom reality apart from God’s revelation. On the other hand, autonomous man cherishes-for the sake of reason-non-Christian presuppositions. Our standing before God is one of gratitude. We are grateful that God has redeemed our minds to think His ways and not ours. As Van Til powerfully concludes:

The Reformed believer knows that he himself has been taken out of a world of misinterpretation and place in the world of truth by the initiative of God.[8]


[1] See my articles on Abraham Kuyper on the Abraham Kuyper archive list.

[2] Epistemology refers to “how we know things.”

[3] This is the language used by Cornelius Van Til.

[4] For instance, consider atheist George Smith’s methodology. In his debate with Professor Bahnsen he stressed that his philosophy is Aristotelian. This form of reasoning was later picked up by Thomas Aquinas.

[5] By Thomistic, I mean the works of Thomas Aquinas, who strongly emphasized the use of natural reason to come to theistic conclusions.

[6] Arminianism is a system of doctrine that teaches that man has the free will to choose or reject God, and his salvation is dependent on a cooperative effort.

[7] Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. pg. 7.

[8] Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. pg. 7.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Arminianism, Atheism, Calvin/Calvinism, Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics, Van Til. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Reformed View of Apologetics, Part 1

  1. Pingback: A Reformed View of Apologetics, Part 2 « Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

  2. healtheland says:

    Perhaps the true Reformed view is that Christians should not be apologists at all? Apologism did not exist in Jewish or early Christian thought, and is not present in the Bible, all of which took the existence of God to be self – evident and the nature of God to be known only through general and special revelation. Further, the actions and nature of a sovereign God need to be accepted and responded to with worship, praise, and thanksgiving, not “apologized for” to prideful stubborn men with rebellious hearts. It would appear that apologetics was the invention of upperclass Christians who were primarily concerned with convincing elitist pagans that the former was as smart as and deserving of respect from the latter. Rather than obeying the command of Jesus Christ to expect to be rejected and to embrace (or even seek) rejection by the world, they were seeking the world’s acceptance. This got even worse when Christians began using the pagan philosophy in their apologetics and then in their theology and doctrine to impress and win the approval of pagans (most notably Origen, who attracted large crowds of pagans praising his intelligence at his speculative expositions of what can be called proto – Mormonism). One fellow even took to claiming that to prepare the world for the gospel God gave the law to the Jews and philosophy to the Greeks, a clear rejection of the words of Jesus Christ who said “salvation is of the Jews” and of Paul in Romans 1, who said that the knowledge of man outside of God was a corrupt pretension.

    I can see where apologetics fits into humanist Christianity, because the human must first justify the existence and actions of God according to his own desires to create a false god that he is willing to confer his grace on by choosing to worship. But I fail to see where it fits into the worship of the God of the Bible, whom we must respond to and worship because of who He is lest we perish. I suppose that the Book of Job is the anti – apologetics book of the Bible. Job’s three friends erred so badly that in their trying to “defend God” they sinned and were stricken with leprosy, and the very person that they were trying to defend God in front of wound up having to pray for their forgiveness and healing. That is something that the apologists should remember.

  3. apologus says:

    Greetings, thank you for visiting this site.
    It appears you are not very familiar with Reformed apologetics nor the works of Van Til and Greg Bahnsen. The word “apologetics” can be derived from I Peter 3:15, so the etymology is Biblical indeed. Contrary to classical defenses, Reformed Apologetics believes that it because God is self-evident that atheists are epistemologically guilty.
    Thanks for your thoughts.

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