Van Til, Evidence, and Fideism

van_til.jpgThe charge that Cornelius Van Til was a fideist has come from many camps. Clark Pinnock (now an open theist), leveled many attacks some decades ago attempting to discredit the proliferation of favorable responses to Presuppositionalism in the Reformed community. But again, Pinnock, Geisler, and others were blinded by their semi-Pelagian assumptions. In 1984, the first Reformed response to Presuppositionalism emerged. A triad of authors: Sproul,[1] Gerstner,[2] and Lindsley wrote Classical Apologetics.[3] The book traces the history of philosophy, apologetic methodologies, and provides what they consider “a reconstruction of Natural Theology.” The latter part of the book devotes itself to a critique of Van Til’s apologetic.

The central charge against Van Til is that he was a fideist; one who has thrown away reason in exchange for emotions and faith. In a section entitled Between Two Fideisms, the authors assert that presuppositional thought “has boldly rejected the traditional theistic proofs and Christian evidences.”[4] The authors, in one sense, define well the different starting points of the classical and presuppositional approach. The classical approach believes that the ultimate starting point is human autonomy, whereas, Van Til argued that God is the ultimate starting point. In light of this affirmation, critics of Van Til argue that his disciples believe in blind faith, and hence the charge of fideist. However, Van Til never denied the use of logic or rationality. In fact, as he argued in his Introduction to Systematic Theology: “The gift of logical reason was given by God to man in order that he might order the revelation of God for himself” (256). So, it is not that Van Til and his disciples deny logic or reason, it is that they deny a certain use of logic or reason. The authors of Classical Apologetics misunderstand the nature of proof and evidence. It is perfectly legitimate to use evidence and proofs for God’s existence, but they must be used properly; against the background of the nature of God.


[1] According to Professor Frame, Sproul is an honorary Presuppositionalist because he affirms the need to assume God in a theistic sense. In my opinion, Sproul has softened a bit to Van Til’s ideas in the last ten years, though still a strong advocate of autonomous reasoning.[2] Gerstner, who has gone to be with the Lord, was truly the father of Classical Apologetics in the Reformed tradition. He was highly influential in R.C.’s thoughts.[3] Sproul, Gerstner, & Lindsley. Classical Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.[4] Ibid. 185.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Presuppositional Apologetics, Van Til. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Van Til, Evidence, and Fideism

  1. gloryseed says:

    Interesting thoughts. I just posted a review of Van Til’s: Christian Apologetics on the blog: http://gloryseed.wordpress.com/

    I’d like your thoughts on it, if you have the time. Glory Seed Radio will start podcasting next month and will be doing something on Van Til.

    C. R. Wiley

  2. Thanks for the post, Uri. In November, I’ll be presenting a paper at the national ETS meeting titled, “Between Scylla and Charybdis: Presuppositionalism, circular reasoning, and the charge of fideism.”

    Here was my initial proposal:

    “Perhaps the single most common argument against a presuppositional apologetic methodology is the charge of fideism. One doesn’t have to look far in the relevent literature to find Van Tillian methodology dismissed or said to hold to a position that undermines the task of Christian apologetics. Though the term “fideism” is being rehabilatated in some circles, it is still widely understood as a dogmatic proclaimation of one’s view irrespective of rational argumentation. Nothing, it is believed, seems to demonstrate the fideism of the presuppositional method as well as their rejection of linear argumentation. Van Tillians are said to embrace, as a fundemental rule of their approach, circular reasoning.

    The aim of this essay is twofold. First, I will show that the charge of fideism against Van Tillian presuppositionalism is both imprecise and inaccurate. This will be done by showing that while some definitions of faith and reason are incompatible, others are not. Second, we will examine the charge of presuppositionalism’s alleged embrace of begging the question. This will be done by distinguishing between vicious and virtuous circularity, arguing that presuppositionalists embrace the latter, but eschew the former as strongly as their critics.”

    The goal is to correct the record on VT and his followers…again!

  3. Uri Brito says:

    Joe, let me know when you are done. If you don’t mind, I would like to take a look at it. Also, once I get the on-line radio program going, i’d like to interview you on Van Til.

  4. Wow, it just dawned on me that I never got back to you on this. Please accept my apologies. If you’re still interested in the paper, I can email it to you.

  5. Uri Brito says:

    Hey, what’s three years between friends. Send away!

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