The Inherent Fallacies of Reformed/Presuppositional Apologetics—Part 1


Cornelius Van Til’s (1895-1987) apologetic is a merger of several Reformed theologians, flowing from Calvin through Kuyper and Dooyeweerd (Doe-yuh-vair) finding its final confluence in Van Til.  In his Christian Apologetics he posits, “beginning from Calvinism we should descend to universalistic Protestantism and thence to Romanism [Catholicism] as deviations from the true view of Christianity” (italics mine).[1]  He makes that distinction throughout Christian Apologetics that anything other than Calvinism is a “descent” into theological oblivion.

Being the good Five Point Calvinist he is Van Til believes the only pathway to the True God of Scripture is through Reformed Theology.  This would not be so distressing, but he redefines or reframes terms in an almost cultic manner to arrive at or support his hypotheses.  For example in his Christian Apologetics,the only true Protestant comes from the Reformed tradition and any other apologetic system opposed to his Presuppositionalism is labeled either “Roman Catholic” (Romanist) or “Arminian.”

So Van Til’s puzzling Presuppositional apologetic is the conundrum scrutinized here.  It will become evident that the pieces of this puzzle do not fit together in a coherent system.

Why Apologetics?

            This singular question, “Why apologetics?” gives us a good launching pad to segue into where we are going.  For one thing, apologetics is commanded in Scripture.  We as Christians are commanded to do apologetics (1 Pet. 3:15).  Nevertheless, the average “Christian on the street,” even today, has no idea what “apologetics” is.  As a result, Christians remains ignorant of sound reasons for their faith and methods to defend it.  Even worse, the average unbelieving “man on the street,” never hears the defense that moves him towards the truth of the Gospel and Christ.

Apologetics, as Scripture posits, is merely a defense of the Christian belief system (Jude 1: 3).  Nevertheless, this simple definition “masks the complexity of the problem of defining apologetics. . . . [in fact] a diversity of approaches has been taken defining the meaning, scope, and purpose of apologetics.”[2]  Most of these various schools of apologetic thought fall outside the purview of this treatise.  However, this paper will attempt to unmask the problems in presuppositional apologetics; primarily Van Tillian presuppositional apologetics.

Simply stated, apologetics is pre-evangelism—that is, smashing the objections and obstructions so that the mind is willing to hear the Gospel.  To put in another way, it is garnering an argument or arguments that move a non-believer one-step closer to Christ.  Perhaps we will get but one chance to talk to an unbeliever.  Is it not imperative then that we use the most effectual argument(s) we can marshal?

The unarguable response among evangelicals should be a resounding, “yes.”  It is therefore critical we use the most effective apologetic possible.  After all, we may be the only one that crosses that unbeliever’s path armed with a persuasive, qualitative, riposte to his questions.

Though apologetics seems to be little understood or used by most Christians today it is desperately needed in our milieu.  Every Christian should be “an apologist” in the same way each one of us should be “an evangelist.”  The Bible commands both (Jude 1:3 and Mt. 28:19).  For that reason, it is even more important that we maximize our apologetic proficiency.

Apologetic Systems

One may ask, “On what basis do we argue that Christianity is truth?  On the basis of what understanding of knowledge and truth should the Christian apologists seek to lead non-Christians to the knowledge of Christianity as the truth? . . . The Reformed or Presuppositional apologists contend that God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ and in Scripture is the proper ground for all thinking about reason, fact and human experience” (italics mine).[3]

Van Til himself postulated, “Christianity claims to furnish the presuppositions without which a true scientific procedure is unintelligible.  Chief of these presuppositions is the idea of God as expressed in the doctrine of the ontological Trinity” (italics mine).[4]  Van Til yet again sustains and amplifies this belief as it applies to apologetics when he writes, “Christian apologetics cannot be indifferent to a system of philosophy or of science that, by its presuppositions and implications . . . rejects the doctrine of the ontological Trinity, the doctrine of creation, and the doctrine of the fall of man and his redemption through Christ.”[5]  This is the mindset, which will be investigated more deeply as we go forward, as well as other elements in the revelational apologetic.

Greg Bahnson (1948-1995), Van Til’s staunchest disciple wr0te, “Van Til has typically been characterized as abandoning the apologetic approach of Old Princeton for a Kuyperian approach. . . . [while not incorrect] he essentially formed a creative synthesis of the two.”[6]  Bahnson may well be correct in his assessment of his mentor, nonetheless it seems to be wanting.  In analyzing the Van Tillian conundrum there are other elements that must be included.  There is not the space to include every component; however, it will be singularly instructive to look at the two-abovementioned men in more detail; Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, and implicitly Kant.

Classical Apologetics

Opposed to the above paradigm is the Classical or Traditional approach, as Van Til branded it.  This emphasizes man’s God given logic and his God given ability to reason.  It “stresses arguments for the existence of God as well as the historical evidence supporting the truth of Christianity. . . . [and] is characterized by . . . [both] theistic and evidential arguments.”[7]

The driving force behind any apologetic system is it’s religious, theological, metaphysical, epistemological, and metapologetic framework.  Also in the equation is the apologists’ understanding of these various pillars and how they fit together into a cohesive system.

I will delve into this in some detail in my next installment.

Part 2

[1]. Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2003), 89.

[2]. Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman, Jr., Faith Has Its Reasons (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005), 1.

 [3]. Ibid., 39.

 [4]. Van Til, Christian Apologetics, 57, 58.

 [5]. Ibid., 59.

 [6]. Greg Bahnson, “Van Til’s Apologetic,” quoted in Boa and Bowman, 241,242.

  [7]. Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 41.

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