Introduction to the Thought of Cornelius Van Til: Reality and Revelation
We now continue with our survey of the key concepts in the thought of Cornelius Van Til.
Reality and revelation. Because this universe is the creation of the all-wise God of Scripture, everything in it bears eloquent testimony to his character and wisdom. Truly, the “heavens are telling of the glory of God.” God is not known simply at the end of a syllogism. Every fact of the universe directs us back to its source. Van Til speaks of reality in this fashion:
Created reality may be compared to a great estate. The owner has his name plainly and indelibly written at unavoidable places. How then would it be possible for some stranger to enter the estate, make researches in it, and then fairly say that in these researches he need not and cannot be confronted with the question of ownership? To change the figure, compare the facts of nature and history, the facts with which the sciences are concerned, to a linoleum that has its figure indelibly imprinted. The pattern of such a linoleum cannot be effaced till the linoleum itself is worn away. Thus inescapably does the scientist meet the pattern of Christian theism in each fact with which he deals.
God’s interpretation of reality fixes the ontological structure of the universe. All of it is fully known and ever-present to God’s awareness. Just as in Genesis God speaks to the waters and tells them “you can go no further,” so His determination of creation fixes any ontological free-play. In all of this, man is not ignorant, for God’s wisdom, divine nature, and sovereignty over times and seasons are made known to him.
Man’s epistemological responsibility. Flowing from his teaching on the self-contained nature of God and the semiotic structure of reality is Van Til’s position on human nature and our epistemic responsibilities that follow. While Van Til affirms the biblical record that our first parents were created imago Dei, he moves beyond simply affirming the indicative aspect of this design, and focuses in closely on its imperative dimension. Man’s thought is a replica of God’s thought, but it is a finite image, insufficient to function as its own self-attesting authority. Adam, even in paradise, needed to make the voice of his creator the canon for his interpretive life.
Van Til’s two-circle epistemology. God’s analytical knowledge is self-attesting and acts as the objective structure of reality. This is God’s authoritative interpretation of creation (I’ll call this AI1). God’s interpretation of reality is unique to Him because only he comprehends all the facts and their relations. Nevertheless, man can have true knowledge. This knowledge is attained by creatures that submit to His revelation and “think God’s thoughts after Him.” Such servant-knowledge is pro mensura humana, knowledge fit for a creature, or what Van Til called analogical interpretation (AI2). On the lower circle, AI2 is spoken of as creaturely reconstruction of God’s original interpretation. Thus, the world is not a tabula rasa, a blank tablet whose meaning is ultimately deciphered by man.