Van Til: “Historical Apologetics is Absolutely Necessary”

As I’ve noted on past occasions, the Reformed apologist and theologian Cornelius Van Til is often represented as a fideist, one that rejects rational and historical evidences for the truth of Christianity. This error has turned away a fair number of apologetics students from taking his work seriously. It’s made him a boogey man of sorts. While it’s true that historical apologetics was neither a strong suite nor a topic of emphasis in Van Til’s work, his statements on the subject are anything but obscure.

Historical apologetics is absolutely necessary and indispensable to point out that Christ arose from the grave, etc. But as long as historical apologetics works on a supposedly neutral basis, it defeats its own purpose. For in that case it virtually grants the validity of the meta- physical assumptions of the unbeliever. So in this case a pragmatist may accept the resurrection of Christ as a fact without accepting the conclusion that Christ is the Son of God. And on his assumptions he is not illogical in doing so. On the contrary, if his basic metaphysical assumption to the effect that all reality is subject to chance is right, he is only consistent if he refuses to conclude from the fact of Christ’s resurrection that he is divine in the orthodox sense of the term. Now, though he is wrong in his metaphysical assumption, and though, rightly interpreted, the resurrection of Christ assuredly proves the divinity of Christ, we must attack the unbeliever in his philosophy of fact, as well as on the question of the actuality of the facts themselves. For on his own metaphysical assumptions, the resurrection of Christ would not prove his divinity at all.

In addition to showing that Christ actually arose from the grave and that the facts recorded in the Scripture are as they are recorded as being, insofar as this can be ascertained by historical research, we must show that the philosophy of fact as held to by Christian the- ism is the only philosophy that can account for the facts. And these two things must be done in conjunction with one another. Historical apologetics becomes genuinely fruitful only if it is conjoined with philosophical apologetics. And the two together will have to begin with Scripture, and argue that unless what Scripture says about itself and all things else of which it speaks is true, nothing is true. Unless God as an absolutely self-conscious person exists, no facts have any meaning. This holds not only for the resurrection of Christ, but for any other fact as well.

-Cornelius Van Til,  An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 242-243

As always, Van Til is concerned that evidence not be presented as if it were neutral. But this concern doesn’t lead him to reject historical apologetics altogether. Where there are attacks on particular historical claims of the Bible the apologist is charged to take up that cause and defend the faith. We are to demonstrate that objections against Christianity fail. Van Til affirms this strongly. But we shouldn’t stop there. We need to show not only that the objection fails, but also that the worldview assumptions underlying the objection destroy the very possibility of knowledge.

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Posted on March 24, 2014, in Apologetics, Presuppositional apologetics, Van Til Stuff and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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