The Van Tillian Flavor of Herman Bavinck
Of course, this post might more rightly be titled, the Bavinckian flavor of Cornelius Van Til. For those familiar with the thought of Van Til, it’s well known that Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck was a huge influence on his thought. I myself knew this in principal, up until I started to read Bavinck myself. Though Van Til himself at times pointed out difference between them, there are numerous times in which readers can be downright confused as to what thinker they are reading. Many passages in Bavinck read so very Van Tillian. Here is a passage in which Bavinck explains the foundational convictions of the Christian apologist:
Apologetics cannot precede faith and does not attempt a priori to argue the truth of revelation. It assumes the truth and belief in the truth. It does not, as the introductory part or as the foundational science, precede theology and dogmatics. It is itself a theological science through and through, which presupposes the faith and dogmatics and now maintains and defends the dogma against the opposition to which it is exposed. Thus understood, apologetics is not only perfectly justified but a science that at all times, but especially in this century, deserves to be seriously practiced and can spread rich blessing all around.
First of all, it has the immediate advantage of forcing Christian theology to take deliberate account of the grounds on which it is based, of the principles on which it is constructed, and of the content it has within itself. It brings Christian theology out of the shadows of the mysticism of the human heart into the full light of day. Apologetics, after all, was the first Christian science.
Secondly, it teaches that Christians, even though they cannot confer faith on anyone, need not hide from their opponents in embarrassed silence. With their faith they do not stand as isolated aliens in the midst of the world but find support for it in nature and history, in science and art, in society and state, in the heart and conscience of every human being. The Christian worldview alone is one that fits the reality of the world and of life.
And finally, if it seriously and scrupulously performs its task, it will very definitely succeed in impressing opponents with the truth of Christian revelation, refuting and silencing them. It cannot truly convert people to God. Not even the preaching of the gospel is able to do that; only God, by his Spirit, can accomplish that. But subject to this working of God and as a means in his hand, apologetics, like the ministry of the Word, can be a source of consummate blessing. For this fact the early centuries of Christianity offer abundant evidence.
-Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, 515.
Likewise, the Dutch Master writes, “The foundations of faith (principia fidei) are themselves articles of faith (articuli fidei), based not on human arguments and proofs but on divine authority. The recognition of revelation, of Scripture as the Word of God, is an act of faith as well as its fruit” (109). Compare complimentary statements from Van Til himself:
Incidentally we remark that our acceptance of the Scriptures does not depend upon our argument for the absolute God and our argument for the absolute God does not depend upon our acceptance of the Scriptures. We say that one does not depend upon the other because they are mutually involved in one another and quite inseparable. Our concept of God as absolute is a matter of fact taught nowhere but in Scripture. That is as we should expect, since Scripture itself is necessary because of man’s departure from the knowledge of God. Scripture is nothing but God’s self – testimony to the sinner as once God’s self – testimony came to man through man’s own consciousness and through God’s thought communication in paradise. Hence too it is only by his internal testimony in our hearts, that is, through the regeneration wrought by the Holy Spirit that we believe his own external testimony as it lies before us in scripture. (Cornelius Van Til, Psychology of Religion)
It is true that no method of argument for Christianity will be acceptable to the natural man. Moreover, it is true that the more consistently Christian our methodology, the less acceptable it will be to the natural man. We find something similar in the field of theology. It is precisely the Reformed Faith which, among other things, teaches the total depravity of the natural man, which is most loathsome to that natural man. But this does not prove that the Reformed Faith is not true. A patient may like a doctor who tells him that his disease can be cured by means of external applications and dislike the doctor who tells him that he needs a major internal operation. Yet the latter doctor may be right in his diagnosis. …… It is upon the power of the Holy Spirit that the Reformed preacher relies when he tells men that they are lost in sin and in need of a Savior. The Reformed preacher does not tone down his message in order that it may find acceptance with the natural man. He does not say that his message is less certainly true because of its nonacceptance by the natural man. (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith)
Reading both authors is mutually beneficial to all, and equips us with navigating the contemporary hostility of our culture.