Cornelius Van Til and Romans 1:18-21 A Study in the Epistemology of Presuppositional Apologetics -- By: David L. Turner
GTJ 2:1 (Spr 81) p. 45
Cornelius Van Til and Romans 1:18-21
A Study in the
Epistemology of Presuppositional Apologetics
Should the Christian attempt to prove the existence of God to the unbeliever? Many apologists would answer in the positive, at least in some cases. However, Van Til says “no.” It is his view, admittedly developed by presupposing the truth of the Bible, that the unbeliever is somehow already aware, in the deep recesses of his heart, that God exists. Van Til develops this argument regarding the sensus deitatis (sense of deity) largely from Rom 1:18–21. This study seeks first to summarize some of the relevant features of Van Til’s epistemology. Then a brief exegesis of relevant features of Rom 1:18–21 follows, with the conclusion that Van Til is mainly correct. In evangelism and apologetics the Christian should not attempt to prove the existence of God to the unbeliever. The unbeliever, if he is honest with himself, knows this already. The Christian should proclaim the gospel, God’s appointed dynamic for turning the lost to himself.
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Van Til’s presuppositional apologetic differs radically from traditional apologetics (whether empirical, rationalistic, or a combination of both.) Viewing the Scriptures as self-authenticating, he assumes their truth. The following extended quotation well summarizes his basic position:
I take what the Bible says about God and his relation to the universe as unquestionably true on its own authority. The Bible requires men to believe that he exists apart from and above the world and that he by his plan controls whatever takes place in the world. Everything in the created universe therefore displays the fact that it is controlled by God, that it is what it is by virtue of the place that it
GTJ 2:1 (Spr 81) p. 46
occupies in the plan of God. The objective evidence for the existence of God and of the comprehensive governance of the world by God is therefore so plain that he who runs may read. Men cannot get away from this evidence. They see it round about them. They see it within them. Their own constitution so clearly evinces the facts of God’s creation of them and control over them that there is no man who can possibly escape observing it. If he is self-conscious at all he is also God-conscious. No matter how men may try they cannot hide from themselves the fact of their own createdness. Whether men engage in inductive study with respect to the facts of nature about them or engage in analysis of their own self-consciousness they are always face to face with God their maker.
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