Fideism and Presuppositionalism -- By: Stephen R. Spencer

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 08:1 (Spring 1987)
Article: Fideism and Presuppositionalism
Author: Stephen R. Spencer

Fideism and Presuppositionalism

Stephen R. Spencer

The oft-asserted view that a presuppositional apologetic is inherently fideistic raises the question of whether Cornelius Van Til was, indeed, a fideist. When Van Tils writings are examined in light of fideism defined as an advocacy of faith as the sole source of reliance in the ascertaining of truth, fideism is seen as incompatible with Van Tils position. His presuppositional approach manifests a concern for truth, for rationality, and for a faith that has both content and foundation.

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Certainly one of the most frequent characterizations of the presuppositional apologetic of Cornelius Van Til is that it is “fideistic.” Lewis, for example, is concerned that Van Til, despite serving forty-five years as a professor of apologetics, has constructed a system of theology, not a system of apologetics.1 In Lewis’s estimation, Van Til has not supplied a means of disputing with unbelievers concerning the truthfulness of Christianity. “In the name of defending the faith he has left the faith defenseless.”2

Montgomery likewise warns against Van Til’s tendency to treat the unbeliever as a believer, working out systematic theology and its implications rather than verifying Christianity by “focusing upon their needs” and using as a “starting point” the “common rationality.”3 Montgomery fears that Van Til has given the unbeliever “the impression that our gospel is as aprioristically, fideistically irrational as the presuppositional claims of its competitors.”4

Pinnock also raises the same issue. While saluting the contribution that Van Til has made to “a virile twentieth century apologetic,” Pinnock contends that “a curious epistemology derived from a modern Calvinistic school of philosophy in Holland has led him to align his orthodox theology with a form of irrational fideism.”5

Geisler, in his Christian Apologetics, includes Van Til in his chapter on fideism along with Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Barth. Geisler states that Van Til “speaks from a strong Reformed Biblical perspective theologically and yet in an absolute revelational presuppositionalism apologetically.”6 “Methodological fideism” is Geisler’s term for this position.7 Geisler notes five “central contentions” t...

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