Van Til and the Ligonier Apologetic -- By: John M. Frame

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 47:2 (Fall 1985)
Article: Van Til and the Ligonier Apologetic
Author: John M. Frame

Van Til and the Ligonier Apologetic*

John M. Frame


* R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984. x, 364. $12.95).

Classical Apologetics has been eagerly awaited. This book puts into systematic (and at least somewhat technical) form an apologetic approach of considerable interest, which up until now has been expressed primarily in popular writings and taped lectures. It is also notable for its critique of “presuppositionalism” (mainly in its Van Tillian form). This book is one of the most extensive critiques of Van Til to date,1 and I think of all the critiques of Van Til this one shows the most thorough research and the most accurate interpretation.2 In saying this, I should acknowledge a possible conflict of interest: The authors express indebtedness to me for correspondence between myself and Gerstner which “significantly sharpened our understanding of Vantillian apologetics.”3 However, in commending these authors for their understanding of Van Til, I am not intending to commend myself. My contribution to their formulations was relatively small (and, as it turns out, not always understood and/or accepted). But Gerstner himself is a former student of Van Til and has (as I know from personal discussions) been mulling over Van Til’s position for many years, with an intense interest and scholarly

care not matched, in my view, by other critics of Van Til.4 Thus the credit for the book’s high critical standards must go to the authors themselves.

I shall not discuss the details of the book’s historical studies, though these are interesting and are among the book’s best features. Gerstner was a professor of church history for many years, and this is his chief area of expertise. In general, the historical sections argue that a kind of “evidentialism” similar to the Ligonier type5 has been the common view of orthodox Christians through most of church history; hence it deserves to be called the “classical” or “traditional” view. This argument is supported by studies of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, seventeenth-century orthodoxy, Eastern and Roman orthodoxy.6 However, the authors believe that classical apologetics today is “sick and ailing,” though not dead.7 “Presuppositionalism,” they tell us, “has become the majori...

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