The Consistency of Van Til’s Methodology -- By: Scott Oliphint

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 52:1 (Spring 1990)
Article: The Consistency of Van Til’s Methodology
Author: Scott Oliphint


The Consistency of Van Til’s Methodology

Scott Oliphint

I. Introduction

The purpose of this article will be to trace the apologetic method of 1 Cornelius Van Til in order to see, first of all, whether or not he was consistent in his method throughout his writings,1 and secondly, to clarify what that method is.

In dealing with the writings of Dr. Van Til, one must be selective. It would be worthwhile to attempt this analysis using all of Van Til’s writings. Space will not allow for that here. We have, therefore, chosen the following writings as representative of different periods during the course of Dr. Van Til’s career. Because we want to trace Van Til’s method from the beginning, we will begin with his doctoral dissertation of 1927. In this dissertation, “God and the Absolute,” Van Til seeks to show that the God of theism is not identical with the Absolute of idealism. Having looked at his treatment of idealism, we will then look at his syllabus, “A Survey of Christian Epistemology” (1932). In this syllabus we will see how he has developed his position over the course of a brief four years. We will then jump a few years and look at his “standard” work, The Defense of the Faith (1955). This lays the groundwork for Van Til’s Reformed apologetic method. We will also look at the “supplement” to that book, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, to see Van Til’s analysis of J. O. Buswell and the latter’s treatment of the theistic proofs. Other works will be made use of and cited when and where they are relevant to the particular time period in Van Til’s career.

II. God and the Absolute (1927)

“Accordingly, we do not seek to prove Christian Theism but only try to show that we can find no meaning in our human experience unless there be a self-sufficient God.” 2 Thus Van Til gives us the purpose of his dissertation. It can readily be seen that this statement already sets Van Til radically apart from his contemporaries in apologetics. William Brenton Greene, Jr., Van Til’s own teacher in apologetics, “follows the traditional method of

apologetics as worked out by Bishop Butler and others.”3 This traditional method was one which sought to prove God’s existence by man’s own reason and then, from that proof, to bring in the truths of Christianity. These so-called theistic proofs were popularized primarily by Thomas Aquinas who worked out cosmological, henological, and teleological proofs for God’s existence.

Van Til openly states that he w...

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