Analytic Philosophy and Van Til’s Epistemology -- By: William D. Dennison

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 57:1 (Spring 1995)
Article: Analytic Philosophy and Van Til’s Epistemology
Author: William D. Dennison


Analytic Philosophy and Van Til’s Epistemology

William D. Dennison

I. Introduction: The Problem

Imagine, Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic leads to Hegelian pantheism! In 1953, philosophy professors Cecil De Boer (Calvin College) and Jesse De Boer (University of Kentucky) made such an accusation concerning Van Til’s apologetic. Their thesis was clearly stated by Cecil De Boer: “the new apologetic [Van Til’s] seems to have taken over uncritically the idealist theory of knowledge and truth, a theory leading logically to a kind of [Hegelian] pantheism.”1 Moreover, the De Boers fused their thesis with an attack upon Van Til’s claim that he was presenting a pure Christian epistemology, free from the corruption of non-Christian thought. In their estimation, Van Til’s formulation was tainted by the language of modern idealism, especially terminology found in Kant and Hegel. Hence, they believed that Van Til’s purism turned into a “boomerang” against his own system; Van Til was not a purist since “modern idealism is no friend of Christianity.”2

In contrast to the De Boers, many of the disciples of Van Til, led by Professor John Frame (Westminster Theological Seminary in California), have maintained that Van Til presented a biblically consistent epistemology in spite of his reliance upon the language of idealistic philosophy. These disciples acknowledge that Van Til received his philosophical education in the idealistic tradition. They hold, however, that Van Til adequately criticized idealism and redefined its terminology within the framework of his own presuppositions and method. Even so, it should be noted that these comrades of Van Til, like the De Boers, focus upon his use of language. There is, however, an obvious difference between the two approaches. For the De Boers, Van Til’s use of idealistic language creates a confusing, ambiguous, and at times nonsensical epistemology. In contrast, the Van Tilians maintain that his use of idealistic language creates a somewhat complex epistemology, but that his terminology is understandable if interpreted in the context of his presuppositions.

From my perspective, both critic and disciple have assessed Van Til’s epistemology by analyzing his particular dependency upon the terminology of idealism. Although the results of their analyses are different, I believe that both sides have failed to

perceive the foundation of Van Til’s epistemology because of a similar methodological procedure. Instead of dissecting the terminology of Van Til, both sides should have been analyzing the underlining structures of Van Ti...

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