The Essential Problem with Van Til’s Apologetic

treeThink of a tree. What God knows about a tree is different than what you know about a tree.  He knows everything there is to know about trees and He always has.  You, on the other hand, know only a few things about trees, and you only ever will; therefore, it must be said that what God thinks about truth is different than what you think about truth.  For this reason God must speak to us with analogies, but don’t worry, because He has condescended to treat ideas these analogies convey as true.

This is essentially Van Til’s argument.  What brought Van Til to this argument was his insistence that knowledge must begin at the ontological Trinity.  In a nutshell, what the materialist tries to do is reduce everything to a oneness – i.e. the physical universe.  This eliminates any need for a cause.  The problem with this is that the universe is not just matter and energy.  Rather, the universe is also immaterial, absolute, uniform physical and mathematical laws that govern matter and energy.  The materialist then is left with the problem of accounting for these laws that are not matter and energy in a universe that is supposedly only matter and energy.   In this sense, Van Til rightly surmised that creation reflects its trinitarian Creator, who is “plural” (three) in one. 

The problem for Van Til is that he took he took his theory of knowledge too far into plurality.  If someone is to start from the Trinitarian position, then the goal should be to remain balanced between both oneness and plurality, because God is not only three persons, nor is He only one being, but rather He is three persons who each share one being.  The Father is fully God. The Son is fully God.  The Spirit is fully God.  And yet the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, nor is the Father or the Son the Spirit.  This overemphasis of plurality is where I believe Van Til went wrong.  He was right to assert that God knows more about things than we do, but God is also one Being; that is, while He does know more about trees than we know about trees, yet what we know about trees is a part of what He knows about trees.  Our knowledge of truth does indeed intersect at points.   

If we start with Scripture, like Clark did, then this required balance between plurality and oneness will tend to remain intact. But if we start with A revelation, like Van Til did, rather than with revelation itself, like Clark did, then we run the risk of taking either plurality or oneness too far at the cost of the other.  We only need look to the Charismatics to see an example of someone doing just that. 

About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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