Review of Van Til’s “The Defense of the Faith”


[Another short review of an Apologetics book] I must say, Van Til had a mind.  To be honest, it was a little much for me.  He dealt with issues that perhaps a philosopher interacts with, but as a student of God’s Word I have not really even heard of, or in many ways I do not really have an interest in knowing.  It was amazing to me, for someone who is presented as founding his “apologetic” on the Word of God, that he found it so easy to go page after page without even mentioning the Bible!  He really was too steeped in philosophy to be of much benefit to me personally.  But with that being said, I did have a few questions about what he wrote.
First of all, I thought the charges brought against Van Til in the beginning were very, very interesting.  That he has “departed from the creeds and even from the idea of the Bible as the infallible standard of faith and practice” (p. 3).  Those are pretty hefty charges, and makes me wonder, what is really going on.  Obviously Van Til has hit a nerve somewhere, but is he suffering for righteousness, or has he just come up with his own system of thought (or re-digesting “idealism” has so many claim [p. 5])?  It seems like the rub, at least with some of those anti-Van Tilians is that Van Til claims he has the one and only argument – but they say, “It is true that this is a good argument, but it not evident that it is the only, or even the best argument” (p. 18).
When Van Til says his “business is to teach apologetics” (p. 27) and therefore he presupposes, “the Reformed system of doctrine” (p. 27), it calls his methods into question in my mind.  I do not believe anyone should ever “presuppose” a group of doctrines.  That is not setting up a very good practice when it comes to the Word of God.  If we want to base what we do on the Word, we should not first go to a set of systematic theologians and just take what they say to be truth.  Rather, we must go from the Word.  This feels very clumsy, and even lazy, of Van Til to say.
Also, in regards to Van Til’s Reformed theology; he goes so far as to say that his apologetic is meant to convert people, not just to be Christians, but to be reformed Christians, “As Reformed Christians we wish to show men that it is Reformed theology, not Romanism, nor even some lower form of evangelical Protestantism, that they need” (p. 54).  What ever happened to people needing Jesus Christ?  I mean, I can agree with Van Til on Romanism, but we would say they are not even Christians!  So how does his argument make people not just followers of Christ, but Reformed?  That just seems to much.
In light of how much criticism Van Til has received it is interesting to note how quickly he makes enemies.  I quote: “The ‘gospel according to St. Lewis’ is too much of a compromise with the ideas of natural man to constitute a clear challenge in our day” (p. 83).  So basically, Van Till accuses C.S. Lewis of proclaiming another gospel?  That is hard to believe.  And no wonder the vast majority of Van Til’s work is trying to dig himself out of the criticism he received.
The final thought I had in reading Van Til, was his usage of Romans chapter one.  He states that, according to the teaching of Paul, “all men do not have a mere capacity for but are in actual possession of the knowledge of God” (p. 115).  That is based on Romans 1:21, “For even though they knew God…”  But if one is going to say that all men “knew God,” based on the context of this verse, would not one also have to say that every individual in the human race is a homosexual? “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural” (Romans 1:26).  I believe this passage is a little more complex than Van Til makes it out to be.

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