I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Friday, December 25, 2009

Faith Seeking Understanding--Tertullian

Merry Christmas! I pray that you are experiencing the joy and satisfaction of knowing Christ Jesus, God’s supreme Gift.

This week I have been reading some from Tertullian. In On Prescription Against Heretics, I read the famous (or infamous, depending on how one understands it) line, “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?” (Ch. VII).

Regrettably, this statement and a couple others have earned this great Church Father the modern anathema of a fideist. As D.A. Carson says, “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” Reading these remarks within their literary context, and especially in the flow of Tertullian’s rhetorical purposes is sufficient to demonstrate that he was not a fideist. A fuller study of Tertullian gives the distinct portrait of a disciple who, through faith, had taken his reason captive to the obedience of Christ, and made that reason work as a slave of Christ and his Kingdom.

I believe that the real problem that most have with Tertullian’s apologetic is that he was not a rationalist (which is a fideism in its own right). We have much to learn from this great Father, who could rightly be considered the first presuppositionalist apologete.

Read this article for a relatively technical treatment of the issue.


  1. It seems that the charge of fideism is often tied to a misunderstanding of the nature of faith. Those who typically charge presuppositionalists with fideism generally understand faith to be believing something regardless of the fact that the belief in question is unjustified. But biblical faith has connotations of reliance upon something. And since we all rely on something or other, we are all fideists in the misunderstood sense of the word.

  2. You are so correct, Steve. Even R. C. Sproul charged WTS with fideism (the entire institution, not just Van Til). This because for the WTS, the faith was “defended on grounds other than natural reason” (see: Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic, 73, fn. 70). Clearly, Sproul is assuming a specious definition of fideism, and then imposes it on the discussion.

    Ultimately, the nonbeliever will regard anything that does not make human autonomy the final court of appeal as being fideistic. We, conversely, contend that any worldview which begins with autonomous reason is fideistic in every sense—it is without rational justification in its most fundamental principle.