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

Sunday, January 17, 2010


The charge is often made that presuppositionalists have a proclivity for ambiguity in their writings. There is certainly some warrant for this. I was talking to Ken Ham (who is no slouch to be sure) of Answers in Genesis one evening about their ministry’s overt move towards a presuppositional methodology. He almost immediately complained that Van Til’s work left him mystified. Ham added that Van Tilian purist, Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s most articulate interpreter, wasn’t much help either.

We who’ve studied (and studied and studied!) these two patriarchs of the biblical apologetic method can surely empathize with Ham. Despite Van Til’s penchant for creating new vocabulary (often by using arcane philosophical terms, packing them with utterly unique content) and assuming with his readers/students a PhD. in the history of philosophy, sometimes, I think, our problem is that we over complicate things.

For instance, one of Van Til’s more often expressed statements of the transcendental challenge to unbelief hung on the term “predication.” Without first presupposing the triune God of Scripture, said he, predication is impossible. Our tendency is to assume that Van Til means something other than what is normally meant by the term; but he doesn’t. The point is that sometimes we fail to grasp the subtlety of the presuppositional procedure.

We live in a world of people (sadly, ourselves often included) that is so blinded by their most basic presupposition of their would-be epistemological autonomy that any challenge to that autonomy is prima facie incredible and absurd. (How much more, then, the claim that humans cannot, in principle, predicate any subject with any property?!?)

Misunderstanding presuppositionalism therefore can be for reason of its proponent's philosophical complexity and/or the method’s inherent simplicity and fidelity to the God of Scripture. However, another cause of misunderstanding can be a lack of clear definition, especially one contrasting the method with the traditional “Case for this...Case for that” method that has been popular for so long (i.e., evidentialism, classical apologetics).

Dr. Robert Reymond in his New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith does a pretty good job of giving a definition (and/or description) of presuppositionalism and contrasting it with the popular evidentialism. Here are a couple of very helpful paragraphs from Pt. 2, “Introduction to the Doctrine of God” (pp. 145—46).

“Believing that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge' (Prov 1:7), that 'all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ' (Col 2:3), and therefore that the triune God (and/or the self-attesting Christ) is the transcendental, necessary ground of all meaning, intelligibility and predication, the presuppositional apologist maintains that the truth of God’s self-authenticating Word should be presupposed from start to finish throughout one’s apologetic witness. Accordingly, while the presuppositionalist values logic he understands that apart from God there is no reason to believe that the laws of logic correspond universally to objective reality. While he values science he understands that apart from God there is no reliable basis for doing science. While he values ethics he understands that apart from God moral principles are simply changing conventions and today’s vices can become tomorrow’s virtues. While he affirms the dignity and significance of human personhood he understands that apart from God man is simply a biological machine, an accident of nature, a cipher. And while he values the concepts of purpose, cause, probability and meaning he understands that apart from God these concepts have no real basis or meaning. Therefore, he thinks the Christian evidentialist is being untrue to his own faith when he grants to the unbeliever the hypothetical possibility of this being a non-theistic world that can successfully function and be rightly understood in terms of the laws of logic and the human sciences. And to suggest that the law of noncontradiction, the ‘law of causality,’ and ‘the basic reliability of sense perception’ are more non-negotiably certain in this world that God himself is to deny the existence of the sovereign God of the universe ‘for whom and through whom and to whom are all things’ (Rom 11:36). To do so is also abandon the Christ who ‘is before all things, in whom all thing consist’ (Col 1:7), ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col 2:3), and without whom man can do nothing (John 15:5). He reminds the evidentialist that it is not God who is the felon on trial; men are the felons. It is not God’s character and word which are questionable; men’s are (Job 40:1, 8; Rom 3:4; 9:20). And it is not the Christian who is the unauthorized intruder in this world...

It is not then the Christian primarily who must justify his Christian prescence in the world but the non-Christian who must be made to feel the burden of justifying his non-Christian views.”


  1. Great post!

    You refer to Van Til's "penchant for creating new vocabulary (often by using arcane philosophical terms, packing them with utterly unique content) and assuming with his readers/students a PhD. in the history of philosophy." Well, let's just say that I find your own writings very consistent with Van Til's. ;)

    Seriously, this was good stuff. I really appreciate Reymond's description.

  2. I’m glad you liked this (despite my “penchant” for opaque writing;).

    Reymond’s sys theo is very good. As you can tell by this excerpt, he’s a Van Tilian; he leans very heavily on Frame’s work, especially DKG. However, at times you can sense of Clarkian influence as well.

    I’m getting ready to write Beaner’s epistemology section of her philosophy curriculum, and I’m using Reymond’s work as part of this. Great stuff.


  3. Kevin: Greetings. As someone who has worked side-by-side with Ken Ham for 22 years, I need to point out that you could not have possibly cited him correctly; it is a misrepresentation (and Ken concurs; he read your blog with some surprise). Now, Ken may have told you that some of Van Til's ideas were tricky to follow, but he has stated that Bahnsen helped him understand Van Til better (accordingly, we sell the Bahnsen book, "Always Ready," that does just that). But to write that Ken is geenrally "mystified" by their writings is just not accurate. Thank you, and we appreciate the link you have provided to our website. Mark, CCO, Answers in Genesis

  4. Mark:

    Thanks for the corrective comment. What an honor you have to serve Christ in this capacity; not least, getting to work side-by-side with Mr. Ham.

    Your point is well taken. “Mystified” is perhaps too strong a term. I pray that you in no way think that any negative connotations that the term or the recounting of the conversation might carry were intended to in disparage the intellectual integrity or scholarship of Mr. Ham (and I especially hope he knows this!).

    Whatever negative sense was to be taken from the term was speaking more about Van Til’s lack of clarity. In context, I thought this was clear (but evidently, my writing is “mystifying” at times also). My mention of the conversation was to illustrate the point that one’s inability to quickly comprehend Van Til’s method, style, polimics, et cetera has nothing to do with intelligence, since Mr. Ham, who continuously demonstrates his intellectual aptitude, also finds the concepts often difficult. Nevertheless, my use of hyperbole is obviously in need of more finesse.

    After reading your post, I feared that I had a memory laps, so I asked my wife and daughter, who were present with us, their recollection of the brief exchange. Mystified is, perhaps, overstating it a bit; however, their memory of the talk comports more closely with mine than Mr. Ham’s. I recall Mr. Ham saying that Bahnsen did clear the air for him, but further that even his writings were sometimes difficult.

    This was several months back, and maybe Mr. Ham’s understanding of both writers has improved (if not, I’d highly recommend your own Jason Lisle’s Ultimate Proof, which is one of the best digestions of Van Til’s/Bahnsen’s approach that I’ve read). At any rate, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that we three lay Christians (three of thousands he talked to that week alone) would remember a five minute conversation with the world’s top creationist, whose books and videos fill our library, a little better than Mr. Ham would’ve. In fact, your note implies he didn’t remember the specific conversation at all. :(

    All that said, I’m both flattered and flabbergasted that out of all the publicity and criticism AiG faces on a daily basis, my pithy illustration caught your attention (which was meant to compliment not criticize, however unclearly stated). I guess I’m now the “mystified” one.

    Thanks for the comment, and the Lord’s good hand of blessing be upon your ministry to him. AiG’s effort to disseminate Van Til’s revolutionary apologetic method to the Church at large is quite commendable.

    (P.S. Please ask Dr. Menton if he would be our adoptive grandpa...My whole family finds him to be a most endearing gentleman and godly Christian.)