Presuppositionalism and the Abandonment of Old Princeton

Originally published here: Presuppositionalism and the Abandonment of Old Princeton at

A disagreement in apologetics between B. B. Warfield and Abraham Kuyper a generation prior sheds light on the origins of the Clark-Van Til controversy. Warfield followed a long line of Princeton professors in his apologetic approach. In fact, the Princeton approach itself was a continuation of Scottish Common Sense Realism philosophy, traceable to the eighteenth century. Warfield, like his precursors, held an evidentialist view of apologetics that appealed to general revelation to provide one with knowledge of God’s existence prior to building a case for accepting the validity of the Bible. He believed the existence of God was knowable through the evidence of general revelation—through what was seen in the world—and by this man was made inexcusable before God. Warfield also believed that by logic—the rules of logical inference—the consistency of the believer and the inconsistency of the unbeliever could be shown.

J. Gresham Machen
J. Gresham Machen

Where Warfield had an evidentialist approach to apologetics, Kuyper had a presuppositional (or proto-presuppositional) one. Rather than starting with general revelation, Kuyper began with special revelation, the Scriptures. He believed reason should not judge revelation. Kuyper saw the believer’s and unbeliever’s worldviews as completely separate, with no point of common ground. For Kuyper, all beliefs were relative to one’s worldview; there was no neutral item on which the worldviews could agree.

In the introduction to Francis Beattie’s Apologetics, Warfield calls Kuyper “a striking instance” of those mystics who have the tendency to “deprecate Apologetics because they feel no need of ‘reasons’ to ground a faith which they are sure they have received immediately from God.” Warfield then argued that in the face of rationalist attacks against Christianity, believers need better arguments for faith, rather than a retreat in the form of saying faith is an “immediate creation of the Holy Spirit in a man’s heart.” Clarifying his own position, Warfield wrote, “It is just as essential that grounds of faith should be present to the mind as that the Giver of faith should act creatively upon the heart” and “that faith is, in all its exercises alike, a form of conviction, and is necessarily grounded on evidence.”1 In short, Warfield saw Kuyper’s approach, lacking arguments for faith, as purely fideistic.

B. B. Warfield
B. B. Warfield

Owen Anderson, in B. B. Warfield and Right Reason, wrote, “Van Til attempted to formulate a third position that takes the best of both of these [Warfield and Kuyper] and yet avoids what he saw as weaknesses in each. Some, like R. C. Sproul, accuse Van Til of being a Kuyperian (see Sproul’sClassical Apologetics), but students of Van Til, such as Greg Bahnsen, denied this and pointed to explicit statements by Van Til to the contrary (see Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetics: Reading and Analysis).”2 W. Robert Godfrey, another student of Van Til, however, lends credence to Sproul’s view that Van Til was far closer to Kuyper than to Warfield. Godfrey wrote, “Van Til maintained the strong anti-Modernism and unmodified Calvinism of Old Princeton. But he did decisively change the apologetic direction of the seminary. He built not on the evidentialism of Warfield, but on the work of Abraham Kuyper.”3 Further, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Professor Morton H. Smith (b. 1923) wrote, “The apologetics of Dr. Van Til has come to be known as presuppositional apologetics, as opposed to the traditional evidential apologetics of Old Princeton.”4

Even Van Til’s strongly supportive biographer, William White, admitted to the significance of the change from Old Princeton to Van Tillian apologetics. He wrote, “Throughout the last hectic months at Princeton and the early segment of seminary life in Philadelphia, it is not clear how many of the Westminster men were aware of the basic and far-reaching revolution going on in the orbit of apologetics. Did Machen understand how far from the old Princeton apologetic the new Westminster apologetic really was? Did Machen realize that Van Til, R. B. Kuiper, and Ned Stonehouse had brought to Philadelphia the best of Amsterdam?”5

Cornelius Van Til
Cornelius Van Til

In Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith he confirmed “what has been advocated in this syllabus has in large measure been prepared under the influence of Kuyper” and argued that “it is only in Apologetics, Warfield wanted to operate in neutral territory with the believer. He thought this was the only way to show the unbeliever that theism and Christianity are objectively true.” But on one point—the usefulness of reasoning with unbelievers—Van Til sided with Warfield. He wrote, “I am unable to follow him [Kuyper] on the uselessness of reasoning with the natural man,” and “Warfield was quite right in maintaining that Christianity is objectively defensible. And the natural man has the ability to understand intellectually, though not spiritually, the challenge presented to him. And no challenge is presented to him unless it is shown him that on his principle he would destroy all truth and meaning.”6

Clark believed that Van Til’s (and Kuyper’s) apologetics went too far in rejecting logic as a common ground between the believer and unbeliever.7 Despite Van Til’s desire to avoid the use of logic to determine his worldview, he still had to employ logic. Clark, realizing the impossibility and hypocrisy of such a position, retained logic in his apologetics while Van Til denied common ground of any sort, including logic. Clark argued that all men, believer and unbeliever alike, shared the same logical mental structure because this structure was part of the image of God in which all men were created.8 In this respect, Clark continued part of the tradition of Warfield and Old Princeton, even if he rejected other aspects such as the thesis that general revelation necessarily preceded special revelation of the Bible.

Explaining Clark’s view, Dr. Gary Crampton wrote in The Scripturalism of Gordon H. Clark:

Abraham Kuyper
Abraham Kuyper

“After demonstrating the internal incoherence of the non-Christian views, the Biblical apologete will argue for truth and the logical consistency of the Scriptures and the Christian worldview revealed therein. He will show how Christianity is self-consistent, how it gives us a coherent understanding of the world. It answers questions and solves problems that other worldviews cannot. This method is not to be considered as a proof for the existence of God or the truth of Scripture, but as proof that the non-Christian view is false. It shows that intelligibility can only be maintained by viewing all things as dependent on the God of Scripture, who is truth itself. This is the proper ‘presuppositional’ approach to apologetics.”9

Clark believed that because of the shared logical nature of all men, Christians can legitimately argue with unbelievers on two grounds; firstly, the Christian can argue that the unbeliever’s worldview is inconsistent, and secondly, the Christian can argue that Christianity is consistent.

Van Til diverged from the Old Princeton tradition further than Clark by largely accepting Kuyper’s formulations.10 Clark later pointed out the fact that Van Til was outside of the Old Princeton tradition. He wrote, “Machen was more opposed to the Van Til apologetics than I am. Machen accepted Hodge.”11 However, Clark was not in the Old Princeton tradition either and admitted such. “I never followed the Old Princeton apologetic. I certainly never had any sympathy with the Common Sense school.”12 In another place Clark criticized Scottish Common Sense Philosophy (which many at Princeton followed) as “one of the most incompetent types of philosophy in the history of the subject.”13 With neither party legitimately able to claim that they followed the Old Princeton apologetics, the Clark-Van Til controversy functioned to determine the new orthodoxy in the church’s apologetics.

Westminster Theological Seminary might have been friendly to Clark’s ideas in an earlier age—Princeton graduates from past generations would have appreciated his rigorous method, his uncompromising stance, his intellectualism, and his commitment to logical argumentation—but by 1944, the year of The Complaint, much of this had changed. WTS had lost many of its ties to Old Princeton. When Machen formed WTS in 1929, a number of professors left Princeton to join the new seminary. But by the time of The Complaint, all of the WTS professors who had significant experience at Princeton were gone. Robert Dick Wilson, an expert scholar of Biblical languages, had died in 1930; the independently wealthy Oswald T. Allis resigned in 1935 to focus on his writing, and Machen had died in 1937. These three had been long-time Princeton professors, steeped in “Princeton Theology.” With the departure of these professors, WTS was no longer Old Princeton. It was a new seminary, with new professors, mostly young and with lesser ties to Princeton. The younger professors at WTS (Cornelius Van Til, Ned Stonehouse, R. B. Kuiper, and Paul Woolley) had all been students at Princeton, but only Van Til had taught there, and even then, only briefly. John Murray also had taught at Princeton, but for only one year. The influence from Old Princeton remained, but it was mixed with and muted by other theologies, particularly those of the Christian Reformed Church in which Van Til, Kuiper, and Stonehouse had been raised. Influenced by the Dutch Reformed traditions, the WTS faculty had difficulty recognizing the fidelity to the Presbyterian tradition in Clark’s theology.

1 B. B. Warfield, “Introduction to Beattie’s Apologetics” in Benjamin B. Warfield Selected Shorter Writings Volume 2, ed. John E. Meeter (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973), 93-99.

2Owen Anderson, Benjamin B. Warfield and Right Reason (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005), 46.

3 W. Robert Godfrey, “The Westminster School,” Reformed Theology in America: A History of Its Modern Development, ed. David F. Wells (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans Pub., 1985), 96.

4 Morton Smith, “The Southern Tradition,” Reformed Theology in America: A History of Its Modern Development, ed. David F. Wells (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1985), 204.

5 William White, Van Til, Defender of the Faith: An Authorized Biography (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1979), 99.

6 Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1955), 361-364.

7 “Dr. Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary has annoyed the empirical apologetes by insisting that there is no common ground shared by believers and unbelievers—that is if both are consistent with their principles. The empirical aim is to discover some point of agreement which they can use in convincing any man of the truth of Christianity. Dr. Van Til denies that there is such an agreement.” – Gordon H. Clark, Lord God of Truth (Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1986), 37.

8 Clark wrote to J. Oliver Buswell (a follower of the Warfield / Old Princeton’s approach), “It amuses me somewhat to compare what you say of my thought with what Dr. Van Til says. You complain that I do not allow for a ‘common ground’ while Dr. Van Til condemns me because I do. Probably I suffer from inability to express myself clearly. … I hold that Christ is the light and logos that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. I hold that every man is made in the image of God, and that every man has what may be conveniently be called an innate idea of God. All this is common ground between the Christian and the unbeliever. But there is no common ground between Christianity and a non-Christian system.” – GHC to JOB, 10 November 1947, SDCS Library, 1/52.

9 W. Gary Crampton, The Scripturalism of Gordon H. Clark (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1999), 44.

10 See: Owen Anderson, “Chapter 4: Benjamin B. Warfield and Cornelius Van Til…” in Benjamin B. Warfield and Right Reason (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005).

11 GHC to Michael A. Hakkenberg, 11 July 1980, provided by John Muether.

12 Ibid.

13 Gordon H. Clark, The Incarnation (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1988), 41.

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  • Thanks for this post.

    Clark believed that Van Til’s (and Kuyper’s) apologetics went too far in rejecting logic as a common ground between the believer and unbeliever.

    I think this point can be nuanced a bit more, as it is liable for confusion. Van Til’s view was that the use of logic, period, was the exercise of natural theology. The very idea that there is or should be logical consistency in our thought is unbiblical, according to Van Til. In that sense, there is no common ground because the unbeliever will try to be logically consistent while the Christian will adamantly refuse to be.

    Clark, of course, thought this was nonsense. Logic is the structure of God’s thoughts, and as such, applies to all image bearers and all of God’s revelation. God’s revelation is logically consistent. In this sense, there is agreement with the unbeliever in the necessity of non-contradiction. Although, this is not an area of agreement with every unbeliever, since logic is deprecated among many in their worldview constructions. However, Clark certainly did not mean this in the sense that we start with logic as common ground and then build a natural theology from there – but that is what Van Til was arguing against.

    Also, you imply that on this point, Van Til followed Kuyper while Clark followed Princeton. However, I don’t think that Kuyper in any way denied the valid use of logic by Christians, nor that it was innate in unbelievers.

    Here are some quotes from Van Til’s Common Grace and the Gospel:

    On this basis it is quite possible for Christians to join with non-Christians in the scientific enterprise without witnessing to them of God. The Christians and nonChristians have, on this basis, a certain area of interpretation in common. They have common ideas in the sense that they agree on certain meanings without any difference. It is not merely that they are together confronted with the natural revelation of God. It is not merely that men are, all of them together, made in the image of God. It is not merely that they have in them the ineradicable sense of deity so that God speaks to them by means of their own constitution. It is not merely that, as Kuyper stressed, all men have to think according to the rules of logic according to which alone the human mind can function. It is not merely that all men can weigh and make many scientific discoveries.

    Witness-Bearing In The Laboratory

    All these things are true and important to maintain. But it is when in addition to these it is said that there are common notions, common reactions, about God and man and the world to all this speech of God, on which there is no basic difference between Christians and non-Christians, that natural theology is confused with natural revelation. And it is allowed that those who assume that the facts of this world are come from chance and those who presuppose that the facts of this world are created and controlled by God, have essentially the same interpretation of these facts. Thus the Christian and the non-Christian scientist could work together in the laboratory for days, for weeks and years and the Christian would have no other witness to give to his friend than to invite him to the prayer meeting or the Sunday service.

    Perhaps the first question we should ask ourselves is whether the Kuyper-Bavinck form of theological statement in general, in which nearly all, if not all, who have been engaged in the recent common grace debate have been nurtured, does not, to some extent at least, suffer from the disease of abstraction. Perhaps the physicians have not altogether escaped the disease against which they have inoculated others. As a grateful patient it is my duty now to assert that in my humble judgment such is the case.

    Finally Kuyper speaks of a third territory that all have in common, namely, that of logic. “There is not a twofold but only one logic.” 44 This allows, he says, for formal interaction between the two groups of interpreters.

    There is a qualitative, not merely a quantitative, difference between God and man. Kuyper has not made a clear distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian ideal of knowledge.

    The whole idea of a science that is based on regeneration, as this is set forth in his Encyclopedia, proves the correctness of Veenhof’s contention on this point. It is well to emphasize again that it is from Kuyper, more than from any one else in modern times, that we have learned to think concretely. Both on the question of the universal and on that of the particular, Kuyper has taught us that we must build on our own presuppositions… Kuyper shows how, because of the fact of regeneration, there must be a twofold development of science. Yet this twofold development could not, in the past, be clearly marked if for no other reason than that there is “a very broad territory where the difference between the two groups has no significance.” 40 As a reason for this, Kuyper offers the fact that regeneration does not change our senses nor the appearance of the world about us.

    I believe you are correct in the end to trace the influence of Van Til’s irrationalism to his Dutch tradition, but I don’t think Kuyper is the full root of his rejection of logic.

  • I think it can accurately be said that the difference between Clark’s and Van Til’s presuppositionalism is what they presupposed. Clark presupposed Scripture. Van Til presupposed the incomprehensible ontological Trinity. Thus the divergence between the two should be traced to influences on Van Til’s doctrine of God’s incomprehensibility. Here you will see Van Til influenced by the Dutch tradition while Clark is influenced by the rest of the reformed tradition.

    Note specifically what Clark says on this point:

    You ought to realize that what Van Til means by incomprehensibility is not what Charles Hodge means by incomprehensibility. There are two very different views, different definitions. Though, I hate to say two different definitions, because the Westminster people don’t really define incomprehensibility but they do explicitly reject Hodge’s view. They don’t use the term Hodge, but they give his definition and say it is no good.

  • “This method is not to be considered as a proof for the existence of God or the truth of Scripture, but as proof that the non-Christian view is false”

    Could someone show how that is not double-speak?

    It’s ‘not’ a proof, yet it ‘is’ a proof that the non-Christian view is false. If it’s a proof that the non-Christian view is false, then it ‘is’ a proof.

    • I think Dr. Crampton meant that you can prove that other worldviews are
      false, but that doesn’t prove that the Christian worldview is true.
      Make sense?

      • Okay, so was Clark then to be understood as saying something along the lines of, “This method is not to be considered as a proof for the existence of God or the truth of Scripture, but as proof that the [particular non-Christian view in question] is false” ?

        The brackets would indicate the change I made, which is what I gather Clark is actually saying in this case. Is that correct?

        I guess I was just seeking clarification on what Clark was saying since it seemed contradictory.

        I’ll post a bit more above in reply as well.

        • If I’m not mistaken, you are quoting Dr. Crampton on Clark, not Clark himself.

          I do think you are correct in equating “the non-Christian view” in Dr. Crampton’s sentence with the “particular non-Christian view in question” in your sentence.

          • Thanks for clarifying Luke Miner. I see the emphasis with that. In further thinking through it though, I see an issue.

            “This method is not to be considered as a proof for the existence of God or the truth of Scripture, but as proof that the non-Christian view is false”

            If Clark really means this, then what he’s saying is that the method proves the non-Christian view in question is false. But by extension, that means any non-Christian view. Does it not?

          • I don’t see how. Why would it mean that by extension?

          • Sorry for the delay here. I was meaning to say that if Clark thinks it’s always possible that the non-Christian view can be shown to be false, then by extension, that would mean the Christian view can always be shown true by that means.

            How is that not the case?

          • Well he doesn’t claim to be able to show that all non-Christian views are false. Who could ever do that? But, even if he did, it wouldn’t follow that the Christian view is true.

            And I believe that, presented a non-Christian worldview, I could show it to be false, as Dr. Crampton describes, but that belief doesn’t constitute proof that the Christian view is true.

          • “Well he doesn’t claim to be able to show that all non-Christian views are false. Who could ever do that?”

            That’s the thing, he assumes that, by extension. When he says this…

            “This method is not to be considered as a proof for the existence of God or the truth of Scripture, but as proof that the non-Christian view is false”

            He’s assuming that it is possible to prove the non-Christian view false. By “the non-Christian view” it’s understood that he means any non-Christian view in question. So by extension, that means he’s assuming any non-Christian view can be proved false.

            So if he meant what he said, the Christian view is proved true by the fact that any non-Christian view can be proved false. If it’s true that any non-Christian view can be proved false, then it is true that the Christian view is true.

          • You said: “If it’s true that any non-Christian view can be proved false, then it is true that the Christian view is true.”

            I think this is an error in logic. Think about it. If there are 200 total opinions on topic T. If you prove 199 of them false, it doesn’t prove #200 true.

            As you said, “the non-Christian view” refers to “any non-Christian view in question.” That doesn’t mean any non-Christian view in the world. ‘The non-christian view’ is the specific view in question.

          • “The non-christian view’ is the specific view in question.”

            Precisely, it’s an assumption that any given non-Christian view can be proved false. By extension, that means the Christian view is true.

            I understand your point about proving only 199 view false too. I’d argue a different point. It’d be a fool’s errand to try and disprove every single view the human mind could concoct. So we instead recognize the coherency/consistency of the Christian view and argue that in lieu of it being the only consistent view humans have been given, any and all opposing views would necessarily assume premises that aren’t necessarily consistent even in order to “try” and get to a consistent view.

            In other words:
            1.) The Christian view is already consistent.
            2.) The Christian view is the only consistent view that currently exists.
            3.) Any other view must first rely on premises that aren’t necessarily consistent, in order to try and arrive at consistency.

            The bare existence of the Christian view invalidates any other view, there’s just no need since it’s already consistent. Moreover, all other views must first rely on it since it’s consistent.

          • If you could prove #1 and #2, then you’d be close to a proof for the Christian worldview. I’ve never seen such a proof. But, as you’ve admitted, Crampton is right to say that the disproof of non-Christian views is no proof of Christianity.

          • “If you could prove #1 and #2, then you’d be close to a proof for the Christian worldview.”

            That wouldn’t be ‘close” to a proof. That would be a proof because assuming 1 and 2 would entail that any other view must first rely on the Christian view.

            Given the clarity of that, if someone wishes to assert otherwise, they’ll need to be able to provide a proof of their statement.

            Further, 1 is already proved, there’s nothing inconsistent within the Christian view. If someone wishes to assert otherwise, they’ll need to show the inconsistency.

            Similarly, if someone wishes to assert that there exists another consistent view, they’ll need to show that view.

          • Don’t you think you’ve have confused the burden of proof? If you think that #1 and 2 are provable, it is up to you to prove them. If you can, you will be a renowned philosopher very soon. Just because joe-atheist can’t prove them false doesn’t mean they are true.

            There are two errors in logic that are haunting you here.
            1. If all non-Christian views are false, the Christian one is true
            2. A proposition is proven true because no one has proven it false

            I can’t accept those. To me, they seem blatantly fallacious.

            Here is another suggestion. Maybe we are operating on 2 different definitions of proof. Any thoughts on that?

          • “Don’t you think you’ve have confused the burden of proof?”

            Certainly not, I think people have succumbed to popular myths like that of the ‘burden of proof’. Proof isn’t simply incumbent on anyone affirming propositions of a certain sort. It’s incumbent on everyone. Every single person affirming any proposition at all should be held to account for their affirmation.

            Likewise, the person asserting that there’s a burden of proof only upon people affirming certain categories of propositions must account for his affirmation of that proposition.

            “There are two errors in logic that are haunting you here.
            1. If all non-Christian views are false, the Christian one is true”

            That’s a logical error on your part. There are only 2 sets of views in that context:

            A. ALL the views that are non-Christian.
            B. The Christian view.

            There are only those 2 sets given the context so all views would fit into one of those. If the view doesn’t belong to set B, then it belongs in set A which is just the negation of B. And if all the views belonging to set A are false, then by extension, all views in set B are true, which is just one view.

            “2. A proposition is proven true because no one has proven it false”

            I never said that nor could it be derived from what I did say.

          • Well David, I guess we aren’t communicating too well here. It just seems to me that #1 and #2 are pretty lofty claims. If you don’t think you need to back them up, I won’t try to force you to. I didn’t make those claims so I won’t try to bear the burden of proof for them.

            I think the logical errors are pretty evident, so I’ll leave you to think about them and get back to me if you have any questions. Bahnsen has a great course in logic that I benefited greatly from on CMF. I highly recommend it whether or not you ever agree with me (although some of the sound quality is really bad). You sound like a Bahnsenite yourself and we learn from the best.

          • I do have a high regard for Bahnsen and I’ve listened to some of his series on logic. I have the same respect for Clark as well but I’m admittedly confused about the disagreement between Clark and Van Til/Bahnsen. My questions were initially seeking clarification about Clark’s position, for that reason. I thought Clark held that the Christian view is necessarily true, I’m at a loss for what he believed about that now.

            As for the truth of the Christian view, I accept it as true because God caused me to know it as true. I don’t expect anyone will just up and see that as any sort of proof. But I do hope people will consider the necessity of consistency, by which the truth of Christianity can easily be seen.

            I have to ask at this point, do you see the Christian view as being necessarily true?

          • Have you read much of Clark’s actual works? I can recommend you some books if you’d like more clarification. I think it is rather difficult to gain a deep understanding of the philosophical issues at play here without doing some serious study. You can’t get it only through discussing it with people.

            I wouldn’t focus on Clark vs. Van Til until you develop a basic understanding of the issues of epistemology and metaphysics that underlie them. Why jump the gun and pick sides now? My personal opinion is that the some of the main differences between them lie in the influence of Til’s thomistic metaphysic over his epistemology, but this requires a basic understanding of Thomistic and Aristotelian metaphysics versus the Augustinian and Platonic views. This is why everybody is confused because they want to pick sides rather than taking the hours, weeks, months, and years to understand the issues before choosing sides. And it makes sense, because, if I vilify one side, then I don’t have to take the time to understand them. The way to personal security isn’t the way to truth, and I think you agree with me.

            I would like to answer your question, but I don’t know what you mean by “necessarily true”. Remember when I asked you if we were operating under a differing definition of proof? All this time, I have been arguing under the assumption that to prove something is to show that it can be logically inferred from the axioms (the starting points) of your worldview. Under that definition, you could never expect me to admit that the starting points could be proven because then they wouldn’t be starting points. That is how I would also define “necessarily true,” but I’ll let you define it since it is your question, and I’ll try to answer accordingly. If you want to use a different definition, you are free to do so.

          • As I’m sure you’ve recognized, I’ve only read bits and pieces of Clark’s work. But the main point I agree with him on is that Scripture is propositional. This is a fundamental tenet, one that actually underlies the Clark/Van Til disagreement as well. In other words, the two disagreed on specific propositions. I’d just like to know what those specific propositions are, and I believe that can be found by simply discussing specific propositions with followers of each. It’s more important for me to discuss this with their followers, with the goal being fellowship in agreement with those who haven’t yet passed on.

            By ‘necessarily true’, I really just mean ‘true’. But in modern parlance, it’s unfortunately too often that ‘true’ needs that qualification. If a proposition is true, it’s true regardless of one’s underlying assumptions so a person’s worldview wouldn’t affect its truthfulness.

            Do you believe Christianity is true regardless of one’s underlying assumptions?

            Thanks for your clarification about proof too, I’ll re-state that like so:

            – Proof is showing that the truth of a proposition can be inferred from the axioms of a worldview.

            We should take care to recognize that the axioms of a worldview are likewise propositions, assumed as true from the offset. Moreover, propositions such as the law of non-contradiction are necessarily assumed by everyone, even those who try to deny them.

            The laws of logic aren’t the only axioms assumed as true by everyone, there are many more. For example, everyone assumes words have objective meaning, they assume that others will understand their words.

            Likewise, the following statements are necessarily assumed:

            A. Truth is absolute and objective.
            B. An absolute, objective authority (God) exists.
            C. The affirmation of any proposition assumes a plea to authority.

            As with the laws of logic, those axioms belong to everyone’s worldview. Obviously though, most people contradict those axioms with other propositions they affirm. Atheists, for example, contradict B when they affirm, “God might not exist”. Mormonism would likewise contradict B because their theology disallows them from knowing if there is a God (they can only know that there’s a “god” over this particular world).

            If it can be shown that people are assuming things as true, that only the Christian view is consistent with, then we have a proof. Do we not?

            Please note, the statements I’m making are nothing more than a bunch of propositions about which you’re free to disagree. But it’s important to me to discuss and dissect any disagreements.

          • I agree with much of what you said here, but I strongly caution the approach represented by your statement “I believe that can be found by simply discussing specific propositions with followers of each.” I think this is the road to confusion. If you want to understand God, you must read the Word of God. If you want to understand Platonism, you must read Plato. You won’t find any books on Platonism written by people who have only discussed things with followers of Plato. Likewise, if you want to learn Clark, you read Clark. If you want to learn Clark vs. Van Til, you have to read both of them. That isn’t to say that discussing with others is worthless, but what would your discussions with Bible-followers profit you if you never read the Bible? Not much. Neither will your discussions of Clark/Van Til profit you if you don’t read them. I think we should read lots, then discuss lots, then read more. Plus most Clarkians little understanding of what Clark taught and most Tillians have little understanding of what Til taught. I know you have a limited amount of time, but knowledge acquisition is the foundation of the Christian life; knowing God (a good Clarkian teaching).

            Yes, I believe that the Christian worldview is true; the Christian worldview being the propositions of Scripture.

            You said: “If it can be shown that people are assuming things as true, that only the Christian view is consistent with, then we have a proof. Do we not?”

            Not if you take my definition of proof. I literally mean proof consists in deducing things from the axioms. To prove, you need a syllogism, 2 premises and a conclusion.

          • “but I strongly caution the approach represented by your statement”

            I do understand your concern, especially where people so often misrepresent others. What I was saying about propositions should help clarify though, my concern is to know the specific propositions people affirm, which can be done without extended reading of a person’s writings. Moreover, my greater hope is to connect with people who are physically alive and I can garner the propositions they affirm from what they say or literally affirm.

            Just to add too, we do indeed know God’s Word based on his followers. They’re the ones God used to pass along his Word. 😉

            I understand what you meant about it, but I want to note that what I said comports with the Biblical principals surrounding study of God’s Word.

            “Not if you take my definition of proof. I literally mean proof consists in deducing things from the axioms.”

            This I don’t get. It seems to me like you’ve just taken for granted what the rest of the world says, that it’s just not possible. Have you actually thought through this, to see whether it is possible?

            Given the propositions I stated, I see how a structured syllogism could be formulated. But I’d rather not up and post that without first asking, have you even tried that yourself?

          • “Moreover, my greater hope is to connect with people who are physically alive and I can garner the propositions they affirm from what they say or literally affirm.”

            If you are after knowledge, it is better to read Gordon Clark or Cornelius Van Til than their less educated followers. There is a reason why their followers follow them. Moreover, the dead people like Augustine, Calvin, and Spurgeon are much more worth reading than most any modern theologian. There is a reason why the MacArthurs, the Pipers, the Clarks, and the Van Tils of this world read dead guys. If you aren’t looking for knowledge and you just want to know what amateurs think about stuff, then you don’t need to read the dead people. But what good is it to know what amateurs think if you don’t know what is true? Again, if you want to know God, you read his Word, and talking to His followers is secondary. I don’t think it is any different in this case. (and I couldn’t disagree with you more that the Bible is a product of His followers and not His own Word. Scripture is ‘God-breathed’.).

            Again, my definition of proving something is ‘logically deducing it from the axioms’. What I mean by ‘axiom’ is a ‘starting point’ or ‘presupposition’. I am a presuppositionalist. My axiom is ‘the Bible is the Word of God’. Therefore, I use ‘the Bible is the Word of God’ to prove other things. Not to prove itself. That is just presuppositionalism. The evidentialists try to prove that without assuming it, they think it is silly to assume it so they try to prove it. Am I making sense?

            If you think you can deduce it in a syllogism, give it a shot. Trying is the only way to learn.

            But again, it is hard to really get a grip on these things if you don’t sit down and read 5 or 6 Clark books. Then read 10 or 12 other books which completely disagree with Clark. Philosophy is hard work and hardly anything that is important makes sense until you’ve spent time reading and thinking, and yes, talking it over with others.

    • Crampton:

      Notwithstanding, Drs. Bahnsen and Van Til want us to believe that there is a Christian basis upon which to base the theistic proofs rendering them objectively valid, having absolute probative force. But the most overt difficulty is that if one formulates his arguments for Godís existence on the basis of Christian theism, then there is no theistic proof at all, and no point in constructing proofs. It is simply divine revelation, not an argument for God or His Word. One has already assumed Godís existence. To proceed to prove it is not only superfluous, but also an obvious case of begging the question.

      This being the case, to suggest that the theistic proofs can be formulated in a Biblical fashion is confused. The whole point of the proofs is to argue from non-Biblical premises to the God of the Bible. The absolutely certain proof of the transcendental argument is imaginary. The Van Tilian position is a confused form of evidentialism; it is certainly not presuppositionalism. Dr. Van Tilís student John Frame wrote: The term presuppositionalÖis not an adequate description of Van Tilís position.(8 )

      This is not to say that a form of the transcendental argument cannot be used in an ad hominem fashion, that is, a reductio ad absurdum. Reducing an opponentís arguments to the level of absurdity, thereby showing him the vacuous nature of his own worldview, is an excellent apologetical tool. All of Gordon Clarkís books are examples of such argumentation. But such an argument does not prove Christian theism to be true(9 ). As a matter of fact, if all other known worldviews could be shown to be false (Dr. Bahnsen here sets himself an impossible task, for he did not and could not examine all other known, let alone possible, worldviews), this would still not prove Christianity to be true. Furthermore, to argue from the impossibility of the contrary cannot prove Christianity true: One must argue from the impossibility of the contradictory, because contraries may both be false. But worst of all for the Van Tilian enterprise, one can know that all other worldviews are false only on the basis of Scripture: The wisdom of this world is foolishness. Paulís conclusion is not the result of the impossible induction that Drs. Bahnsen and Van Til set before us as an allegedly absolute proof. Paulís conclusion is information revealed by God. Unless one starts with Scripture, that is, with Christianity, one cannot get to God or demonstrate the foolishness of human wisdom either.- See more at:

      • “One has already assumed Godís existence. To proceed to prove it is not only superfluous, but also an obvious case of begging the question.”

        Don’t all Christians assume God’s existence right from the offset?

        Moreover, the following is another transcendental proof:
        “An absolute, objective authority exists.”

        To argue the contrary is to first assume oneself is the absolute, objective authority deciding whether it’s true, for there is no other authority one could turn to for the answer if one criticizes it.

        It’s not that the statement is intended as a proof of God’s existence on its own though. Instead, it highlights the fact that unless one assumes the Biblical worldview, one will have a worldview of contradiction.

        It’s not question-begging any more than the law of non-contradiction is question-begging.

        Is that all different from Clark’s line of reasoning? I’ve assumed he’d have agreed given some of the statements I’ve read from him, so I’m asking in sincerity.