Basis for Knowledge

Cornelius Van Til, one of the great Reformed thinkers, wrote a letter to Francis Schaeffer about “the God who is there.” A considerable portion of Van Til’s work aimed to establish a basis for Christian philosophy–the foundation of which is God and his word, not human reason.

That being the case, Van Til had to establish how Christians and everyone else could find common ground, especially philosophically, when their premises were different.

Secular reasoning asserts a “principle of rationality” based on an alleged law of logic, which becomes apparent in observing the natural world. Van Til, by comparison, says that sort of rationality fluctuates–it is relative as the natural world and “rational” understanding of it changes over time. He asserts the basis for knowledge is an unchanging God and an unchanging scripture.

He takes after Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

Van Til is concerned with the truth that can only be discerned via the Spirit of God.

Intellectual Rebirth

Van Til writes to Schaeffer, describing how the Christian, when he becomes one, is not only born again in a purely spiritual sense. There are other kinds of renewal, too. As Paul says, a renewing of our minds.

Here’s how Van Til puts it:

How do I, as a Christian, know all this information about the “natural man.” Christ tells me this in Scripture. Moreover, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit gives me life from the dead so that I understand this not merely in intellectual fashion but existentially, I have been born again unto knowledge. Once I am born again I know that I am a creature made in the image of God. I now know that together with all men I became a sinner, a covenant-breaker, subject to the wrath of God. I now know that Christ died to redeem me from the curse that rested upon me for my disobedience of the law of God and that in him I am now justified. I know that I am, together with the body of the redeemed, on the way to my Savior’s presence. In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism I am now persuaded that “I belong, not to myself, but to my faithful Savior and that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair shall fall from my head.” Everything in the I-it dimension as well as everything in the I-thou dimension is unified by means of the all-directing control of Jesus Christ, the Savior of his people. The city of God will be victorious over the city of men. The powers of hell cannot prevent the victory of the work of the triune God for the salvation of the world.

According to Van Til’s thinking, only when we have been born again in Christ can we have our firm foundation of knowledge. For to be born again is about the sanctification of our souls, but it includes the renewal of our minds. We are “born again unto knowledge.”

Posted by Griffin Paul Jackson

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