VanTil and the Ligonier Apologetic


Could you contrast Van Til's Presuppositionalism with Classical Apologetics? Could you please give some key distinctives of your approach and reasons for them? Also what are your thoughts on Jonathan Edwards and other puritan writers like Isaac Watts who seem to be classical in their approach? And last, what is your understanding of Kant's impact on apologetic method both classical and presuppositional?


My time is limited, so I'll send you along some things I have written that may help answer your questions. You should also look at my Apologetics to the Glory of God (P&R, 1994) and the discussions among advocates of various positions in S. Cowan, ed., Five Views of Apologetics (Zondervan, 2000).

I haven't given much attention to the apologetics of Edwards and Watts. Sam Logan, at least, thinks that Edwards was presuppositional. It's sometimes a difficult call, but you have to remember that Van Til did not oppose the use of evidence, did not oppose theistic proofs, etc. Once you get a more sophisticated view of presuppositionalism, it's more difficult to identify who is and who is not one.

I do think that Kant is important, for (1) he understood that Hume had undermined any kind of pure empiricism. (2) He understood that all human thought is based on presuppositions. (3) He proposed a "transcendental method:" that of determining the necessary conditions for the possibility of knowledge. Kant was right about these points at least. So we can't go back to a pure empiricism.

Some classicists, however, are not so much pure empiricists as Reidians: they follow the Scottish common sense school, as did Hodge, Warfield, et al. I think that the book Classical Apologetics is Reidian: presuppose logic, sense experience, etc., and argue for God on that basis.

I heard a prominent proponent of Classical Apologetics arguing this way once. I said to him: if these presuppositions imply the existence of God, then to deny the existence of God is to deny the legitimacy of logic, sense, etc. He agreed. I proposed to him that he had just endorsed Van Til's transcendental argument. I don't recall what he said after that.

Answer by Dr. John M. Frame

Dr. John M. Frame is Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.