by | Sep 21, 2023

Presupp Epistemology


“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)

In the Western world today reality as we know it is being assailed, reformulated in the cauldron of human autonomy and self-expression. On the one hand man finds himself in an ineradicable condition: he exists in a world with a vehement desire for answers. He is driven by a quest for knowledge, for understanding, and for meaning/purpose. On the other hand this man finds himself in an equally precarious situation: he is bent on sin and transgression, or at least he is told. How will he function? What can possibly give him resolution and peace? With a restless heart fixated on some reasonable explanation, men today go searching for answers, sometimes in the discovery of the actual true truth (i.e., that which corresponds to the mind of God), other times in the discovery or fabrication of an idol (which is what all covenant-breakers in Adam do). But either way, he is always and in every way homo respondens—a man who simply responds to his divinely-created environment.

Man is inherently a covenantal creation and since he is born in sin, he finds this rather uncomfortable and intolerable. Thus, he is compelled, with an insatiable appetite, to put things into order, to make sense of the unity and diversity of creation, and to try and locate himself within the world through some sort of rational (or irrational) exploit.

The journey towards epistemological certainty and rational coherence is, even today, under question. “Live your truth” is plastered on signs everywhere in nearby Washington, D.C. As of this writing, it is June of 2023, a month of “pride,” “love,” and “tolerance.” Truth itself is no longer something man acquiesces to; no, truth is what you make it. Even then, certainty and intelligibility doesn’t even matter; what matters is how you feel about it. What matters today is your self-referential expression. The quest for truth becomes a quest for self-indulgence—it’s an excuse to parade one’s heart on the street with no consequence—and certainly no one cares for any pre-existing narrative.[1]

Men, in their natural, covenant-breaking state, want to be free: free of accountability, free from unwanted repercussions, free from the so-called tyranny of an omnipotent, self-contained God. Instead, man becomes self-contained and self-explanatory—the final reference point for predication, induction, deduction, and philosophical/scientific meanderings. When men throw off the perceived chains of God’s sovereignty[2] it is no wonder he becomes a slave to his own sinful desires. What we are describing is the impossibility of neutrality. Presuppositionalists insist that neutrality is a myth, an invention, a ploy designed to take authority and thus jurisdiction away from the governance of the Triune God. Jesus said that you cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24), which is why neutrality is nonsense and should never be considered a legitimate sphere available to men.


Understanding biblical presuppositionalism as it relates to epistemology (how we know things) is foundational to the Christian enterprise. Connected to this is the necessary justifications for understanding God, ourselves, the world we live in, sin, and redemption. At the root of presuppositional thinking are questions like this: How do we know things? Anything? How do we know that we know things? Can we be confident in what we think we know? What is truth, anyway? How do we know something is true? How do we account for the created order and the diversity of experience in this world? How necessary is the Bible and God’s self-revelation for knowledge? Can the unbeliever know things? What do we do with the facts of the world? Are they self-explanatory? These sorts of questions only find their answers when one considers the biblical world and life view. Indeed, “the Reformed Faith is the most consistent expression of Christianity.”[3] If one wants to grasp the totality of reality—the physical and non-physical aspects of creation—Reformed Christianity gives us the best accounting, for, only the Reformed perspective addresses the rich, biblical concepts surrounding creation, fall, and redemption (addressed below).

Having introduced some of the general contours of biblical presuppositionalism, it becomes necessary to make sure we define our terms. At its root, “presuppositionalism” refers to that which is presupposed in our thinking and philosophizing. What exactly are we assuming, or, presupposing, about the world and our experience in it? Furthermore, what sorts of presupposing goes on in our thinking, knowing, believing, and acting that oftentimes goes unnoticed? As subjects who look at and consider objects, how do we piece it all together? What is required? The Dutch Philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, friend of and interlocutor with Cornelius Van Til, argued that there are certain “ground motives” connected to the horizon of our temporal experience which always stem from the human heart. Ground motives are worldview assumptions, expectations, and premises—like eyeglasses—that shape mans perception of reality. They are narratival conceptualizations put forth based on the faith-inducing heart that inexorably form not only the conclusions we reach, but the process whereby we try to conclude.

As it turns out, in the biblical world and life view, the fountainhead of man’s entire existence is the supra-temporal (standing above time), divinely created heart. The heart of man is the religious root of his entire existence. Man’s reason is not the primary, supra-temporal religious instrument, for it is not the central, religious characteristic[4] of image-bearing man, though it is still obviously important. Reason and logic are together one of many modal aspects of human experience (like number, space, movement, physicality,, linguistics, aesthetics, and so on), but it cannot be said to be the root.[5] But where does reason come from? The answer is the heart. Dooyeweerd writes, “The great turning point in my thought was marked by the discovery of the religious root of thought itself, whereby a new light was shed on the failure of all attempts, including my own, to bring about an inner synthesis between the Christian faith and a philosophy which is rooted in faith in the self-sufficiency of human reason.

I came to understand the central significance of the “heart,” repeatedly proclaimed by Holy Scripture to be the religious root of human existence.”[6] In other words, philosophers from Plato and Aristotle, all the way to Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant, all sought an “inner synthesis” (a system of intelligibility that explains everything) from a belief in the heart that human reason stood as both self-sufficient and self-explanatory. In this fallen, rebellious abstraction, man assumes (by faith in the heart) that his reason is perfectly capable of demonstrating coherence in human experience. As Dooyeweerd demonstrates, this is not the case because the root—according to Scripture—is the heart, not reason.


Because the human heart[7] is the well-spring of life (Proverbs 4:23), the aforementioned “ground motives” take shape by faith, and this is conditioned upon man’s alignment, or deviation, from divine revelation. Here’s what I mean. Dooyeweerd identified four different ground-motives that spring-forth from the human heart, and these tend to be shaped in two ways; they are two systems, to use Van Tillian language. First, man looks at the horizon of experience and makes sense of it from his human depravity, which invariably means an absolutization of one aspect of human experience. Thales, the first philosopher, believed everything was water. Pythagoras believed everything was number. Protagoras was so bold as to claim that “man is the measure of all things.” Darwin believed that life was simply biological and historical development, while Marx reduced life down to economic and historical class-struggle. These are examples of depraved men who absolutized one aspect of life, explaining everything solely in terms of immanent categories of creation. Also known as a reductionism, the problem that fallen man faces is his rejection of the Creator and insistence on idolizing the immanent, thus reducing all of life down to one or two aspects of God’s law for creation.

What are the three (of four) ground motives that have shaped human history that drive these absolutizations or reductionisms? For starters, the Greeks were trapped in the dialectical tension of “form” (the principles that organized matter into “things”) and “matter” (the stuff of which all non-divine things are made). For the scholastics, no thanks to Thomas’ recapitulation of Aristotle, the ground motive was “nature” (the lower level) and “grace” (the upper level)—a dualism that we today still can’t seem to shake. For the modern world, the dialectic was “nature” and “freedom”—two irreconcilable concepts (dialectic) that ebb and flow, trapping man inside his own autonomous conceptualizations. Man wants to be “free” but he lives in a “natural” world that is fixed. The laws of nature are impregnable. He thus cannot escape this tension.[8] Dooyeweerd’s development of ground motives help us to see that sinful man will always formulate the world in terms of his depraved heart (and mind), and thus he will be trapped inside his own self-made prison. All non-biblical thought is inherently dialectical because it rejects the Creator/creature distinction.

The second system man utilizes in order to makes sense of the world happens when he submits himself covenantally to the only true ground motive that establishes coherence, intelligibility, and justification for all human predication. That is, the ground motive of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. The reason we can confidently say that this is the “only true ground motive” because it is, quite literally, the story of the world. The Creation/Fall/Redemption narrative is the stuff of reality. It’s what you and I walk into the moment we are conceived in our mother’s womb. If we presuppose the autonomy of man, then of course he will choose anything in creation to worship over against the Creator (Romans 1:25). But presuppositionally, we cannot approach the facts of the world—divorced from God’s self-explanatory Being—apart from the Giver, Creator, and Definer of all facts. Van Til says it this way: “As self-explanatory, God naturally speaks with absolute authority. It is Christ as God who speaks in the Bible. Therefore the Bible does not appeal to human reason as ultimate in order to justify what it says. It comes to the human being with absolute authority. Its claim is that human reason must itself be taken in the sense in which Scripture takes it, namely, as created by God and as therefore properly subject to the authority of God.”[9]

Van Til continues: “It is, therefore, required of man that he regard himself and his world as wholly revelatory of the presence and requirements of God. It is mans task to search out the truths about God, about the world and himself in relation to one another.”[10] All of this is to say that the human heart—depending on its status in and relationship with the covenant—will either give rise to idolatry and elaborately false conceptualizations of the world (the position of apostasy), or it will give rise to God-honoring expressions of faithful living in God’s created order (the position of obedience). Man is inescapably bound to God’s self-existence, God’s self-contained ontology, and God’s self-explanatory, inexhaustible understanding of everything. The facts of the world cannot and must not be divorced from God’s absolute Being and nature. When man tries to usurp these conditions, he does so autonomously, oftentimes violently, and with hatred of God, all stemming from his polluted heart.

The ground motive that serves as a “touch point” between the transcendent God and immanent man comes from the heart, which is shaped by the historical progress of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. We must first deal with Creation.

Creation is a way of affirming not simply the various aspects of the so-called “natural” world, but also the laws that govern all of human existence. “Gods rule of law is immediate in the nonhuman realm but mediate in culture and society.”[11] What Wolters is saying is that the law of God is mediated directly, without human mediation, to creation in a fixed, impenetrable, and organized manner. Man can’t escape the laws of nature; his only recourse is suicide, and even then he does not escape God. And yet, God does mediate His law through man by giving man the responsibility of aligning himself to it. God has given a law for creation and thus He is not subject to “the world order.”[12] But man is completely and entirely, at every turn—as a created creature—subject to God’s order. Wolters again: “The whole world of our experience is constituted by the creative will and wisdom of God, and that will and wisdom—that is, his law—is everywhere in principle knowable by virtue of Gods creational revelation.”[13] As image-bearers, God has revealed Himself in such a way that man is accountable to God with every fiber of his being. Creation is thus an all-encompassing motif that consumes man’s nature and existence, right down to his very heart. Man eat, sleeps, and breathes God’s creation. To mix metaphors, this is a book that man, as a character, cannot escape. Creation is much deeper and wider than we usually imagine.

Regarding the fall of man, we need to emphasize the radical (to the “root”) depravity that entered into God’s good creation. The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve’s disobedience catastrophically polluted all of creation as a whole. The entirety of man’s being, including the religious root of his heart (Rom. 1:21), as well as his reason (Rom. 1:28), became corrupted due to man’s transgressing of the law of God. Man’s disobedience and newly acquired condition of guilt is what marred the earth. Sin did not abolish creation nor take away the general goodness of it. Rather, the order of creation now includes another order, the order of sin. The lawlessness of sin (1 John 3:4) became an alien invasion of sorts whereby the direction of creation (as opposed to the structure of creation) became distorted. The structure (the law of God) remains and is still in working condition—it always will. But the direction of man’s heart, broken and poisoned by feelings of insecurity and desires of autonomy, always attempts to take the good creation in a different direction. This order of sin (as Calvin called it) corrupts goodness, perverts justice, and maligns beauty. Even still, God maintains the created order despite man’s malignant proclivities. “God never lets go of his creatures, even in the face of apostasy, unbelief, and perversion. In our terminology, structure is never entirely obliterated by (mis)direction.”[14] Sin is much deeper and wider than we usually imagine.

Regarding redemption, we need to remember that the story of the world does not end in man’s depravity but instead man’s deliverance. The death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is the cosmic, world-wide redemption of man and his sinful expressions. Christ’s work of grace is a restoration of creation, not a perfection (as Thomas erroneously[15] concludes). “Perfection” implies a certain lacking quality, but God’s creation does not lack; therefore, we must speak of restoration from prior deviation. Wolters is again helpful: “Redemption is not a matter of an addition of a spiritual or supernatural dimension to creaturely life that was lacking before; rather, it is a matter of bringing new life and vitality to what was there all along.”[16] The work of Christ restores and vivifies the religious root of man—his heart—and from there works itself out in all of man’s activities and organizing efforts.

With a new heart, man believes on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:10). He or she is now brought into the new order, the Kingdom of God. We now fall under the jurisdiction of King Jesus, having experienced first His High Priestly work of substitution (2 Cor. 5:21). As our new Federal Head, Christ establishes the Church (Col. 1:18), sends her on the mission to disciple the nations (Matt. 28:18-20), and thus redemption is brought to the world through man’s cultural activities. Presuppositionally speaking, pietism is ruled out ipso facto. Redemption recovers the territory ceded by sinful man, and since the stain of sin is worldwide, the redemption of Christ is just as comprehensive. Hence, the domain of Christ’s authority is total (Matthew 28:18). While the battle rages on, we preach Christ and Him crucified, and the aberrant thoughts of man are captured and made submissive to Christ. Thanks be to God! Redemption, like creation and the fall, is much deeper and wider than we usually imagine.


My task here has been to give some semblance of presuppositionalism, a challenge that requires more than my allotted space. I realize that some of this is quite heavy, and I certainly invite questions. However, before wrapping up, there are five key components that need to be highlighted and I will briefly expound upon each of them.

  1. The self-contained, equal ultimacy of the Triune God is the absolute and necessary starting point for all ontological reflection and metaphysical discourse. Which is to say, God’s self-containedness—His absolute, a se, self-existent, underived Being—is the foundation of all knowledge of ontology (being) and any sort of discussion regarding metaphysics. We can only make sense of the world because God is self-contained. God is both absolute (self-sufficient) and personal (He thinks, speaks, acts, etc.). If knowledge is to be knowledge, it requires God whose inexhaustible knowledge has no boundaries. Humans cannot know all things exhaustively[17] which creates a problem if the Triune God is left out of the picture. Of course, He cannot be left out of the picture because the picture presupposes How we draw together our experience of the world using language, concepts, and things like the laws of logic, all stems from the Being and nature of God. Because God is, things are (Exodus 3:14). Van Til writes, “If history is not wholly controlled by God, the idea of an infallible Word of God is without meaning. The idea of an essentially reliable Bible would have no foundation. In a world of contingency all predication is reduced to flux.”[18] R.J. Rushdoony builds on this: “The Christian must maintain that created being has no meaning in itself and all attempts to understand it in terms of itself constitutes a rejection of true meaning. Neither can man have meaning in himself, because he too is a creature. Nothing can have meaning in itself or of itself because nothing exists in or of itself.”[19]

  2. Man in his sin has posited an epistemological pluralism which is a negation of the immutable Word of God. When Adam and Eve sinned, the premise of the temptation was “an antitheistic theory of reality.”[20] They moved from being theists to being anti-theists. They took the Thesis (God’s Word) and developed an anti-thesis (the order of sin). Eve had postulated that the devil had a handle on reality, just as much as, if not more than, God. Before conceding to the devil, Eve believed that there was more to knowledge than what God reveals—hence the assumption of pluralism. Van Til is again quite helpful here: “Eve was compelled to assume the equal ultimacy of the minds of God, of the devil, and of herself. And this surely excluded the exclusive ultimacy of God. This therefore was a denial of Gods absoluteness epistemologically. Thus neutrality was based upon negation. Neutrality is negation.”[21] If man rejects the source of all knowledge (the infinite knowledge of God) then he must believe there are things that God does not know, or that others may know more than God. Hence why neutrality can only be a small step towards epistemological negation—a rejection of God and His Word.


  3. Christianity’s foundation of revelational epistemology is the essential, sine qua non of all intelligibility. When we speak of revelational epistemology we are speaking about the God who is there, the God who is not silent. He has revealed Himself through the Created Word (Ps. 19), the Incarnate Word (Jn. 1:14), and the Inscripturated Word (2 Tim. 3:16). As such, man swims in the revelation of God in all aspects of his being. The revelation of God in its entirety drives us back to His self-contained, absolute personality, helping us see that facts as we encounter them, are not self-explanatory (there are no “brute facts”), but rather they only come from God’s imputation of knowledge. In order for anything to be intelligible it must, by definition, comport with God’s self-revelation. It is His multi-revelational process of self-disclosure that gives rise to the biblical system of truth.


  4. As a consequence of God’s self-disclosure, Scripture is the self-attesting, inerrant, infallible, and ultimate ground-motive which stands authoritatively over all men. Rushdoony comments, “We can accept the Scriptures as inerrant and infallible on our terms, as satisfactory to our reason, but we have only established ourselves as god and judge thereby and have given more assent to ourselves than to God. But, if God be God, then the universe and man are His creation, understandable only in terms of Himself, and no meaning can be established except in terms of Gods given meaning.”[22] The Bible itself is an analogical accounting of the greater narrative of Creation, Fall, and Redemption.  It is the explicit revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures are said to be the Word of God (inscripturated and Holy Spirit inspired) by the Word of God (Jesus Christ; cf. John 17:17). The inner-coherence of God’s three-pronged revelation, mentioned previously, establishes its self-attesting feature. The Bible claims inerrancy, infallibility, and it accounts for the entirety of reality. Thus, it stands authoritatively above all men in all places, in all times.[23]


  5. In defending the faith, Christians do not read to God they reason from God because only the Christian world and life view supplies the necessary preconditions for all predication (i.e., laws of logic, uniformity in nature, law/norms, structure and direction, ethics and morality, etc.). Reason itself, a gift from above, requires an a priori assumption of intelligibility, which, as has been shown, only comes from the inexhaustible mind of God. Fallen men will always attempt to absolutize reason because it is, in part, one of the things that sets us apart from plants and animals. However, in his sin and suppression of the truth, he does not and will not realize—apart from the work of the Holy Spirit—that his rationalizations are fueled by the religious root, the faith function of the heart. Man is always, at every turn, a religious creature. The heart gives rise to the so-called mind, and it always has a religious character. As Christians defend the faith, they must remember that the laws of logic, the uniformity in nature, the law for creation and the norms for man, the structure of creation and the direction of the human heart, and even the issue of ethics and morality—all of this can only be accounted for when men realize that they are, like or not, presupposing the Triune God of the Bible and His dynamic revelation. Only Christianity, and the Reformed expression of it, accounts for the nature of reality.


The Creator/creation distinction has always been, and remains to be, a core doctrine and defining feature of presuppositionalism. Without God’s existence (an impossibility), nothing exists, for God is the Sovereign who issues the command of His Word. As the Creator, God is perfectly sufficient in Himself; He needs no counsel, no outside influence. His existence isn’t predicated on anything created for He is the Creator. Further, man is incapable of knowing God exhaustively but that is not the same as saying man can know nothing. God is thus unfathomable.

However, knowledge is possible because God is both transcendent and immanent. What is the bridge between the Creator God’s infinite transcendence and man’s utterly finite immanence as a creature? God’s covenantal revelation. “The knowledge which we get of God by way of His revelation is therefore a knowledge of faith.”[24] Faith is knowledge and faith comes from the heart. The heart, as we have seen, is the supra-temporal feature of man’s image-bearing. Bavinck again: “The knowledge which God grants us of Himself in nature and in Scripture is limited, finite, fragmentary, but it is nevertheless true and pure. Such is God as He has revealed Himself in His Word and specifically in and through Christ; and He alone is such as our hearts require.”[25]

Presuppositionalists insist on the authority of Scripture, the truthfulness of creation, the radical nature of the fall, and the comprehensive nature of Christ’s redemption and reign. They also see the heart as being the central religious root of man and thus, contrary to Kant who insisted that man must reason autonomously, man’s status as a covenant-keeper or covenant-breaker is the deciding factor on whether or not his knowledge (justified true belief) comports with reality and the totality of spheres that man experiences. Any time an unbeliever gets something right—be it scientifically or experientially—he does so because he lives in God’s world, is made in God’s image, and is rather unintentionally presupposing the Christian world and life view contrary to his polluted heart’s desires.

As should be obvious at this point, knowledge is not a neutral project. Knowledge is the ability of man to ascertain certain facts about the world—including their synthesis and connectedness—all because God exists and has revealed Himself. Knowledge is therefore a religious concept. And this is because the Lord Jesus Christ rules and reigns. He is the Second Person of the Trinity who took on flesh to restore the image of God in man. He is the Word of God revealed in history who has come in order to take men alive and make them covenantally faithful doers of the Word. The Scriptures testify about Jesus (Luke 24:27) and therefore man is without excuse (Rom. 1:20). But the promise is sure: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

Bavinck says it best: “The essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.”[26] This is the Christian accounting of all things, and it is glorious.



[1] This is the great problem with Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential quip, “existence precedes essence.” In order to remake the world, man must assume no assumption, presume that there are no presumptions. He cannot be brought forth into the world with any expectations and certainly not with any pre-existing narratives. Man is first, born, and then he makes himself, argues Sartre. This is merely an illogical attempt to make sense of the world based upon man’s desires. Van Til writes, “The essence of the non-Christian position is that man is assumed to be ultimate or autonomous. Man is thought of as the final reference point in predication.” See, Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (Westminster Seminary Press: Glenside, PA, 2023), 3.

[2] “Sovereignty in an absolute sense occurs only when there is an authority that has no other authority over it, that always commands and never obeys, that does not admit of restrictions or allow competition, and that is single and undivided for all that has breath.” Abraham Kuyper, Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto, ed. Jordan J. Ballor, Melvin Flikkema, and Harry Van Dyke, trans. Harry Van Dyke, Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, 2015), 16. Kuyper says elsewhere, critiquing collectivism: “The sovereign God is dethroned and man with his free will is placed on the vacant seat. It is the will of man which determines all things. All power, all authority proceeds from man. Thus one comes from the individual man to the many men; and in those many men conceived as the people, there is thus hidden the deepest fountain of all sovereignty.” Abraham Kuyper, Calvinism: Six Lectures Delivered in the Theological Seminary at Princeton (New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899), 112.

[3] Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969).

[4] Reason cannot be the central, religious characteristic of man’s existence any more than the biological, spatial, or economic aspect can be central. Reason comes from somewhere as I point out.

[5] The Westminster Confession of Faith (4.2) says, somewhat strangely, that created man was endowed with “reasonable and immortal souls,” which is fine as long as we understand that “reasonable” ought not to be taken to mean that man’s reason is the central religious root, and the “soul” is another way of describing the human heart. Dooyeweerd believed that this aspect of the WCF could lend itself to Thomistic categories if not properly defined, and I agree with him.

[6] Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Volume 1 (Paideia Press: Jordan Station, Ontario, Canada, 1984), v.

[7] This is where presuppositionalists deviate from our classical brothers and sisters. For example, Sproul et al. write, “We suggest that classic Reformed orthodoxy saw the noetic influence of sin not as direct through a totally depraved mind, but as indirect through totally depraved heart.” [R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner and Art Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense Of The Christian Faith And A Critique Of Presuppositional Apologetics, (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1984), 537]. Clearly we have a sharp disagreement about the effects of sin and the religious root of human experience. Did sin radically affect man’s mind? Thomas Aquinas didn’t believe so. But how can Sproul et al. claim to be Reformed when sin has affected everything in creation but man’s reason? If we assume that man’s reason is untouched, and even if we do not go completely headlong into Romanism, we’re still left with human autonomy. For, man’s reason—allegedly untouched and unscathed by Adam’s sin—becomes the central, religious characteristic of man’s image-bearing. Consequently, if man’s reason escapes covenantal judgment, then man’s reason is perfectly capable of God-honoring, religious predication at all times. But does this actually work? No. Unbelievers most certainly do not always use reason to honor the Lord. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and since reason itself is still subject to the law of God in day-to-day experience, it is therefore incapable of transcending it’s divine limitations (for man is finite and does not possess exhaustible knowledge), and thus it does not qualify for, nor possesses the quality of, supra-temporality. Van Til is again very helpful: “Human reason must itself be taken in the sense in which Scripture takes it, namely, as created by God and as therefore properly subject to the authority of God.” [Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (Westminster Seminary Press: Glenside, PA, 2023), 5.] Van Til, in line with Reformed orthodoxy, rightly sees that man’s reason is subject to the all-encompassing nature of sin.

[8] Van Til, in agreement with Dooyeweerd, writes, “Man will therefore have to seek to make a system for himself that will relate all the facts of his environment to one another in such a way as will enable him to see exhaustively all the relations that obtain between them.” [Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (Westminster Seminary Press: Glenside, PA, 2023), 6.]

[9] Ibid., 5.

[10] Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (Westminster Seminary Press: Glenside, PA, 2023), 6.

[11]  Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 16.

[12] Ibid., 18.

[13] Ibid., 35-36.

[14] Ibid., 60-61.

[15]Since therefore grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity.” [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.) I q.1 a.8 ad 2.] Emphasis mine. To the contrary, “Grace does not bring a donum superadditum to nature, a gift added on top of creation; rather, grace restores nature, making it whole once more.” [Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 71–72.]

[16] Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 71.

[17] “As [man] cannot understand God exhaustively, so he cannot understand anything related to God in an exhaustive way, for to understand it we would have to penetrate its relation to God and to penetrate that relation we would have to understand God exhaustively.” Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (Westminster Seminary Press: Glenside, PA, 2023), 27.

[18] Ibid., 20. Emphasis mine.

[19]  Rousas John Rushdoony, By What Standard? An Analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius Van Til (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1995), 10–11.

[20]  Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969), 20.

[21] Ibid., 21.

[22] Rousas John Rushdoony, By What Standard? An Analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius Van Til (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1995), 17.

[23] Bavinck speaks of it like this: “No creature can see or understand God as he is and as he speaks in himself. Revelation therefore is always an act of grace; in it God condescends to meet his creature, a creature made in his image. All revelation is anthropomorphic, a kind of humanization of God. It always occurs in certain forms, in specific modes. In natural revelation his divine and eternal thoughts have been deposited in creatures in a creaturely way so that they could be understood by human thought processes. And in supernatural revelation he binds himself to space and time, adopts human language and speech, and makes use of creaturely means.” Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 310.

[24] Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, trans. Henry Zylstra (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016), 117.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 112.

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Jason Garwood
Dr. Jason Garwood has spent his career seeking to both understand and apply the Biblical worldview to every single area of life. His aim is to help pastors and churches to be better equipped to engage in the Great Commission by teaching Christians how to find their individual purpose in the Kingdom of God and learn how to identify and respond to cultural idols. He is currently the teaching pastor at Cross & Crown Church in Northern Virginia.


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