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Reformed Apologetics

J. V. Fesko has written Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Baker Academic, 2019). In the book, Dr. Fesko criticizes, among others, Cornelius Van Til. In this conversation, we interact with the book and compare its claims with those of Van Til. A central claim of Dr. Fesko’s is that Van Til rejects “common notions.” He writes:

in the middle of the seventeenth century, philosophers such as John Locke (1632–1704) rejected the idea of common notions. In the twentieth century, this rejection made its way to liberal and conservative Reformed theologians alike, including Karl Barth (1886–1968) and Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987).”[1]

He draws particular attention to Van Til’s discussion of authority and reason on pages 168–169 of Defense of the Faith (3rd edition).[2] On those pages, Van Til makes an important distinction:

A word must now be said about the idea of ‘common notions’ referred to in the quotation given above. The present writer made a distinction between notions that are psychologically and metaphysically, that is revelationally, common to all men, and common notions that are ethically and epistemologically common.[3]

Van Til continues, “All men have common notions about God; all men naturally have knowledge of God.”[4] So, what is Van Til getting at? There are notions common to all men, but there are some things common to believers and others common to unbelievers. Van Til explains what is also common to natural man as a consequence of total depravity:

It is this actual possession of the knowledge of God that is the indispensable presupposition of man’s ethical opposition to God. There could be no absolute ethical antithesis to God on the part of Satan and fallen man unless they are self-consciously against the common notions that are concreated with them. Paul speaks of sinful man as suppressing within him the knowledge of God that he has. . . . It is these notions of human autonomy, or irrational discontinuity and of rationalistic continuity that are the common notions of sinful or apostate mankind.[5]


[1] J. V. Fesko, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 24.

[2] Fesko, 24n56.

[3] Cornelius Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: P & R Publishing, 1967), 168.

[4] Van Til, 168.

[5] Van Til, 168.

[6] Van Til, 168.


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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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CM

6 months ago

One might be tempted to think that this (newly) published book, ‘Reforming Apologetics,’ does more to misrepresent Van Tilian apologetics (with conviction) than other books are said to misrepresent other Reformed doctrines…beloved brothers.

Matt Doyle

6 months ago

Can you tell me where the above quotes are found in the Fourth Edtion of DOF? I’ve looked for them but haven’t been able to locate them. Thanks!

Matt Doyle

6 months ago

I found them! In the Fourth Edition, they are found on page 190.

Camden Bucey

6 months ago

Thanks for posting this. I’m sure many other listeners would like to have that reference as well.

Jeff Downs

6 months ago

Dr. Fesko, in his book does not address Van Til’s article, “Nature and Scripture” (as you stated in the program) There is also Bill Dennison’s article, “A Reassessment of Natural and Special Revelation” in In Defense of the Eschaton (Wipf & Stock). There is also Robert Morey’s book, The Bible, Natural Theology and Natural Law: Conflict or Compromise? John Frame says, “This is a devastating critique of natural theology.” I’m also surprised that Fesko doesn’t cite Jeffrey K. Jue’s article, “Theologia Naturalis: A Reformed Tradition” in Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (P&R). There is also John Frames little work: Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument (Lexham Press) that Fesko doesn’t cite.

Meine Veldman

6 months ago

Fesko is right, but that does not make Van Til wrong. They are swimming in somewhat different waters, that is, Fesko in the waters of 17th century (protestant scholasticism), and Van Til is harking all the way back to Calvin and the Reformation itself. If one can read Dutch, this is the book to read to understand this, I believe, Frans Breukelman, ‘Bijbelse Theologie IV/I. De structuur van de heilige leer in the theologie van Calvijn (Uitgeverij Kok Kampen, 2003). To try to put Van Til into a protestant scholastic jacket, as you do in this discussion, does neither a service to Van Til, nor to Fesko.

Bridger Bond

6 months ago

In this episode the host mentioned an article that Van Til wrote concerning natural revelation/ theology. My question is, how do I get my hands on that article? Has it been published or are there any links to it?

Jeff Downs

5 months ago

Bridger Bond

5 months ago

Thank you.

Michael Head

5 months ago

Can you provide the link to the van Til letter you quote in the podcast (I believe you said it was on the OPC website)? Thanks.

Michael Head

5 months ago

Camden Bucey

5 months ago

Graham Dugas

5 months ago

I was going to write the same thing as CM in the first comment. I always appreciate collegiality and being gracious so I look forward to the next few shows about Fesko’s book. In particular I request that Jeff Waddington go into more detail as to why Dr. Fesko omitted the many things brought to his attention citing sections that CVT wrote directly refuting the position that Fesko is hell-bent on characterizing CVT with/by. What is going on here? This is the same tactic that sloppy folks use when they want to paint presuppositionalism as fideism. Just omit a few pertinent factors and, voila! You arrive at the predetermined conclusion you wish. Is there a predetermined conclusion that is driving Fesko’s thinking? I’m sure there must be a more charitable explanation than that. Otherwise it doesn’t say much for Fesko’s character, his intellectual honesty or his scholarly rigor. So please, Jeff, come to the rescue. The best I can think now is simply that Dr. Fesko is out of his depth and cannot grasp the things he is discussing and asserting authoritatively and that is not much better.

Benjamin Glaser

5 months ago

Given the new opportunities that might be upcoming from Reformed Forum would there be interest in doing a podcast covering “Defense of the Faith” and Van Til the way Dr. Tipton has done with the Vos Group.

Interested parties (me 😉 ) would be consumers of such a product.

Patrick Brink

5 months ago

I would also be interested in a podcast like that!

Jeff Downs

5 months ago

Sam Waldron had written a review of Dr. Fesko’s book. Here is part 4 (other parts can be accessed through this link):
https://cbtseminary.org/j-v-feskos-reforming-apologetics-retrieving-the-classical-reformed-approach-to-defending-the-faith-a-critical-review-4-of-4

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