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The Essential Van Til — No Critic of Old Princeton Epistemology?

I am always edified when I read Van Til. I am also always challenged to conform my thinking to the Holy Scriptures and the Reformed faith. But I am not often surprised. That is a testament to the consistency of Van Til’s thought.

But I was recently surprised by Van Til while reading Common Grace and the Gospel.  There he writes:

As for “Old Princeton Theology” in the booklet on Common Grace, I have scarcely referred to it. Elsewhere I have expressed disagreement with its apologetics. In this I was following Kuyper. But never have I expressed a basic difference with its theology or its basic epistemology. (p. 177)

In context Van Til is defending himself against a number of charges leveled against him by William Masselink. Masselink asserts that Van Til disagrees with Old Princeton (among others such as Kuyper, Hepp, etc.) on the matter of epistemology. And here Van Til retorts that while he does disagree with Old Princeton on apologetics, he does not disagree “with its theology or its basic epistemology.”

This surprised me, in part, because I have always thought of Van Til’s criticism of Old Princeton as a criticism—first and foremost—of its epistemology. Of special interest here is what Van Til says about Warfield’s notion of “right reason” (for example in Defense of the Faith, 350). Is Van Til’s criticism against Warfield’s notion of how the unbeliever knows, or against his approach to the unbeliever apologetically? Or is it both?

I won’t try to answer that question here. But, it seems to me, it is awfully difficult to separate out Warfield’s idea of “right reason” (which seems to be an epistemological issue) from his apologetic method. Is Van Til being completely consistent with himself here?

Again, I raise the question not to answer it here. It seems the answer would be complex enough to warrant a longer study. Or, at the very least, it seems to warrant further discussion.

Now it’s your turn. Thoughts?


On Key

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