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Pictur of the book: Fesko, Reforming Apologetics
Pictur of the book: Fesko, Reforming Apologetics

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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