NOTICE: Opinions expressed in the Global Journal are those of the individual authors.
They do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or of Patrick Henry College.

This Journal is courteously hosted by Patrick Henry College.

Table of Contents

How a Muslim Could Employ Van Til’s Apologetic System: A Response to Frame and Hays

John Johnson, M.A.; currently candidate for the Ph.D., Baylor University

       This article is a result of a piece I published in Evangelical Quarterly[1] on the merits of Cornelius Van Til’s presuppositional system of apologetics, in which I took the position that his appraoch may indeed  prove the validity of theism in general, but not Christianity in particular.  In fact, I suggested that a Muslim apologist could use Van Til’s system with as much success as could a defender of Christianity.  Dr. John Frame and Steve Hays published a rebuttal in a subsequent issue of EQ, in which they took me to task for failing to properly understand Van Til’s thought, and, more importantly,  not adequately demonstrating how an Islamic apologist could use Van Til’s ideas to defend Islam.  EQ’s editorial staff did not wish for the debate to continue in its pages, so I am resuming the matter in this journal. 

        I would like to begin by thanking John Frame and Steve Hayes for their rejoinder.  Their response was all the more gratifying when one considers that Dr. Frame is a giant in the field of Christian apologetics, and has devoted his life to powerfully presenting the gospel to a skeptical modern world.  Also, I agree with them that my paper would have been stronger had it included more interaction with books by, and about, Van Til.  To that end, in this essay I will quote fairly extensively from Van Til, and also from Frame’s writings, since he considers his own work on the subject to be a “major exposition” of Van Til’s thought.[2]  By delving deeply into the writings of these two men, I hope to show, more thoroughly than I did in my previous essay, that all of the major presuppositional assumptions that Van Til and Frame make for Christianity can just as easily be made for Islam.   My point is not that Islamic apologists are using the Van Tillian system to promote Islam.[3]  Rather, I wish to show that they easily could if they so desired.  And, if this is the case, the Van Tillian method for doing apologetics must be seriously questioned as to its ability to prove the reality of the Christian, as opposed to the Islamic, God (or any similar theistic being).[4] 

1.  The concept of Sin in Islam and in Christianity.

            In their rejoinder, Frame and Hays take me to task because I stated in my critique of Van Til that a Muslim could agree with what Paul says  in chapter one of Romans.  They write that a Muslim could not accept what Paul says there, because, for one thing, Muslims do not accept the New Testament as divinely inspired scripture.  Also, Paul is basing his argument on the twin concepts of natural revelation and original sin, and Muslims do not have a doctrine of original sin.[5]  Frame and Hays have a point; I should have clarified what I meant.  I will do so now.

     First, I agree that Muslims do not consider Paul’s words as infallible scripture.  But, on the other two matters, sin and natural revelation, any Muslim could agree, in principle, with what Paul says in chapter one Romans.  I will address the issue of sin first, since it is of enormous importance for the Van Tillian method of apologetics.  The Fall of man, as recounted in Genesis, is essential to understanding Van Til’s apologetic method. In many places in his writings, he insists that only a literal, historical understanding of the Fall can account for the perversity of the human condition.[6]  The Fall, and its resultant noetic effects upon humanity, causes the unregenerate man to rebel against his creator even though he knows, deep down, that God is real, and deserves man’s worship and love.  Frame writes that “Van Til often refers to the process described in Romans 1: fallen man suppresses what he knows to be true about God, exchanging it for a lie.”[7]  Thus, man is a rebel against God, he refuses to accept his authority, even his existence, all the while knowing that God must exist, as Paul claims in the first chapter of Romans. 

       The upshot of all of this for Van Til is that the so-called “point of contact,” that is, the intellectual common ground where a Christian can address a non-believer, is narrow at best, and always tenuous.  The unregenerate man cannot understand the things of God, because his reasoning process is so severely damaged.  His presuppositions are therefore false, and they need to be replaced with biblical ones.  This is why Van Til is so insistent upon establishing sound biblical presuppositions in an unbeliever’s mind; there simply is no other way the unbeliever can begin to understand the gospel without such foundations.  Traditional evidentialist apologetics do not work because they assume that unregenerate man’s reason is working properly, and therefore trust he is able to understand and respond favorably to “proofs” that Christianity is true.  Van Til writes that if the presuppositional apologist addresses unregenerate man as if he actually had the pre-Fall ability to understand God’s truth, the apologetic is doomed to failure, because “if we allow the legitimacy of the natural man’s assumption of himself as the ultimate reference point in interpretation in any dimension we cannot deny his right to interpret Christianity itself in naturalistic terms.”[8]    In Van Til’s understanding, the natural man will never understand Christianity until he realizes that his entire atheistic worldview is false.  Thus Frame can write that “we may ask the unbeliever to think on Christian presuppositions, because in one sense he already does.  Our plea is that he drop the unbelieving presuppositions that dominate his thought and give heed to those principles that he knows but suppresses.”[9]

           Now, listen to one Muslim commentator talking about the apostasy of Adam’s descendants.  Note that his words here sound not only a lot like Van Til, they also are very reminiscent of what Paul says in Romans 1:

in the succeeding centuries, by and by, people swerved from the straight way of life (Islam) and adopted different crooked ways.  They not only lost the Guidance owing to their negligence but also tampered with it because of their wickedness.  They attributed to others the qualities and powers of Allah and associated others to rank with Him as gods and ascribed His rights to others.  They invented different kinds of religions (ways of life) by mixing up all sorts of superstitions, wrong theories and false philosophy with the Guidance that was given by Allah.  They discarded the right, just and moral principles taught by Allah and corrupted them and made such laws of life as suited their prejudices and lusts, and filled Allah’s Earth with chaos.[10]

 Or consider the following from an Islamic scholar, whose description of humanity’s sinful rejection of God could (except for the reference to the Koran!) have been penned by Van Til himself:

The perversity of rejection (kufr) can only be understood in terms of men’s refusal to have faith in or believe in what they secretly know.  The Old Testament, the Gospels and the Koran concur that men willfully reject their creator.  But this implies that men can disbelieve in what they know; knowledge does not entail faith although faith may entail, indeed encompass, knowledge.[11] 

        Islam (along with Van Til, Frame, and Hays), teaches that man is sinful, and willfully rejects the God he knows to exist.  So, right away, the apologetic endeavor is in trouble.  Both sides are using the same argument, but to argue for different Gods, namely, Jesus and Allah.  But perhaps the Van Tillian has an objection at this point.  Perhaps he will point out that the presuppositional approach (along with Christianity as a whole) teaches the doctrine of original sin, whereas Islam teaches no such doctrine.  Islam admits the reality of sin, yes, but it does not teach that humanity is in any way “fallen.”[12]  Well, this is true, but does it really matter?  Whether a man is an original sinner (Christianity) or merely a “non-original” sinner in the Koranic sense, the result is the same—the one, true God is rejected, even though his existence is stamped permanently upon the hearts of all men. 

        The Van Tillian may claim, though, that the doctrine of original sin does not entail only a rejection of belief in God’s existence, but also leads fallen man to confuse true morality with false, and even to reject the moral and ethical demands that God makes upon his life.  In other words, the Fall does more than merely turn one away from God; it also thoroughly confuses man’s moral compass.   But Islam, even without the distinctly Reformed doctrine of utter depravity,[13] teaches much the same thing.  Rejection of Allah seems to go hand in hand with the attempt to deny the moral obligations Allah has placed upon wayward humanity.  Thus, those who reject Allah’s existence also attempt “to seek release from duties they secretly acknowledge as binding.”[14]  And although it is often said that Islam sees sin more as a forgetting of the righteous path to God, rather than deliberate rebellion against him, “the Quran itself depicts fallen human beings as more than merely forgetful.”  Humans are described in the Muslim scriptures as sinful (14:4), ungrateful (14:34), boastful (11:9-10), and rebellious (96:6).[15]  True enough, sin in Islam is not the result of the contagion of original sin, but it is still a willful rejection of God’s laws.  Sin “is acquired not inborn, emergent not built-in, avoidable not inevitable.  It is a deliberate conscious violation of the univocal law of God.”[16]  With or without original sin, in Islam man sinfully violates what he knows to be God’s truth, just as in the Van Tillian understanding of sin.

          Perhaps the Van Tillian will claim that the willful rejection of God entails more than just fallen man’s desire to escape moral and ethical duties.  Original sin has actually impaired our very reasoning process; we can no longer “think straight” as a result of the noetic effects of sin. Indeed, Van Til says of fallen human reason that “we cannot grant that it has any right to judge in matters of theology, or, for the matter of that, in anything else.  The Scriptures nowhere appeal to the unregenerated reason as to a qualified judge.” [17] Again, Islam can take this position, too; such theology is not dependant upon the Calvinistic stress on man’s depravity. True enough, Islam does not say that man’s reason has been badly damaged by a fall from primordial purity.  Because man has never fallen, he is largely the way Allah intended him to be.  Thus it is only natural that Muslim thinkers have more faith in human reason than a committed Calvinist would.  Nevertheless, Islam teaches that man’s rational ability (what Van Til so often describes as man’s alleged “autonomous reason”) is defective, and certainly cannot presume to make definitive judgments upon scripture.  Muslim scholar Shabbir Akhtar explains the role of human reason vis a vis faith as follows:

What, then, is the role of independent reason in the interpretation of scriptural claims?  What is the true office of reason in theology?.... in the final analysis, faith has decisive priority over reason…. An intellect unenlightened by God’s grace cannot judge faith while an intellect enlightened by God’s grace can only judge faith favorably…. faith is indeed, in religious domains, the arbiter of reason and its pretensions.[18]

For all the stress that Christian presuppositionalists place upon the fall of man, and the necessity to approach the apologetic task presuppositionally, it seems that Islamic thinkers, though less radical in their understanding of human sin, are pretty much in agreement with Van Til and Frame regarding man’s sinful rejection of God, his willful suppression of the duties God has placed upon him, and the second-place status of human intellect vis a vis divine teachings.

     Another area of agreement Between Paul and Muslims is the theater of God’s glory, the created world.  The world-as-evidence-for-God argument is quite a powerful one, and it is only to be expected that Muslims, who attribute to Allah absolute sovereignty over the universe, would see in the creation proof of his handiwork.  Paul insists every human being is without excuse for unbelief because the awe-inspiring universe testifies to the God who created it.  Frame, commenting upon Paul’s argument in Romans, states that “the facts of God’s creation bear clear witness of him even to the minds of sinners.”[19]Similarly, when disobedient men “see Allah’s portents in Nature and elsewhere, they turn a blind eye.”[20]   

II.  God as the Source of Everything

       Van Til and Frame both believe that their presuppositional approach is largely successful because it posits that a certain type of God (the biblical, triune, Christian God) and only this type of God, can account for the world as we know it.  Frame realizes, of course, that there are other versions of God among the religions of the world, but he tends to dismiss them, one reason being because he sees most of them as derivative of the biblical God.  Thus, these Gods are not serious candidates because, after all, they are only poor copies of the triune God of the Bible.  Listen to what he says on this matter:  “Christian heresies are religions influenced by the Bible, but which deny the central biblical gospel.  Among the Christian heresies are not only those designated as such in history (Arianism, Gnosticism, Sabellianism, Docetism, Eutychianism, etc.), but also the historic rivals of Christianity, namely, Judaism and Islam.”[21]  When I first read this, I was not sure but that I had encountered a typographical error.  Judaism, a religion that preceded Christianity by centuries, and eventually gave birth to it, is a Christian heresy?  I will leave it to the reader to puzzle out what Frame could possibly mean by this.  (But perhaps he says this because he knows that his apologetic system would work as well for a Jew as for a Christian.  After all, The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament!) 

       As for Islam as a Christian heresy, this is much more likely.  Still, the matter is not as clear-cut as Frame would have us believe.  Yes, the Koran obviously borrows many key themes from Christianity, like monotheism, the Day of Judgment, the idea of hell as an eternal abode of the wicked, etc.  And the Koran plagiarizes many characters and stories from the pages of the Old Testament.  But, Islam hardly fits into the same mold as obvious Christian heresies, like Mormonism, or Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Many Christians would classify these groups as heretical based on two criteria: alteration, and addition.  That is, these groups take specifically Christian doctrines and alter them in an unorthodox manner.  For instance, the Jehovah’s Witnesses accept the divinity of Jesus (which is anathema to Muslims) but they consider his divinity inferior to that of the Father.  They are, in effect, modern-day Arians.  The Mormons admit that the New Testament is God’s word (which Muslims do not), but they add to this the Book of Mormon, which for them is a superior source of divine revelation. 

          The Koran certainly is full of ideas taken directly from the Bible.  But, Islam does not share with genuine Christian heresies important doctrines like the divinity of Jesus, the sacrificial nature of his death, etc.[22]  Walter Martin, in his encyclopedic work on cults and non-Christian religions, avers that Islam is “a major world religion distinctly different from Christianity.”[23]  Additionally, I think many others, both Christian and non-Christian, would have trouble with Frame’s assessment of Islam as a Christian heresy.  By assigning Islam (and Judaism!) to the disreputable realm of Christian heresy, Frame artificially strengthens his case that only the Christian God can account for the world as we know it.  Frame and Van Til believe that the God of Christianity, because he is absolute, is able to account for the created order.  And, because he is personal, he is able to serve as a reference point for things like morals and ethics.  Both Van Til and Frame see the personal God of Christianity, as manifested in the Trinity, as the only God who can truly explain all aspects of our universe, from the physical to the moral.  Thus Frame writes: “Islam’s doctrine of predestination often has the ring of an impersonal determinism rather than the wise and good planning of the biblical Lord.  And Islam’s Allah can make arbitrary changes in his very nature, in contrast with the abiding, dependably personal character of the God of Scripture.”[24]  Frame, like his mentor Van Til, assumes that the God of Christianity is the One who not only explains the world, but makes possible the intelligibility of the world: “God must be nothing less than the Trinitarian, sovereign, transcendent, and immanent absolute personality of the Scriptures.”[25]

           Now, Van Til and Frame here are certainly correct when they point out that the Christian God is much more of a “person” than the God of Islam.  The triune God possesses personality in that the divine logos became incarnate in a human being, walked among us, and told and showed us what God is like.  The Holy Spirit, often described with personal pronouns in scripture, is no impersonal force, but a personal manifestation of God’s three-in-oneness. By contrast, the God of Islam often seems remote, impersonal, almost more like the God of deism than the loving, personal God of the New Testament.  But this impression of Allah is true only up to a point.  For instance, Christian philosopher and apologist Norman Geisler, certainly no defender of Islam, points out that, contrary to much Christian misconception, Allah is viewed by Muslims as a God of absolute love: “Allah is a God of love.  Indeed, some of God’s names depict this very characteristic.”[26] Love, of course, is no abstract quality; it can only be predicated upon personhood.  And, even the much-vaunted plurality within the Christian Godhead (which Van Til and Frame insist is necessary in order for God to truly be a God of love) is not without precedent in the Islamic understanding of Allah.  Geisler, in discussing Islamic theologians’ understanding of Allah’s revelation of the Koran to Muhammad, notes that Muslims understand Allah’s speech to be an “eternal attribute of God that is not identical to God but is somehow distinguishable from him.”  If this so so, Geisler reasons, “it would seem that the Islamic view of God’s absolute unity is, by their own distinction, not incompatible with Christian trinitarianism.”[27]  As to the charge that Van Til and Frame seem to level against Allah, namely, that he is too far removed and distant (i.e., not immanent enough) to truly be the source of all logic, order and morality, Muslims have no difficulty in maintaining that Allah is indeed the force that binds the universe together in a coherent, rational manner.  Muslims believe that the world was “created by the will of a Designer and sustained by Him for meaningful purposes.  Historical currents take place in accordance with His will and follow established laws.”[28] 

         Do I personally think that Allah makes as good a candidate for the creator of the world as does the biblical God?  No.  I think Van Til and Frame are correct to point out that the personal, trinitarian character of the Christian God is a better candidate for the ultimate source of our universe.  But two things must be said in this regard.  First, just because Allah does not seem as “qualified” does not a priori rule him out.  He could still be the one, true creator of all; Frame is certainly aware that a Muslim could easily make this claim.[29]  A Muslim could do so because Allah, as portrayed in the Koran, seems to be described in much the same way as God is in the Bible, that is, as the absolute master of the universe.  In fact, when “Christians read the Quran, they are often struck with how similar the Quran’s depiction of God sounds to that of the Bible.”[30]

       Now, If Van Til, Frame, and Hays simply said, with appropriate humility, that the God of the Bible seems to be a more likely candidate than Allah for the role of supreme creator, I would be in full agreement.  And to his credit, Frame does hint at this position when he says that “”Islam, Judaism, and various sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses also approximate biblical personalism, though I think inconsistently  But, their personalism, such as it is, is due to the influence of Scripture.” [31]  But, even if Muhammad fashioned Allah after the God of the Bible (and this seems obvious to me) it is not obvious to Muslims, who take the Koranic descriptions of Allah to be infallible revelation, and thus a sure basis for apologetics.  Therefore, a Muslim apologetic based upon the personhood of Allah, even though it is not the fully orbed personhood of the biblical God, is certainly a live option.

        Despite the somewhat tentative nature of Frame’s statement above, Van Til (and to a lesser extent, Frame) ultimately thinks that the supremely personal God of the Bible is the only explanation for the universe.  Van Til, writing about the natural world and human ability to understand it correctly, said that “the existence of the God of Christian theism and the conception of his counsel as controlling all things in the universe is the only presupposition which can account for the uniformity of nature which the scientist needs.  But the best and only possible proof for the existence of such a God is that his existence is required for the uniformity of nature and for the coherence of all things in the world…. Thus there is absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism (italics mine).”[32]

        As a Christian, my faith tells me that such a God exists, too.  But can I have “absolutely certain” proof of it?  Muslims also believe that Allah gives order, structure, and purpose to the world: “the human mind was devoid of fertility till the bright rays of learning and science of the Quran awakened the human race, and spread in the four corners of the world.”[33]  Or again, concerning the natural world, Muslims think that if there “were not a Regulator of the whole of this system behind the scenes, the system would fall into chaos.”[34]  A Muslim can make the same kinds of statements as can a Reformed Christian presuppositionalist; the Muslim God may not seem as strong a candidate, but that certainly does not rule him out.  John Frame, though not quite as confident as Van Til in this area, is still able to write that “Van Til is also right, I believe, to emphasize that Christian theism is the only basis for intelligible predication…. As we have seen, the alternative to Christian theism is ultimate impersonalism, which offers no intelligible explanation for the order and value of the world.”[35]  

       As a Christian, I find the Christian God far more attractive, more intellectually satisfying as well as morally satisfying, than the God of Islam.  But I still fail to see how Allah could not be the Creator of the world.  Frame might reply that only a fully transcendent and fully immanent God could be responsible for the world as we know it.  But how does he know that?  Because it seems logical?  Well, perhaps, but Muslims, and the ever-growing numbers who convert to Islam each year, do not see Christianity as logically superior in this regard.  They think that Allah, even though he is not fully immanent and fully transcendent in the way that Christians conceive of God, is responsible for the world as we know it.  Metaphysical speculation about which God, Christian or Muslim, would make a better creator does not do much for the Van Tillian position.   Geisler, writing about Van Til’s insistence that only the triune God of Christianity can explain the world, says that “Certainly, as Van Til argues, it is necessary to posit a God to make sense out of the world.  However, he has not shown that it is necessary to posit a triune God.  This is true whether or not one accepts his argument that only the Trinity solves the problem of the one and the many.”[36]

III.  Biblical Presuppositions versus Koranic Presuppositions 

        Van Til, contrary to much popular belief, is not opposed to using evidences to help prove the truth of Christianity.  In fact, he welcomes the use of evidence, provided it is presented as part of the overall Christian presuppositional worldview.  What Van Til will not allow is for man, with his so-called autonomous reason, to examine the traditional apologetic evidences on their own merit, apart from the Christian presuppositions that Van Til says these evidences depend upon.  Van Til is radically opposed to allowing men, with their sin-beclouded minds, to judge whether or not the God of the Bible exists based only on so-called “neutral” evidence (e.g., the traditional evidentialist appeal to the resurrection as proof that Christianity is true).  He writes that “if man is not autonomous, if he is rather what Scripture says he is, namely, a creature of God and a sinner before his face, then man should subordinate his reason to the Scriptures and seek in the light of it (sic) to interpret his experience.”[37]  Van Til is always insistent that the unbeliever must accept the Christian scriptures, because they are infallible testimony to the God of Christianity and, as shown above, only the Christian God can, in Van Til's system, satisfactorily explain the universe.  The Bible, then, for Van Til, is the presupposition behind of all of his other presuppositions, for the Bible reveals the presuppositions upon which Van Til builds his entire system of apologetics (e.g., the fall of man, the noetic effects of sin, the triune personal God).  He writes that “I take what the Bible says about God and his relation to the universe as unquestionably true on its own authority.”[38]

           Now, what does the Muslim apologist claim?  He claims, not surprisingly, that his scriptures are the only true revelation of God.  In fact, the Muslim in this instance actually goes Van Til one better, for the Muslim claims that his Koranic presuppositions involve accepting the belief that the Bible contains errors and is not trustworthy!  Just as Van Til insists that sinful, unregenerate man cannot be trusted to sit in judgment upon scripture, so the Muslim insists that the Bible is inferior to the Koran.  Christians have no right to judge the Koran based upon the Bible, because the Bible contains willful misrepresentations of divine truth.  The “revelations to Muhammad were a renewal of God’s earlier revelations to Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and many other prophets, revelations that Muhammad said had been corrupted.”[39]   This willful corruption of the Bible sounds a great deal like the sinful, deliberate rejection of God that Van Til claims all unbelievers are guilty of.

         The Christian can easily counter the Muslim claim that the Bible has been corrupted; the manuscript evidence, for the New Testament especially, is so great as to virtually guarantee that the New Testament text we read today is essentially the same as what was contained in the autographs.[40]  But of course, this does not matter at all to the Muslim apologist; his Koran says the Bible is corrupt, and that is all there is to it.  Well,  he must say this; there are too many contradictions between the Bible and the Koran.  The Muslim apologist will not let textual scholars, with their Van Tillian “autonomous reason,” sit in judgment upon the Koran in this matter, any more than Van Til will let a non-believer sit in judgment upon the Bible.  We thus seem to have reached a stalemate.  Both Van Til, and his Muslim counterpart, argue that their particular scripture must be trusted, and all others rejected.[41]  All of this will strike the unbeliever as fideism. 

        It is at this point that an apologist in the evidentialist school might attempt to use the traditional arguments for Christianity to break the theological impasse.  As previously noted, Van Til is not opposed to the use of evidence, so long as it is used within what he considers to be a proper Christian presuppositional framework. But the problem with Van Til’s approach to Christian evidences is that, once a non-Christian accepts the presuppositions that Van Til insists upon, he is already a Christian! What is the point of arguing, say, for the historicity of the resurrection if the person with whom the apologist is debating already accepts all of Van Til’s preconditions about the nature of the debate? 

       For instance, if someone accepts the idea of a literal, historical Fall, (and this is a major Van Tillian presupposition, without which his apologetic endeavor simply is not possible) and the resultant curse upon man’s intellect, at that point he is already a Christian.  Who but a Christian believes that there was a “Fall” from original righteousness?  Who but a Christian believes that we are tainted with original sin as a result of this Fall?  I could also add, who but a strict Calvinist  believes that the Fall has done as much damage to men and women as Van Til claims that it has?[42]  Or, once one accepts that God is three-in-one (another basic Van Tillian presupposition), why does the apologist need to go further?  Only orthodox Christians accept this view of God.  It seems that if a non-believer accepts any one of Van Til’s presuppositions, he is by default already a Christian. 

       The same could be said for the Muslim presupposition that the Koran is the theological corrective to a textually corrupt Bible.  Once someone accepts this basic presupposition, he is already a Muslim—no one but a Muslim believes that the Koran contains the very words of God, words that pre-existed in heaven before being revealed to Muhammad.  If appeals to outside evidence are rendered unnecessary by both the Van Tillian as well as the Muslim approach, how can a non-theist ever decide which of these great world religions is true?  A Van Tillian would say that Christianity is obviously true, because it teaches what all men instinctively know, namely, that there is a God, and that unbelievers knowingly reject him despite the fact that they know better.  But Islam teaches this very doctrine, too.  The Van Tillian might then claim that the Bible alone presents a God who is able to account for the universe. But as we have seen above, a Muslim can make the same claim almost as strongly as can the Van Tillian.  The Van Tillian could claim that Christianity is true because the Bible teaches that it is true.  But the Koran teaches the same thing about Islam.  What about an appeal to evidential arguments, like the resurrection?  Van Til rules this out unless one views it with the spectacles of Christian presuppositions.  And it is precisely those presuppositions that are the problem, for they are no more convincing than the presuppositions that an Islamic apologist could use in the defense of his faith. 

Conclusion

        I do not wish to claim that there is no value in the Van Tillian system; far from it.  As I stated above, Van Til (and Frame) does a masterful job of showing how the non-theist has no rational basis for his perceptions of the world, since he will not allow for a proper theistic foundation for those perceptions.  But, as I have shown in this paper, Van Til’s system does not fair nearly so well against a theistic, in this case a Muslim, position.  Thus, I find myself returning to the premise of my original article, namely, that the Van Tillian system is more theistic than specifically Christian.  I believe I have shown how a Muslim apologist could use this approach to apologetics to validate the Islamic faith in much the same way that a Christian could use it to authenticate the truth claims of Christianity.   So, are Christians lost amidst the seas of religious doubt and despair when debating Muslims?  Certainly not.  But the Christian must use evidence that is unique to biblical religion, and not an apologetic system that lends itself to more than one version of theistic truth.  Thus my insistence on the resurrection of Jesus in my original article as strong, objective evidence for Christianity, evidence that is not dependent upon presuppositions that

 

are not uniquely Christian.

 


[1]  John J. Johnson, “Is Cornelius Van Til’s Apologetic Method Christian, or Merely Theistic?” Evangelical Quarterly 75:3 (2003), 257-68.

[2] John Frame and Steve Hays, “Johnson on Van Til: a Rejoinder,” Evangelical Quarterly 76:3 (2004), 227-239.  I will consider Frame to be an “orthodox” Van Tillian for the purposes of this paper.  I realize he does not agree with every one of Van Til’s points, and he is not afraid to criticize the man whom he considers to be “the most important Christian thinker of the twentieth century.” He says this in Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of his Thought (Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 1995), 3. In many places, Frame candidly admits that Van Til assumed that his method of apologetics accomplished a bit more than it actually does.  In contrast to Van Til, Frame writes that “I have suggested that we distinguish between the certainty of the evidence for Christian theism, which is absolute, and our human arguments for Christian theism, which are fallible and often uncertain” (301).  Frame seems to think that Van Til was a bit too sure that his presuppositional method of apologetics could prove Christianity to be true.  Still, it is fair to say that Frame agrees with Van Til in the main regarding Van Til’s approach to apologetics.  Thus I will consider Frame to be an enthusiastic spokesman for Van Tillian apologetics. 

[3] Some Muslim apologists may have done so. However, I am not conversant enough with Muslim scholarship to know if this is the case.

[4] The Van Tillian approach works best when it is used against the position of atheism, or agnosticism.  Van Til was at his strongest when pointing out how Christianity is a far more satisfying world view than any non-theistic outlook.  Francis Schaeffer did much the same thing when he showed that atheists simply could not live consistently with the God-less world they envisioned.  See, for instance, his most important writings, available in the one-volume Trilogy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books,  1990).  But, Van Til’s system seems far less effective when he pits the God of Christianity against other theistic world views, as I hope to show in this paper.

[5] Frame and Hays, “Johnson on Van Til,” 229 (footnote 13).

[6] See, for example, his The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 1955), 14, where Van Til says that the “fall of man needs emphasis as much as his creation.”

[7] John M. Frame, Cornelius Van Til: an Analysis of His Thought (Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 1995), 188-89.

[8] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 93.

[9] John M. Frame, “Presuppositional Apologetics,’ in Five Views on Apologetics  ed. Steven B. Cowan (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 218.   When Frame says that the unbeliever “already does” think along Christian presuppositional lines, he is referring to the Van Tillian idea that the human thinking process itself is only possible because the God of Christian theism has created a world in which human  logic is possible.  I will address the problems with this view later in the paper.

[10] Abul A’La Mawdudi, An Introduction to the Koran (Jamaica, NY: Islamic Circle of North America, 1982), 5.

[11] Shabbir Akhtar, A Faith for All Seasons: Islam and Western Modernity (London: Bellew Publishing, 1990), 30.

[12] However, even in the Koran, there seem to be hints of a Fall-like contagion that plagues humanity.  “Several surahs make cryptic references to an actual disease (marad), presumably spiritual, which flourishes in the sinful hearts of hypocrites and rejecters alike (K:8:49; 33:12) and which is increased by Allah as a recompense for the hard-hearted perversity of man (k:2:10)” (ibid., 91-92).

[13] Van Til and Frame are committed to Reformed theology.  They consider the presuppositional approach to apologetics to be the one that is most faithful to a Christianity that stresses the teachings of Calvin and the Westminster Confession.

[14] Akhtar, A Faith for all Seasons, 27.

[15] Timothy George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 115.

[16] Hammudah Abdalati, Islam in Focus (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1975), 33.

[17] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 212.

[18] Akhtar, A Faith for all Seasons, 34.  Akhtar goes on to explain that the “predominant view among Muslim theologians today as in the past is the view called ‘fideism’ in Christian thought” (34).  How ironic that Van Til has often been accused of fideism himself!  And while I do not think that this charge is accurate, it is easy to see why many, especially those unfamiliar with the complexities of his thought, would consider Van Til guilty of this charge.

[19] John M Frame, “Presuppositional Apologetics,” 210.

[20] Akhtar, A Faith for All Seasons, 83.

[21] John M Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 1994), 38, (footnote 7).

[22] In fact, the Koran does not even teach that Jesus was crucified.  Rather, it teaches that another man was crucified in his stead, thus apparently deceiving all the onlookers.  Sura 4 of the Koran states that “[t]hey did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did.” This passage is quoted from The Koran, trans. N. J. Dawood, (London: Penguin Books, 1988), 382.

[23] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985), 364.

[24] Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 48.

[25] Ibid., 89.

[26] Norman L Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 370.

[27] Ibid., 371.

[28] Abdalati, Islam in Focus, 51.

[29] Frame, Cornelius Van Til, 316.

[30] George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? 71.

[31] Frame, “Presuppositional Apologetics,” 224 (footnote). Elsewhere (228) Frame also suggests that the God of the Bible is a better candidate than any other God, seemingly eschewing the dogmatic insistence he displays elsewhere that only the Christian God could have created our world.  But, this certainly was not Van Til’s position, and Frame himself does not usually speak this way.

[32] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 103.

[33] Ziauddin Ahmad, Islam Universal Religion (Karachi, Pakistan: Royal Book Company, 1989), 38. 

[34] Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam (UK: Islam International Publications, 1996), 47.

[35] Frame, Cornelius Van Til,  276.

[36] Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 758.  Van Til’s insistence that only the doctrine of the trinity solves the ages-old dilemma of the one and the many problem is one of the reasons he believes that only Christian theism can explain the world.  For a good analysis of Van Til’s position on the trinity, see Frame, Cornelius Van Til, 63—78.

[37] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 108. 

[38] Ibid., 195

[39] Rollin Armour, Sr., Islam, Christianity, and the West: A Troubled History (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 18.

[40] See, for instance, F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992).

[41] For the absurdity that results when two combating apologists both claim to be in possession of their own  inerrant set of self-authenticating scriptures,  see John W. Montgomery, “Once Upon an A Priori,” in  Jerusalem and Athens, ed. E. R. Geehan (Philadelphia: P and R Publishing, 1971), 380-392.

[42] Van Til, in good Calvinist fashion, stresses the idea that the fall not only adversely influenced mankind, but deeply harmed every aspect of the human condition, especially our reasoning process.  The fact that Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and many forms of Protestantism do not see the Fall as damaging human reason to this extreme extent puts Van Til’s system somewhat at odds with the majority Christian position, and will probably prove to be a stumbling block to anyone not in agreement with his strict Calvinistic interpretation of the “utter depravity” that resulted from Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

Table of Contents