Johnson on Van Til: A Rejoinder[1]

John Frame and Steve Hays

Key words: apologetics; presuppositionalism; Van Til.

John Johnson has taken the position that Van Tilian apologetics can at most prove a generic theism, but not Christian theism.[2] He further alleges that a Muslim apologist could just as well deploy a presuppositional defense because, in Johnson’s opinion, Van Tilian apologetics offers no way to broker rival religious claims. His final contention is that the presuppositional method robs the Christian apologist of appeal to the Resurrection, in direct contravention of NT practice.

The purpose of this paper will not be to offer a full-blown exposition and defense of Van Tilian apologetics. Rather, its aim is limited to a rebuttal of Johnson’s leading contentions.[3]

The Lay of the Land

An initial difficulty with Johnson’s analysis is an evident unfamiliarity with the requisite primary and secondary sources. His knowledge of Van Tilian apologetics appears limited to an old festschrift,[4] an unsympathetic and unimpressive treatment by Gerstner, Sproul, and Lindsley,[5] Frame’s review of the same,[6] and a critique of John Warwick Montgomery by the late Greg Bahnsen.[7]

Conspicuous by its glaring omission is any reference to or even recognition of Van Til’s major writings. Now, Van Til was a prolific author, and so it may be unreasonable to expect of Johnson a comprehensive knowledge of Van Til’s opus, but there are a couple of short-cuts readily at hand. For Frame and Bahnsen both wrote major expositions. Bahnsen’s book is an annotated reader,[8] which excerpts and organizes Van Til’s writing in a compact and accessible format. In addition, Frame’s book[9] contains an annotated bibliography which flags the major writings of Van Til. For several years now, the collected works of Van Til have been available on CD-ROM.[10] Finally, David Byron and James Anderson[11] have offered astute explanations of Van Til on the Internet—if only Johnson were willing to follow the links. All said, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask that a writer, publishing an article in a major refereed journal, should first acquire an elementary acquaintance with the author under review. Maybe he has read more than the footnotes disclose, but if so, it does not come through.

Defining the Options

Johnson’s definition of the alternatives to transcendental theism suffers from an equivocation of terms. For example, Johnson says that “evidentialism is, of course, the ‘traditional’ approach to Christian apologetics” (257). However, this fails to distinguish between evidential apologetics and natural theology. According to contemporary classification schemes, evidentialism:

May refer to (1) a broad class or family of apologetic schools that includes classical apologetics, evidential apologetics, and cumulative case apologetics, [or] (2) a particular apologetic methodology that focuses primarily on historical evidences in constructing an argument for Christianity.[12]

The classical method is an approach that begins by employing natural theology to establish theism as the correct worldview. After God’s existence has thus been shown, the classical method moves to a presentation of the historical evidences for the deity of Christ, trustworthiness of Scripture, &c., to show that Christianity is the best version of theism, as opposed to, say, Judaism and Islam.

It is usually argued that the order of the two phases in classical apologetics is essential. That is, before one can meaningfully discuss historical evidences, one has to have established God’s existence because one’s worldview is a framework through which miracles, historical fact, and other empirical data are interpreted. Without a theistic context, no historical event could ever be shown to be a divine miracle.

The evidential method has much in common with the classical method except in solving the issue concerning the value of miracles as evidence. Evidentialism as an apologetic method may be characterized as the “one-step” approach. Miracles do not presuppose God’s existence (as most contemporary classical apologists assert), but can serve as one sort of evidence for God.[13]

Johnson systematically smudges this critical distinction. Consider the following statements:

Warfield started with ‘general’ revelation (the innate awareness of God which all men have), and progressed to ‘special,’ Christian revelation. For Warfield, the first step in the traditional method is to get the nonbeliever to consider the fact that there may exist a ‘God’ who created the universe. This could be done, perhaps, through one or more of the classical ‘proofs’ for God’s existence. Once this is accomplished, the field must be narrowed down, through the use of evidentialist apologetics, to prove that the ‘God’ who probably exists is the God of the Christian Bible.

Paul is simply saying [in Rom 1][14] that all humans have an innate knowledge of God ... in Acts 17[15] ... Paul builds on their basic theism ... and explains that the God they believe in is actually the Christian God, the Father of Jesus. Then, in verse 31, Paul says something which must surely warm the heart of any Christian evidentialist: ‘He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.’ ... In short, the letters of Paul, and the rest of the New Testament writings, are replete with appeals to the evidence of Christ’s resurrection (265-67).[16]

Now these statements contain a number of claims: (i) by virtue of general revelation, all men enjoy an innate awareness of God’s existence; (ii) a Christian apologist should deploy theistic proofs to make the unbeliever consider the existence of a divine Creator; (iii) an apologist should then proceed to prove the identity of this being with the God of the Bible, by recourse to evidential apologetics—of which the Resurrection is the primary evidence; (iv) this method is identical with the method of NT apologetics.

What are we to make of these claims? First of all, let us take note of how Johnson is invoking special revelation to establish general revelation. He is quoting Scripture to validate the presupposition of general revelation. Now, if it’s proper for Johnson to frontload the apologetic process with a knowledge of Scripture, then a couple of things are quite unclear: (i) How does the appeal to a Bible-based category (general revelation) amount to a neutral frame of reference? (ii) Why should an appeal to general revelation via special revelation be limited to “basic” theism? If natural theology receives its warrant from revealed theology, then why not go the whole nine yards? Either both are question-begging or neither is.

To expand on (ii), Johnson is really not starting with general revelation; rather, he’s starting with special revelation. What he apparently forgets is that the very category of general revelation is one which theologians derive from passages like Rom 1. If Johnson had never read the Bible, or had not been conditioned by a hermeneutical/apologetic tradition that seizes on such passages, he would not even have this category at his disposal.

To put a sharper point on the matter, there’s an ironic tension in appealing to Scripture (e.g., Acts 17; Rom 1) to prove that you cannot or ought not lead with an appeal to Scripture. Johnson says that a Christian apologist should begin with general rather than special revelation. But he justifies his methodology by—an appeal to Scripture! So, at least on one level, the warrant for general revelation is resting on special revelation all along.

Now perhaps he could counter that although his Bible reading first drew his attention to this apologetic resource, yet, having had it flagged for him in Scripture, it has an apologetic potential independent of Scripture. Scripture pointed him to the source, but the source has other trails apart from Scripture and leading back into Scripture.

But assuming that this is a valid riposte, and Van Til, for one, had a very strong doctrine of general revelation, it can be extended well beyond “basic theism,” can it not? For Scripture not only talks about general revelation and its constituent elements (e.g., the existence of God along with certain attributes, as well as man’s duty to God), but it also talks about the Fall, the Trinity, the plan of redemption, the person and work of Christ, and so on. 

So, were we to follow his own line of reasoning, but take it further, could we not construct a parallel argument for full-blown Christian theism? Scripture enables us to pick out our apologetic repertoire, but having ID’d the basic doctrines of the faith by means of Scripture, there may be means, irrespective of Scripture, of proving them. 

Assuming, moreover, that all men enjoy an innate knowledge of God, how does that entail the need of theistic arguments? How does that imply a two-step rather than a one-step method? The only obvious reason would be if the noetic effects of sin are such that it is now necessary to confront the unbeliever with something he already knows, at a tacit or subliminal level, but is unwilling to admit—the way a mother might confront a lying child with evidence of his misbehavior. But Johnson doesn’t approve of appeals to the noetic effects of sin.

As a point of clarification, Van Til brings up the noetic effects of sin as a way of alerting the apologist to the fact that the unbeliever is often evasive. An unbeliever, especially an astute unbeliever, is not an honest broker. Hence, it may be necessary to challenge his criteria.

Johnson parries original sin by appeal to the image of God (259). But this misses the point. For we’re not dealing with our natural faculties, simpliciter, but with our fallen faculties.

Johnson further confounds the difference between the subject of knowledge and the standard of knowledge. Yes, the unbeliever must take himself as the subjective point of reference, but that still leaves in play the objective standard of reference. By failing to draw this distinction, Johnson undercuts his own appeal to an intersubjectival set of truth-conditions. 

To say that NT is replete with evidentiary appeals to the Resurrection glosses over the whole basis of such appeals. As any reader can see, such appeals are grounded in the prior revelation of OT theology, typology, and prophecy. In addition, what exegetical evidence is there that Bible writers treated the manifestation of God’s existence, either by virtue of general or special revelation, as merely probable? Where do they reduce the Christian faith to a defeasible hypothesis? Paul may cast his argument in counterfactual terms (1 Cor 15), but, of course, that’s a contrary-to-fact conditional, and not a live option.

Finally, let us once again return to the earlier question of proving the existence of God.  Is this a value-free exercise? What constitutes the necessary and sufficient conditions for such a demonstration? This, of itself, raises a number of preliminary issues, for various theories of knowledge posit very different and even divergent truth-conditions. For example, whether one regards the ontological argument as sound or unsound has less to do with the argument itself than with one’s general epistemology. As a rule, those in the rationalist or realist tradition are predisposed to accept some version as valid, as over against all those in the nominalist or empiricist tradition who are predisposed to dismiss the argument as inherently unsound. And our epistemology is, in turn, embedded in our ontology. Empiricism is indexed to materialism whereas dualism is open to elements of rationalism and realism.[17]

Common Ground

Johnson says that we should play by the same rules in apologetics as in every other field of knowledge (267). But surely different disciplines have different criteria. The standard of proof in mathematical logic is not the same as in mathematical physics, or medical science. Methodology ought to match the subject-matter.

Perhaps what he means is that all claims ought to be judged by the “evidence.” If so, this glosses over the issue of what counts as evidence. The rules of evidence vary with the objects of knowledge. To take a very broad-based example, the evidence for abstract objects is not the same as the evidence for concrete objects. And this goes back to the perennial debate between realism and nominalism, monism and dualism. As one writer puts it:

We seem to keep returning to the same dilemma. Whether or not the evidence for miracles is strong depends on the prior beliefs which we bring to the question. If there is more to reality than can be apprehended by the senses we should not be surprised to find events within our experience which fall outside the competence of science to explain fully. If, on the other hand, the materialist is right after all, Christianity, and most other religions, even in the attenuated form of their more radical varieties, are simply an illusion and no amount of evidence can render the impossible remotely probable.[18]

This does not necessarily mean that common ground is inaccessible or competing beliefs incommensurable. But what it does mean that it will often be incumbent on the apologist to clear a stretch of common ground by burrowing beneath the evidential underbrush in order to uncover the ontological and epistemic root-system of the unbeliever and, if need be, hack it down root-and-branch. 

It is rather ironic that Johnson seizes upon the Resurrection as his showcase for evidential apologetics. In what is the well-nigh definitive defense of the Resurrection, N. T. Wright is quite alert to the role of presuppositions:

My claim is stronger: that the bodily resurrection of Jesus provides a necessary condition for these things; in other words; that no other explanation could or would do. All the efforts to fine alternative explanations fail, and they were bound to do so.

Many will challenge this conclusion, for many different reasons. I do not claim that it constitutes a “proof” of the resurrection in terms of some neutral standpoint. It is, rather, a historical challenge to other explanations, other worldviews. Precisely because at this point we are faced with worldview level issues, there is no neutral ground, no island in the middle of the epistemological ocean, as yet uncolonized by any of the warring contingents. We cannot simply arrive at a topic and make grand declarations, as in Francis Drake’s celebrated annexation of California, and suppose that all the local inhabitants will take them as binding.[19]

To insist that the Christian apologist must occupy the same ground or assume the same standpoint as the unbeliever is, at best, an overstatement. Straightforward appeals to the evidence may hit home for the average unbeliever—where common grace conserves a measure of common sense—but what about a philosophy or theology major fitted with the fine-mesh filter of a Hume, Kant, Ayer, or Bultmann? Their epistemic grid automatically screens out anything that would count as evidence of God’s presence in the world. Many unbelieving intellectuals operate with an ironclad methodological naturalism that is intentionally impervious to any evidence of supernatural cause-and-effect. So one must go below the superficial evidence to challenge the underlying rules of evidence. By definition, naturalism has no room for supernaturalism, or materialism for supersensibilia. What is ultimately at issue, then, is not a mere question of local truths-claims, but global truth-conditions.

Surely there is more to common ground than something both parties can agree on. Common ground needs to intersect at an axial point of truth. Suppose an unbeliever imagines that Ezekiel 1 is an eyewitness report of flying saucers. An apologist could use ufology as a point of contact to build a case for faith in Scripture. But that would be to build on quick sand.

Van Til advocates a two-track method: The apologist ought to assume, for the sake of argument, the unbeliever’s viewpoint, and carry this to its (il-) logical extreme; while the unbeliever ought to assume, for the sake of argument, the believer’s viewpoint, and carry that to its logical extreme.

It is important to keep in mind that more than one perspective is in play here: there is (i) the viewpoint which the apologist ought always to assume for himself, in his own mind, going into the debate, and steering the debate, and emerging from the debate; (ii) the viewpoint of the unbeliever which the apologist will adopt for the sake of argument, and (iii) the viewpoint of the apologist which the unbeliever will be invited to adopt for the sake of argument.[20]

The Unity of Truth

Johnson accuses transcendental theism of vicious circularity. This is a common criticism.[21]  But it is not very discriminating. For starters, this charge runs the risk, a risk to which Johnson falls prey, of failing to distinguish between vicious and virtuous circularity. Vicious circularity is a tightly defined informal fallacy. To extend this logical category to every mode of circular reasoning is illicit and leads to radical scepticism.

There is a broader sense in which every theory of knowledge is circular. Empiricism assumes the regular reliability of the five senses, of induction and memory, whereas rationalism assumes the regular reliability of intuition, introspection, and deduction.[22] We need to distinguish between the circularity of a question-begging premise and the circularity of a necessary presupposition—without which rudimentary reasoning would be bankrupt and proof impossible.[23]

Except for the radical antirealist, who has his own problems to contend with, both believer and unbeliever must assume the unity of truth. And, if so, then there can only be one web of truth. That may be circular, but not viciously so; for unless you assume the unity of truth, all reasoning is rendered vicious.

Everyone, be it believer or unbeliever, evidentialist or presuppositionalist, will deploy his beliefs to defend his beliefs. We defend what we believe, and our beliefs figure in our own defense. But this need not be viciously circular, for there are degrees of belief, and some strands of the web are more firmly secured than others.[24]

Fact & Fiction

Borrowing a page from Montgomery, Johnson invokes the parable of the Shadoks and the Gibis. On its own level, this parable is unanswerable. But that is only because Montgomery has rigged the rules of the game to deal us a foregone conclusion by proposing a purely imaginary scenario. Yet a presuppositionalist could play the same game. Instead of a cute little parable about presuppositional Shadoks and Gibis, his hypothetical could consist of evidential Shadoks and Gibis inhabiting a world where there’s perfect parity between the evidence and counterevidence.

So all Montgomery’s parable proves is that Montgomery can dream up a fantasy world in which the presuppositional method cuts both ways. But Montgomery offers not the slightest reason for supposing that such a synthetic symmetry obtains in a real world situation.[25]

Perhaps sensing the underlying fallacy of this thought-experiment, Montgomery switches to Islam. His contention, picked up by Johnson, is that a Muslim apologist could have ready recourse to the same style of presuppositional reasoning to prove the Koran.

But this counterexample suffers from three flaws. To begin with, even if alleged literary excellence were an argument in favor of its divine inspiration,[26] it’s hard to see how this appeal amounts to a transcendental argument. It has nothing to do with the preconditions of intelligibility. Rather, it looks like an evidential argument. So if Johnson’s counterexample is valid, it is valid against evidential apologetics rather than Van Tilian apologetics.

In addition, there’s the question of who speaks for Islam—Muhammad or Muhammad Ali? Unless Muhammad Ali’s case for Islam is consistent with Muhammad’s case for Islam, his argument is self-defeating.

As a matter of public record, Muhammad did not, in fact, claim that his message was self-attesting. To the contrary, when confronted with doubters, Muhammad appeals to the People of the Book—the Jews and Christians—to validate his message.[27] In the event, then, of conflict between the Bible and the Koran, Muhammad’s prophetic pretensions are thereby invalidated by his own appointed standard of judgment. Case closed.[28]

Finally, for an apologist to lead with the Resurrection when the Koran precommits a Muslim to deny the Crucifixion[29]—which is a prerequisite of the Resurrection—is a losing opening move if there ever were one. An apologist cannot go straight to the evidence when his target-audience is predisposed to reject the evidence out of hand. Some preliminary groundwork needs to be laid. And that’s a presuppositional task.

The truth is that, when dealing with a Christian heresy like Islam, it isn’t necessary to attack it on external or transcendental grounds. A Christian heresy can be undermined on internal grounds alone. Inasmuch as a Christian heresy invokes the Bible as a rule of faith, even if it denies sola Scriptura, then any conflict between Scripture and the heresy in question will disprove the heresy—irrespective of what other arguments or counterarguments may be advanced in its favor or disfavor.  It comes down to an exegetical question. Anything more is overkill, although there’s a practical place for overkill inasmuch as different folks are impressed by different lines of evidence and counterevidence.

Johnson goes on to say that the Van Tilian message could be “equally” deployed in favor of another religion, “especially” a theistic one (258). But there are two problems with this objection. To begin with, nowhere has Johnson laid the groundwork for such a sweeping assertion. Has he actually worked out a detailed taxonomy of world religion and systematically devised Van Tilian versions for each and every one? If not, then this sounds like an empty bluff.

In addition, though, if Van Tilian apologetics is “equally” adaptable to all religious claims and counterclaims, then how is it also and “especially” adaptable to some in particular? For if it is equally serviceable to all, then it cannot be especially serviceable to some; and if it’s especially serviceable to some, then it cannot equally serviceable to all.

Theory & Praxis

Johnson conducts his entire discussion on a theoretical plane. He accuses transcendental theism of lacking practical application. This is yet another palpable and puzzling lacuna inasmuch as Van Tilians have, in fact, frequently made the move from theory to practice. Van Til applied his transcendental technique to a wide variety of opponents, past and present, viz., Barth, Buber, Hume, Kant, Küng, Maritain, Moltmann, Pannenberg, von Balthasar, &c. In addition, John Frame,[30] Greg Bahnsen,[31] and Steve Hays[32] have all supplied concrete examples of Van Tilian apologetics in action. Now, perhaps Johnson would find fault with these examples. But absent any interaction, this appears to be but another case in which Johnson lays blame on Van Tilian apologetics for an alleged defect which is only a consequence of his own defective knowledge of the pertinent literature.


John Johnson has taken the position that Van Tilian apologetics can at most prove a generic theism, but not Christian theism. He further alleges that a Muslim apologist could just as well deploy a presuppositional defense because, in Johnson’s opinion, Van Tilian apologetics offers no way to broker rival religious claims. His final contention is that the presuppositional method robs the Christian apologist of appeal to the Resurrection, in direct contravention of NT practice.

It is the contention of this paper that Johnson’s critique suffers from a scanty acquaintance with the relevant literature and a simplistic overview of the alternatives.[33]

[1] Originally published as “Johnson on Van Til: A Rejoinder,” EQ 76:3 (2004), 227-239. Reprinted with permission. The online version has been slightly revised for posting purposes.

[2] J. Johnson, “Is Cornelius Van Til’s Apologetic Method Christian or merely Theistic?” EQ 75:3 (2003), 257-268.

[3] John Frame is Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. Steve Hays is Dr. Frame’s teaching assistant. Our thanks go to James Anderson for commenting on a preliminary draft of this article. 

[4] Jerusalem and Athens, E. Geehan, ed. (P&R, 1971).

[5] Classical Apologetics (Zondervan, 1984). This work is inadequate on three grounds: (i) it is not an accurate exposition of Van Til; (ii) it is not a cogent critique of Van Til, and (iii) it does not present an especially competent alternative to transcendental theism. The best work in the field of “traditional” or “classical” apologetics is currently done by the likes of R. Adams, W. Alston, C. Blomberg, W. Craig, W. Dembski, J. Moreland, A. Plantinga, and R. Swinburne.

[6] “Van Til and the Ligonier Apologetic,” WTJ 47:2 (1985), 279-99; reprinted in J. Frame, Apologetics To the Glory of God (P&R, 1994), 219-43, and Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought (P&R, 1995), 401-22. Both Greg Bahnsen ( and Gordon Clark ( also wrote withering reviews of Classical Apologetics.

[7] “A Critique of the Evidentialist Apologetical Method of John Warwick Montgomery” (

[8] Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis (P&R, 1998).

[9] Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought. Frame has also expounded and debated his own apologetic philosophy in Five Views on Apologetics, S. Cowan, ed. (Zondervan, 2000).

[10] The Works of Cornelius Van Til, 1895-1987, E. Sigward, ed. (NY, 1997).

[11] E.g.,

[12] Five Views, 21-22.

[13] Ibid., 15-16. For yet another classification scheme, cf. K. Boa & R. Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons (NavPress, 2001).

[14] Johnson says a presuppositional Muslim could cite Rom 1 to prove that Allah is the true God (267). No, he couldn’t, because Rom 1 is concerned with two things: (i) natural revelation and (ii) original sin, whereas Islam denies original sin. “I’m baffled as to why Johnson thinks a Muslim could cite Rom 1 as proof of anything, given that no Muslim thinks that Paul’s letters are inspired,” J. Anderson (private correspondence, 12/23/03).

[15] We would note, in passing, that Johnson’s interpretation of Acts 17 completely misses the note of veiled sarcasm, double entendre, and apologetic opportunism. “At the outset of his address, Paul seeks to win over his audience with capatio benevolentai, ‘a currying of favor,’ but for the Christian reader his words bear an unmistakable irony... The same Greek word [σεβασματα] has a pejorative connotation in Wis 14:20; 15:17, expressing the criticism of such objects by the Jewish author,” J. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, AB 19C (Doubleday, 1998), 606-07; “In his address to those on the Areopagus Paul begins with an ambivalent compliment when he commends his hearers because they are ‘most religious.’ The terms deisidaimon and deisidaimonia sometimes carry negative connotations (‘superstition’), but in Philo and Josephus they are used with reference to religious convictions in a neutral or positive sense, though not exclusively so,” H. Kee, To Every Nation under Heaven (Trinity Press, 1997), 215; “It must be understood as a preachers’ ad hoc way of introducing his them, and it would be unfair to hold him bound to all the theological implications of his illustration,” C. K. Barrett, The Acts of the Apostles, ICC (T&T Clark, 1998), 2:838-839; “[Paul] is probably wishing to say, even if partly tongue-in-cheek in light of what he goes on to say, that he recognizes that they have a preoccupation with things related to the gods (a well-know trait of the Athenians...),” S. Porter, Paul in Acts (Hendriksen, 2001), 144; “Throughout the speech, Luke or Paul is using various somewhat familiar notions to pass judgment on and attack idols and the idolatry involved in polytheism. In other words, what we see here is not an attempt to meet pagans halfway, but rather a use of points of contact, familiar ideas and terms, in order to make a proclamation of monotheism in its Christian form,” B. Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles (Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1998), 518; “The captatio benevolentiae in v22 is subtle because on the one hand the piety or religiosity of the Athenians was proverbial ... but on the other the word [δεισιδαιμονεστερους] is ambiguous, capable of being taken in either a positive or negative sense—in other words, meaning either religious or superstitious. However it may have been heard, it seems very likely in view of v16 that Luke intends for us to see Paul using it in the negative sense... This term [σεβασματα], on the lips of a Jewish Christian like Paul would likely be intended to have negative overtones as well,” ibid., 520. For a Van Tilian take on Acts 17, cf. S. Oliphint, The Battle Belongs To The Lord (P&R, 2003), 143-73.

[16] The NT “appeals to evidence of Christ’s resurrection—not appeals to the evidence for Christ’s resurrection. In Acts 17, the resurrection functions as a premise of Paul’s argument, rather than a conclusion; the conclusion is that there will be a Judgment Day. Thus, a central tenet of the Christian worldview is assumed ... in this apologetic encounter, not proven by appeal to some ‘neutral’ evidence base (a la Habermas, Craig, et al)... If anything, the passage supports presuppositionalism,” J. Anderson (private correspondence, 12/23/03). In 1 Cor. 15, Paul “proves” the Resurrection by showing that it is part of the original apostolic message, that is, by appeal to divine revelation, a distinctively presuppositionalist approach.

[17] A dualist can also make room for sense knowledge, but a materialist is committed to radical empiricism.

[18] D. Bartholomew, Uncertain Belief: Is it Rational To be a Christian? (Clarendon, 1996), 112-13. Along the same lines, “Blackmore has provided a scientific ‘explanation’ [of OBEs and NDEs] but I have argued that it actually explains nothing since it begs the question. It starts with the assumption that the phenomena must have a purely physical explanation and then constructs and account of what it might be,” ibid., 147.

[19] The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress 2003), 717.

[20] Incidentally, this is another value-laden question. Is Christian faith a form of knowledge, albeit indirect (via revelation), or is it a probable and defeasible opinion, in which case the dialogue is truly open-ended?

[21] Even on its own grounds, Frame, for one, would deny the charge, for he says that “the sequence is: God’s rationality → human faith → human reasoning. The arrows may be read ‘is the rational basis for.’ The sequence is linear, not circular,” Five Views, 210 (cf. 216,354). In a forthcoming article, “If Knowledge Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til,” CTJ (2005), J. Anderson breaks down the Van Tilian TAG into four sub-arguments: (i) a one-over-many argument; (ii) an argument from the unity of truth; (iii) an argument from the uniformity of nature, and (iv) an argument from the unity of thought and thing. None of these arguments is logically circular.

[22] Commenting on a weakness with the correspondence theory of truth, one writer notes “the difficulty in stating exactly what it is that sentences are supposed to correspond to (facts? What is a ‘fact’ if not that which a true sentence asserts?),” D. Palmer, Looking at Philosophy (McGraw-Hill, 1993), 299. In other words, the correspondence theory is just as circular as the coherence theory of truth.

[23] As Bahnsen puts it, “the ‘circularity’ of the transcendental argument is not at all the same as the fallacious ‘circularity’ of an argument in which the conclusion is a restatement (in one form or another) of one of its premises. Rather, it is the circularity involved in a coherent theory (where all the parts are consistent with or assume each other) and which is required when one reasons about a precondition for reasoning,” Van Til’s Apologetic, 518, n.122.

[24] Cf. P. Helm, Faith With Reason (Oxford, 2000), 43-65.

[25] In fact, Frame disposes this objection. Cf. Cornelius Van Til, 308f. If Johnson were conversant with the standard literature on the subject, he wouldn’t keep rehashing old objections that have already been rebutted. Now perhaps Johnson would find fault with Frame’s reply. But until Johnson engages the published reply, not further progress is possible.

[26] This is, indeed, the traditional argument for the inspiration of the Koran. But it either proves too much or too little, for many classics in various tongues can lay claim to surpassing literary excellence. In addition, this argument is inaccessible to Muslims who are not schooled in classic literary Arabic.

[27] E.g., surahs 5:46-47; 10:94.

[28] Muslims try to evade the discrepancy by accusing the Christians and Jews of tampering with the Bible. However, this charge is falsified by textual criticism. See the standard works by Tov, Metzger, and Aland, &c.

[29] Surah 4:156-58.

[30] Apologetics To the Glory of God;



[33] Johnson throws in the disclaimer that “Van Til’s system raises all sorts of complex questions, not only for apologetics, but for Christian epistemology as well, questions which would require far more attention than can be given here.” (257-58). But a fundamental feature of Van Til’s system is precisely the holistic character of apologetics. You cannot do high-level apologetics without delving into all sorts of complex questions of theology and ontology and epistemology. There is no evidentiary silver bullet.

Copyright © John Frame & Steve Hays 2005