Aquinas or Van Til? Testimony of a Campus Minister

By Chris Van Allsburg,

Recently, Reformed theologian and presuppositionalist K. Scott Oliphint [1] criticized Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) for holding to the classical method in apologetics at a conference in Phoenix called Reformcon. Having moved away from presuppositionalism, I feel it is appropriate to respond. 

Now, presuppositionalism was my meat and potatoes for nearly a decade and a half, ever since reading Cornelius Van Til. Van Til gave me the certainty I longed for. That is, Hume’s radical skepticism was solved by the Kantian notion of transcendentals, but with a different spin: it is the Triune God and Holy Scripture which are the necessary preconditions of knowledge. While I’d known for years that Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul had held to the contrary, teaching that God is first in priority of being, but second in knowing, I thought this was anathema. But I was wrong. 

One book recommended by SES faculty and what really sealed the deal on the classical method for me was Ed Feser’s The Last Superstition. In that book, Feser offers the piece de resistance on realism.  Realism offers certain knowledge of reality by means of the all-important notion of being and essence, followed with Aristotle’s four causes, self-evidential truths (first principles), universals, and more. These accouterments of realism are available to us, and they are, “demonstrably so” as Feser says.  Being demonstrable, realism is therefore not based upon probability, and thus Hume’s problem of induction neither obtains nor poses a problem for the Christian. Given realism, God’s existence is demonstrable, as is the historical case for the resurrection of Jesus. On the other hand, presuppositionalism, it seems to me, is rooted in Kantian idealism as a response to Hume.  It is not rooted in realism, nor can it be if it uses Kantian principles.  The classical method, however, is rooted in realism and the reliability of sense-perception, and is therefore the better path. 

I am thankful for this change in my thought, and I am thankful for SES.  The classical method has radically changed my life and ministry for the better because I now have more confidence in sharing my faith and doing apologetics while serving in campus ministry.  The reason why I have more confidence in sharing my faith is that by means of unaided (God-given) human reason, I can demonstrate important truths, like the existence of God i.e. Aquinas’ 5 Ways, and the historical reliability of Scripture without resorting to lengthy discussions about Hume’s problem of induction, Kantian transcendentalism and resultant idealism, and the supposed epistemological certainty that presuppositionalism attempts to offer (a form of realism, it seems, based upon presupposing the ontological Trinity and the Bible as the Word of God).  Rather, because sense-perception is reliable, I can have common ground with unbelievers, and show them the evidence for Christianity in a robust, yet simple way.    

To learn more about the ministry and educational programs of Southern Evangelical Seminary, request more information here!  

End Note

[1] Oliphint prefers the term ‘covenantal apologetics’ over ‘presuppostional.’






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