86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2006
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The Defense of the Faith is Prof. Van Til's book about the subject for which he is most famous, presuppositional apologetics. I know many Christians wish to be able to defend their faith and to be "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope" that they have (I Peter 3:15). But terms like "presuppositional" can be intimidating, so I will try to explain what Dr. Van Til is communicating in this book, as well as to answer the "Empty Assertions" criticism of the reader, who, I am afraid, has not dealt very squarely with the position of Van Til.
"Presuppositional" means that the argument for the truth of the claims of Scripture focuses on the presuppositions, or assumptions, of non-Christian thought, and it is founded on and proceeds according to the presuppositions of Biblical, Christian thought. The most foundational idea of non-Christian thought is the idea of human autonomy. According to the Bible, the unbeliever's heart is naturally at war with God after the fall. God has revealed that He is the Creator, and that man, whether he wants to or not, must always ultimately face the fact the he is the creature, and is responsible to and dependent on God. He knows that this is true. However, after the fall, the unbeliever does not want to be responsible to or dependent on God. He suppresses the truth that he knows in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:21). He wants to determine for himself the significance and purpose of his life. He makes his own mind the ultimate criterion for all interpretation and for all activity. The claims of God are not satisfactory to him, so he rejects them. The mind of the creature sits in judgment over its Creator. Thus all human reasoning and interpretation is inescapably and fundamentally ethical by nature. Van Til's argument is that a truly Biblical apologetic must confront the unbeliever at this very point.
The result is that there is no intellectual or moral neutrality. The unbeliever is at war with his Creator, and his mind rejects the authority of God in favor of his own autonomy. The believer, on the other hand, has a new heart, and a new spirit put within in him by God, and he submits to God's Word and authority. The apologetic enterprise must be undertaken within one or the other of these two frameworks. All too often, however, Christians do not live up to the principle that is within them. They unconsciously approach the unbeliever as if he really were autonomous and in the position of sitting in judgment over God and His Word. They may adjust the presentation of the gospel truth to make it more palatable to the rebellious sinner. The result is that the unbeliever is never really challenged at the root of his problem.
As a concrete example, Van Til says that, for an unbeliever "Granted he allows that Christ actually arose from the grave, he will say that this proves nothing more than that something very unusual took place in the case of that man Jesus." This is because as humans we do not encounter any facts in isolation, but we interpret and assign meaning to all the facts that we see around us. The unbeliever always interprets the facts on the basis of his presupposition of autonomy. Van Til is saying that the unbeliever's ultimate problem is not an intellectual problem, but an ethical problem. Any apologetic endeavor that focuses exclusively on the intellectual differences between believers and unbelievers and does not confront the ethical differences, is not addressing the unbeliever's problem.
One Amazon.com reader has been dissatisfied with Van Til's approach. His criticism centers on Van Til's claim that all reasoning is circular reasoning. Smart people don't reason circularly: "The Bible is true because it says so." But we have to think carefully about the argument. If Van Til is right that every human is either in rebellion against God's authority or by grace has been transformed to be submissive to God's authority, then it is impossible to reason apart from one of these two frameworks or "presuppositions". Thus, all human reasoning cannot be anything but circular in the sense that as finite creatures we cannot engage in any intellectual activity in a vacuum, but always start with some foundation.
I can't believe that Van Til's point is too much of a stretch for people in the 21st century, when we look at the current climate of moral and epistemological relativism. It has been over 200 years now since Kant showed us that the human consciousness inescapably alters and shapes the reality that we encounter. The current epistemological and moral vacuum in Western culture is simply the consistent working out of non-Christian presuppositions. Of course, Van Til is arguing that mankind in fact cannot escape the knowledge of God that is within them and the fact that all human interpretation is derivative, not determinative. He is saying that as Christians, we should not assume and submit to the unbeliever's view of human autonomy and intellectual and ethical neutrality.
I think that this book is truly significant and profound, and that Christians really need to come to grips with its ideas in order to make a fully Biblical presentation of the truth that is faithful to God's Word. I will not pretend that this is an easy book to read. There are many important points that I think are very clear, and there are some points that I have not yet been able to understand myself. Dr. Van Til's writings are notoriously intimidating to lay people. If you are serious, it is well worth reading this book, and I think that there is enough that is perfectly clear to greatly benefit even those who are not as interested in the more esoteric portions. If you are interested in the content, but are afraid of the level, you may prefer something like John Frame's book "Apologetics to the Glory of God." Van Til's book is absolutely not written to convince unbelievers that they should become Christians. It is written to help Christians understand how they can "sanctify Christ as Lord" in their hearts in order to give a consistently Biblical defense of their faith that will truly challenge the unbeliever at the root of his problem. For all serious students of apologetics, this book is indispensable.
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 1999
Van Til systematically analyzes the essential equivalence of thought in the arminiun view of salavation and the world's view of the autonomy of man. He further points out the conclusion of modern secular philosophers that if man is indeed "autonomous" then there is really no control other than chance/fate and he is not truly "autonomous" but a slave to chance....further, if at the mercy of chance he is left in despair. The presupposition of ultimate truth in God alone is not just preferrable but necessary for any cogent understanding of reality. The beginning of wisdom is with God...not man. Without God, there is no basis for any reason, only despair.
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 1999
van til is one of the best presuppositionalists. this volume is an introductionto to his thought packed with clever quips. especially helpful is his emphasis that man cannot start from himself, entirely separated from supernatural revelation, and find and codify God. instead, man's very being is immutably dependent on God. reading in tandem with carl henry, gordon clark, and the simpler schaeffer help one to understand presuppositionalism and inevitably hone one's theology regardless of outlook.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 1998
This is the book I personally consider to be THE masterwork of twentieth cetury thought on apologetics. Its only fault lies in the fact that it follows a mostly negative approach, critiquing contemporary evangelical apologetic methods. Van Til's appoach stresses the idea that arguing for the gospel must be based on faith, and not on shared presuppositions with the non-believer. He argues that the use of evidence merely persuades the non-believer that God MIGHT exist, which is what he already believes. Extremely procative and highly recommended for anyone with a background in philosophy.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2007
This is a profound and wonderful book. If I could split out the stars then I would give 5 stars for content but only 3 stars for writing and clarity, hence the averaged out 4 stars. In short, Van Til's apologetic approach will enable you to show why Christian Theism is the necessary precondition for doing this average and any average. In fact, Van Til goes so far to argue that Christian Theism is the necessary precondition for all knowledge, logic, ethics, and discussion. Far fetched? It may appear that way initially, but after studying Van Til's book I am convinced of his approach.
When you are engaged in an apologetic discussion with your atheist friend they assert, "God does not exist!" All too often both parties assume they agree on who god is from the outset and begin to argue accordingly. For example, the Christian is in agreement with the atheist that "allah" does not exist. Van Til argues that this, assuming both parties agree on what is being discussed, is not the right approach. It is first necessary to ask, "What type of god are we discussing?" This is why Van Til begins his book with theology, asking Who is god? Once who God is is settled, then Van Til moves to a discussion of Christian Metaphysics, Epistemology and Ethics. In each of these Van Til emphasizes the Creator-creature distinction, which is important and essential to all of his thinking and, I believe, appropriate Christian thinking. He then systematically moves through a Christian approach to apologetics, including the "point of contact" with the non-believer, which is the imago dei, "the problem of method", the place of authority and "reason" in the discussion, as well as a discussion on common grace, argument by presupposition and a closes with a discussion on several different Reformed views.
Van Til's opening four chapters is easily worth the cost of the book. His Creator-creature distinction and its affect on metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics is beautiful. It's the sort of writing that says, "Now that makes sense! WOW! That makes so much more sense!" Van Til sheds a lot of light into the dark world of "metaphysics" and "epistemology". And, as should be expected, this is done by God's Truth.
Despite the genius of the book, I believe, there are short comings. One, Van Til's writing style. He is not always clear. Two, this may be due to my ignorance, but I wish he would spell out the implications a little more. I feel like he jumps a few steps to his conclusion with the average reader, like myself, missing important steps along the way. This doesn't nullify his overall outlook and approach, but it does take from the book. Again, could be my fault, but, I believe, the reader would do well to brush up on idealist philosophy and basic concepts before he delves into Van Til. Along these lines, if you are not already familiar with presuppositional apologetics and Van Til, then John Frame and Greg Bahnsen's works on Van Til's apologetic outlook are must readings.
All in all, this is a great book. It could be improved slightly by filling in some of the arguments and having a good editor rework some of the wording and providing footnotes for clarity, but this book is a classic and a must read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2007
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Van Til wrote several books, many of them not widely known even among people 'in the know'. None are as good as this: this sets forth Van Til's apologetic in a way that is easy to understand.
However, the one major problem with this book is the pure theoretical nature of it - it isn't possible to take the theory out into the marketplace after reading it, which is why Richard Pratt did so well with his little book. I would suggest people start with Richard Pratt's book, then move to Van Til after.
Also, this is not a book you should buy to look good in your bookcase, or leave on your coffee table for guests to see, and unless you have a strong presence, I wouldn't even read it in public!
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2005
This whole country including most Christians are being dumbed down. More need to read and meditate on the works of Godly men such as Van Til so that they can grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ instead of turning Christianity into an emotional "feel good" experience.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2006
I really can't speak greater of Van Til. He addresses the issues of apologetics in a very well-mannered way. He speaks with authority, showing us that Christianity is, indeed, not weak. As Van Til says, the unbelievers are the creatures who rebel against the Creator; "a child can only slap his father on his face if he is holding on his knee." What authority. What strength. What Christianity.
Really, this book is excellent. I cannot recommend a book more. Van Til's views are strictly Biblical, and all of his views are Christian, unlike Dooyeward who opposed him when it came to Spherical Modalities.
Van Til's presuppositional apologetics is the best. I'm a Van Tillian. His form is excellent, as he points the gaps within the unbelievers. For example, and Atheist may hold to Kant's view of philosophy, but when Van Til deconstructs and moves in the unbeliever's metaphysics, Van Til points out the fact that Kant can never bring the two realms of Being and Non-Being together, but mentions that an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent God can, because our God is not Being and Not-Being, but is Becoming.
Van Til's approach is unique, as is all of his works. He truly was one of the greatest minds of his age, and his presuppositionalism is outstanding. An atheist who walks away from this book and says "I disagree!" really is only commiting intellectual suicide, for they choose not to understand.
In closing, this books explains the self-defeating principle of the un-believers, while affirming Christianity. I love his comment, that the unbeliever lacks and metaphysical precondition to declare anything as meaningful and intelligeble.
Also, Van Til's conclusions also lead the unbelievers to the fact that, if they believe in a world created by chance, then there is no dictation that any laws will remain the same years later; Evidence of today may not be evidence 10 minutes from now; why is it that he same presuppositions you hold today will be the same presuppositions you hold tomorrow?
As you can see, the unbelievers lack the metaphysical precondition for anything to make sense.
And for you Atheists who read these works and still don't agree with Van Til. I'm sure he'd argue Evidence with you if he were alive.
All in all, 5 out of 5. This is the best book on presuppositional apologetics. As Greg Bahson says on his book on "Van Til's Apologetics", inside the courtroom, despite what the unbelievers think, God is on the bench, as man is on the docks.
For God is truth.
1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2006
If you are interested in defending your Christian faith, then this book is for you! Today's Christians are too ignorant about what they believe. Look at all these idiotic so-called Christians flocking to Da Vinci Code. Many of them have probably never read a book of Christian apologetics in their life. Just ask your friends. If you are one of these lazy Christians, then this book will start you off toward understanding the Christian faith and learning how to defend your Christian faith.
5 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 1999
Just a book to sit back, move slowly, and digest...Another "must have" for every Christian.