Another Round of the Thomist Rumor Mill against Van Til: Keith A. Mathison’s “Christianity and Van Tillianism”

PDF version

In the August 2019 issue of Ligonier Ministries’s magazine Tabletalk, Keith Mathison writes a lengthy essay titled “Christianity and Van Tillianism,” which is written from the perspective of Reformed Thomism in criticism of Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic program.   He has republished it in PDF format at as well.  J.V. Fesko published a book earlier this year, which I reviewed here, which also criticizes Van Til from the position of Reformed Thomism.  Mathison makes many of the same arguments that Fesko and other Reformed Thomists, and more broadly, Protestant Thomists, have made against Van Til.  Mathison continues the legacy of R.C. Sproul, who founded Ligonier Ministries, in defending classical apologetics against Van Til’s presuppositional school.  Mathison begins with a gracious introduction in which he acknowledges that Van Til was a brother in Christ, was dealing with complex issues, that neither he nor Van Til or infallible, and that we should not become mindless cheerleaders for either side.  My comments here are offered in hopes of furthering a thoughtful discussion. Continue reading

Posted in Apologetics, Calvinist Theology | 1 Comment

Idealism in Van Til and Aquinas: Part 3 of a Review of J.V. Fesko’s Reforming Apologetics

J.V. Fesko argues in his book, Reforming Apologetics, that Cornelius Van Til rejects natural revelation, and that Van Til rejects the arguments of Aquinas for the existence of God because Aquinas used ideas from Aristotle, which is a use of natural revelation.  In the last two posts, I have argued that Van Til rejects neither natural revelation nor Aquinas because of his appeal to natural revelation.  Rather, Van Til rejects Christians relying on ideas from non-Christians that are logically inconsistent with Christianity.  More specifically, Van Til argues that Aquinas failed to recognize that the oneness of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover is a different oneness from the Triune God of Christianity.  Oneness in terms of the Greek scale of being is different from the oneness in terms of the one, absolute God of Christianity.  Part of Fesko’s confusion about the views of Van Til is Fesko’s claim that Van Til adopted ideas of idealist philosophers that are not consistent with biblical teaching.  I will address this issue in this last installment of my review of Fesko’s book. Continue reading

Posted in Apologetics | 2 Comments

Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts:  Part 2 of a Review of J.V. Fesko’s Reforming Apologetics

So what exactly is Van Til’s beef with Aquinas?  First, there is the issue of Aquinas’s claims about Aristotle contradicting the biblical teaching about man’s depravity.   That a pagan like Aristotle, who, according to the Bible, hates God, suppresses natural revelation about God, and worships idols rather than the true God (Rom. 1:18-32, 8:7; Col. 1:21; Eph. 4:18), would develop and promote a rigorous proof of the existence of the true God is something that should be unexpected, if not completely ruled out of the realm of possibility.  Second, Van Til argues that when Aristotle’s philosophy is closely examined, along with Aquinas’s use of that philosophy, we find teachings that are anti-Christian concerning the nature of God and the general nature of reality.  To explain this, let’s start with a statement by Aquinas on the issue:  “But there are some truths which the natural reason also is able to reach. Such are that God exists, that He is one, and the like. In fact, such truths about God have been proved demonstratively by the philosophers, guided by the light of the natural reason.”[1]  Van Til argues that the oneness of God as conceived by Aristotle logically excludes the Christian God.  Aquinas has taken a superficial similarity between the oneness of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover and the oneness of the biblical God and has failed to realize the contradiction between how each approach understands that oneness. Continue reading

Posted in Apologetics, Calvinist Theology | 2 Comments

Common Notion Confusion: Part 1 of a Review of J.V. Fesko’s Reforming Apologetics

A group of crows is called a murder, a group of owls a parliament, and a group of geese a gaggle.  But what do you call a group of strawmen?  Reforming Apologetics by J.V. Fesko.  I commend the author for a large number of citations to the works of Cornelius Van Til, his main opponent in his defense of Thomistic apologetics; nevertheless, the author’s interactions with Van Til’s writings indicate that he searched for quotes in Van Til’s writings that seemed to support his case against Van Til, but he did not closely read the immediate context of the quotes, much less have a substantial grasp Van Til’s apologetic method as a whole.  One of Fesko’s main claims is that Van Til rejected “common notions” between Christians and non-Christians and other ideas related to God’s natural revelation, when in fact Van Til did not reject those ideas.  Fesko fails to grasp that Van Til only criticized a particular kind of appeal to common notions made by Aquinas.  The strawman argument that Van Til rejected common notions becomes the author’s basis for a factory production of other strawman arguments against Van Til, such as claiming that Van Til claimed that all knowledge comes from the Bible, claimed that all knowledge could be deduced from a single principle, denied a nature/grace distinction, and that Van Til’s argument for God’s existence does not address the correspondence of our ideas to the order of the natural world.  In this supposed refutation of Van Til in defense of Aquinas, Fesko never states Van Til’s actual argument against Aquinas.  Fesko also never states Van Til’s transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG), not even in a rough outline form, so the book also fails as a general refutation of Van Til’s apologetic program. Continue reading

Posted in Apologetics, Calvinist Theology | 6 Comments

Jesus Judges the Nations Now! Part Four of a Review of Andy Stanley’s “Irresistible”

“Why do some Christian leaders constantly warn of God’s impending judgment?   Why would a Christian believe God judges nations at all? New Testament authors along with Jesus spoke of a once-for-all final judgment .”  Andy Stanley, Irresistible (91).

Why?  Because the Bible says so.  Jesus is “the ruler of kings on earth” (Rev. 1:5), the “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15).  Many modern Christians would argue that these titles are given to Him prospectively – that the title reflects a role that he will take up only after the Great Tribulation.  But that option is foreclosed to Pastor Stanley because he takes the view (correctly) that the Great Tribulation happened already in A.D. 70, which was when the Roman army destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem.  When writing the sentence quoted above, Pastor Stanley must have forgotten what he previously affirmed in his book, that God sent judgment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70, after the resurrection of Christ. (62-65)  Continue reading

Posted in Eschatology | 2 Comments

The Sermon on the Mount Incorporates the Law into the Gospel: Part Three of a Review of Andy Stanley’s “Irresistible”

Pastor Andy Stanley says in his book Irresistible that Christians should “unhitch” the Old Testament from their Christian faith.  These words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount seem to say the opposite, incorporating the Old Testament law into the New Covenant:

17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:17-19)

Continue reading

Posted in God's law | Leave a comment

Jesus Invented Love Your Neighbor? Part Two of a Review of Andy Stanley’s “Irresistible”

In Pastor Andy Stanley’s attempt to prove that the Christian can ignore the Old Testament in his book Irresistible, he claims that “Love your neighbor” is a new command by Jesus that sets New Testament ethics apart from Old Testament ethics.  He then qualifies this, but the qualifications still don’t fully acknowledge the Old Testament basis for the teaching.

Continue reading

Posted in God's law | Leave a comment

The Failure of Popular Christian Apologetics:  Part One of a Review of Andy Stanley’s “Irresistible”

Pastor Andy Stanley wants to be rid of having to defend the Old Testament.    The thrust of his book is that he sees the Old Testament as an unnecessary drag on the New Testament gospel, so he wants to unhitch the Old Testament from the New, allowing the gospel of the New Covenant to sail on unimpeded.  But his approach is a copout, a lazy and shallow way to deal with the apologetic issues raised by the Old Testament.  Don’t like the Old Testament?  Pastor Stanley says to just pretend that it’s not part of the Bible!  His approach misrepresents what the New Testament teaches and diminishes the power of the gospel.  His approach to apologetics represents the failure of the popular approach to Christian apologetics to defend the truthfulness of the Bible. Continue reading

Posted in Apologetics, Calvinist Theology, God's law | 2 Comments

A Thomistic Transcendental Argument that Needs Van Til

A Review of Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition:  A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustine’s Press, 2008).


I recently read Edward Feser’s book, The Last Superstition, because someone who claimed to be a former Van Tilian said it was the book that converted him to Thomism.  Cornelius Van Til often criticized Aristotle, and criticized Aquinas for relying on Aristotle, and criticized Classical apologetics in general.  As the subtitle indicates, Feser’s book is directed at refuting atheism, not Van Til.  It should be no surprise, then, that Feser does not identify Van Til and respond to his criticisms of Aquinas.  My conclusion after reading the book is that Feser does not even incidentally provide a refutation of Van Til’s criticism of Aquinas.  Nevertheless, because there is a great deal of debate over what exactly Van Til found wrong with Aquinas, Feser’s book provides a convenient way to compare and contrast Thomistic apologetics with Van Til’s presuppositional approach to Christian apologetics. Continue reading

Posted in Apologetics, Calvinist Theology | 2 Comments

In Opposing Naturalism in Science, the Bible is More Foundational than Design

Here is a link to a guest post that I wrote:

I contrast this graph from Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute (see here), which marginalizes the issue of what the Bible says about the age of the earth:

. . . with mine, based on these questions:

  • Are the Metaphysical Beliefs Consistent with Design in Nature?
  • Do the Metaphysical Beliefs Entail Rejection of a Naturalistic Epistemology?
  • Do the Metaphysical Beliefs Require Divine Revelation?
  • Are the Metaphysical Beliefs Consistent with Absolutely Authoritative Revelation about Creation?



Posted in Apologetics | 1 Comment