The Confession of 1967 by Cornelius Van Til

Forty-five years ago P&R published a small book by Dr. Van Til entitled: “The Confession Of 1967: Its Theological Background And Ecumenical Significance”. Fast forward a mere forty-four years and we read the following headline on CNN’s website “Presbyterian Church U.S.A. to allow gay and lesbian clergy” May 10, 2011. According to the article:

 “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Tuesday voted to allow the ordination of openly gay and lesbian ministers. The church put the vote to its 173 presbyteries, or governing bodies, nationwide. On Tuesday, the Twin Citites Area presbytery, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, became the 87th presbytery — and the deciding vote — to approve an amendment that will remove the constitutional requirement that all ministers, elders and deacons live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness. The change, which opens up the possibility that people in same-sex relationships can be considered for ordination, is expected to take effect starting on July 10. It is the latest move by a Protestant denomination toward the inclusion of gay and lesbian clergy.” – CNN 2011-05-10 

Now rewind forty-four years, and read the introduction to Dr. Van Til’s book.

“The 1958 General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America appointed a committee to draw up “A Brief Contemporary Statement of Faith” (Report of the Special Committee on A Brief Contemporary Statement of Faith, p. 7). The proposed confession of 1967 constitutes a part of the report of this committee. Should the Confession of 1967 be adopted by that church, an entirely new phase in its life will be ushered in. This is true because this proposed Confession gives expression to and is based upon a new theology. Our concern in this booklet, therefore, is with the nature of this new theology which will be given creedal status if this proposed Confession is adopted by the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. The casual reader of the new Confession may not readily see that it is founded upon a new and relativistic view of truth. Is he not told that the Confession of 1967 is based upon Christ and his reconciling work? Does not the new Confession appeal to the authority of Scripture? Does it not use the phraseology of the Bible and of the Westminster Confession? Though we concede that the new creed and its new theology speak highly of both Christ and the Bible, we nevertheless contend that new meanings have been attached to old, familiar words. The whole question, accordingly, is one of reinterpretation. One may take a milk bottle and fill it with a poisonous white liquid and call it milk, but this does not guarantee that the poisonous liquid is milk. It may well be some thing that is highly dangerous to man. Such is the case, we believe, with the new theology: It is an essentially humanistic theology which disguises itself as an up-to-date Christian theology. Of course, we are told that the new Confession is contemporary in its view of truth. We are also told that the Westminster Standards are outdated, being written in an age of absolutism. By contrast, today’s theological thinkers know that truth is relative to man and the human situation. Has not Immanuel Kant taught us that man can know nothing of God and of Christ in so far as Christ is said to be God as well as man? From Kant recent philosophers and theologians have learned that man’s conceptual knowledge is limited to the impersonal world of science and does not apply to the religious dimension. Though the twentieth-century church has been informed by the new theology that it can have no objective or conceptual knowledge of God and of Christ, this same theology still continues to speak about God and Christ in eloquent terms. But, as we have already noted, these terms have new definitions. The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity. There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.

First, the new theology speaks in the warmest terms of the great fact of the “Incarnation.” Are we not encouraged when we hear this? For a moment we are—only to be sharply disappointed when we discover the “God-man” of the new theology is not the self-existent and self-attesting Son of God of the New Testament, of Chalcedon, and of Westminster. Instead of a Trinitarian formulation of the doctrine of the Incarnation, the church is to learn that God is identical with “Christ” and that “Christ” is directly identical with the “work” of reconciling all men to himself, but only indirectly identical with Jesus of Nazareth. Men can be truly men only as they realize that their very manhood exists in their participation in this work which is of “Christ.” Men enter the kingdom of heaven as they follow “him” and they follow him if they treat all men as persons.

Second, this contemporary theology would have the church believe that Christ’s salvation is ultimately universal. The “Christ-Event,” the act of God’s saving all men in “Jesus Christ,” ideally reconciles all men to God and all men to one another.

Third, the new theology discounts the idea that the language of Scripture can truly represent the meaning of the “Christ-Event.” When the Scripture speaks of God’s reconciling act in terms of “vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil,” then the new theologians of the drafting committee hasten to explain that “these are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for man.” All that the Bible writers did or could do was point to a higher or deeper dimension of being opened up to them by this symbolic language of Scripture.

Thus when the new church, with its new creed, speaks to modern man about Creation, the Fall into sin, and Redemption through Christ, it is not speaking of the world of historical fact in the orthodox Christian sense. These theological terms are supposedly mythic and symbolic of another dimension of reality. It matters, but it matters only secondarily, whether these eyelets did or did not happen in the actual world of every day history. Such a question as this is largely irrelevant. Christ’s reconciling work is not primarily historical in that sense. It is said to be primarily in a world above history.

In what follows we hope to show that this new “dimensional” theology which controls the new Confession is, at bottom, a new heresy—that its use of traditional language is misleading and that, for all its praise of “Christ the Word,” its message is foreign to the teachings of the historic Christian faith. The new Confession presents an essentially man-centered instead of a God-centered theology.”

Now fast forward again 45 years and look where the new man centered theology has led us to, the self-deception of considering a lifestyle of sin, to merely be an “alternative lifestyle”.


Toward a Reformed Apologetic by Cornelius Van Til

Toward a Reformed Apologetic is basically a summary of Van Til’s writings written by Van Til. This small pamplet is an excellent overview and guide to a number of his works. In the words of Van Til:

In this small pamphlet I am indicating briefly the chief purpose I have had in writing the following pamphlets, books, and syllabi. Throughout, my aim has been to show that it is the historic Reformed Faith alone that  can in any adequate way present the claims of Christ to men for their salvation. The Reformed Faith alone does anything like full justice to the cultural and missionary mandates of Christ. The Reformed Faith alone has anything like an adequately stated view of God, of man, and of Christ as the mediator between God and man. It is because the Reformed Faith alone has an essentially sound, because biblical, theology, that it alone has anything like a sound, that is, biblical method of challenging the world of unbelief to repentance and faith.” – C. Van Til


Van Til, Toward A Reformed Apologetic

Here is a thought, how does Van Til’s aim differ from other defenders of the faith? Apparently many Christian apologists are satisfied with “proving” the (high) probability of the existence of (an undefined) God. Why should the non-believer even consider that whatever God or gods exist, is the God of Christianity? We read in Scripture:

1 Cor 2:14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” – NKJV

Rom 8:6 “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” – NKJV

When said and done, all of the best Christian apologetic arguments in the world cannot regenerate the hardened hart of a non-believer. Without the monergistic regeneration of the Holy Spirit, they are foolishness to them who do not believe. Has God not made foolish the wisdom of this world?

Every Thought Captive by Richard L. Pratt Jr.

Richard Pratt, Every Thought CaptiveAuthor: Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Binding: Paperback

Page Count: 166

Publisher: P&R Publishing

Year: 1979

ISBN#: 9780875523521

Description: A popular presentation of Reformed (or “Van Tillian”) apologetics for the layperson. Suitable for students, especically undergraduates. In down-to-earth language Richard L. Pratt, Jr. has given us this helpful study manual on apologetics, the task of defending the faith. Far from a theoretical exposition, this training manual teaches how to answer nonbelievers and to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Pratt shows how the biblical doctrines about humanity and our relationship to our Creator determine how we should do apologetics. Within this theological framework he examines the premises, attitudes, and specific steps involved in a genuinely biblical defense of Christianity. Illustrations and review questions help to make this a valuable tool for individual or group study.

About the author: Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is a graduate of Roanoke College. He holds the M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia and the Th.D. in Old Testament Studies from Harvard Divinity School (while at Harvard he gained a reading knowledge of eleven languages.) He is currently a Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He is author of the books Designed for Dignity: What God Has Made It Possible for You to Be and He Gave Us Stories: The Bible Student’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Narratives and has been a contributor to several books and journals.

Endorsements: “Richard Pratt has written a manual to help ordinary people engage in apologetics along the lines of Van Til’s approach. In the process he has translated the philosophical terminology of Van Tillian apologetics into everyday language…both sound and stimulating.” – Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

“Presents Reformed (or ‘Van Tillian’) apologetics in genuinely popular language…In this respect, Pratt’s book is something of a breakthrough. I would expect and hope that this accomplishment will give the book a wide hearing.” – John M. Frame

Amazon Reviewer Nunja Bidnet: Van Til for the rest of us

“We’ve heard often in Evangelical circles the declaration that “No one has ever come to Christ by losing an argument.” These declarers are just using the wrong arguments, or at least have failed to ground their argument on a proper foundation. I would contend, after reading Richard Pratt’s Every Thought Captive, that in order for one to come to Christ, one must lose an argument. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” (I Cor. 2:14) so all who have been saved lost an argument with – no, a war against – God and have been convicted by His revealed Word in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pratt’s goals in Every Thought Captive are simple but lofty. Heavily influenced by Van Til, but cognizant of the general inaccessibility of the revered apologist’s writing, Pratt hopes his work brings Van Til’s “worthwhile writings” within “the grasp of the average layperson.” Having minimal direct exposure to Van Til, I can’t say whether justice has been done to the man’s work, but Pratt does effectively outline a strategy that properly encourages, orients and humbles any rank-and-file would-be apologist for the daunting work we are called to do.

Pratt dedicates better than two-thirds of his book laying a “firm foundation” for the defense of Biblical Christianity. While many – maybe most, particularly those of evidentialists – apologetics works jump directly into “point-counterpoint,” Pratt wisely puts first things first. Pratt does not pay passing lip service to the idea that commitment to faith in Christ, with Scripture as its foundation, is the only Biblical approach to apologetics and evangelism. He hammers the point relentlessly. Not a bad thing, since the tendency of most is to default to what is comfortable. What is comfortable is what is found in most apologetics works – load us up with a bursting binder of facts and an exhaustive chronicle of cute one-liners meant to score rhetorical points then send us on our way to play the game on the non-believers’ turf by the non-believers’ rules. For Pratt, this method plays directly into our opposition’s hands. Pratt makes clear that the Christian apologist must use the Bible as the foundation for our defense, but also that the Bible itself, an object of scorn for the enemy, must be defended. The kings and generals analogy (p. 4) was effective – “It is clearly the generals’ responsibility to defend the king…according to the directives of the king himself.” A full clip of clever sound bites cannot accomplish Peter’s directive regarding a ready defense.

Pratt continues outlining the basis for an apologetic defense for ten “lessons.” The primary strength of the book is here. Pratt orients the believer in such a way that places him properly in relation to God. When one understands that it all began with God, who man was before sin, who man is in sin and what our redemption is in Christ, our function as apologists comes into clear focus. The only independent agent in the universe is God. Everyone and everything else is dependent and finite. The Christian must never attempt to loose himself from that anchor, or he becomes as deluded as the denier and an impotent apologist. Only our dependence on God produces “true knowledge.” Our attempts at independence are rebellion against God. And these attempts at independence are not merely futile, but death (Gen. 2:17). “Independence” results in reckoning all things, to quote Calvin, “by the yardstick of their own carnal stupidity.” (p. 31) As believers “restored according to the original character of the image of God,” dependence on God involves not “merely some portion of man…[but] his whole character.” (p.39)

This is not to say, as Pratt makes clear, that never may a believer refer to extra-Biblical sources to demonstrate Truth. He cites Paul to make the point that we may do so, but we must “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception.” (Col. 2:8) The non-believer will insist that logic, reason and philosophy must be based on human “independence” and “neutrality,” an idea that Pratt prepares the apologist to dismantle completely. Fatal violence is done to the non-believer’s illusory regard for his “independence” by illuminating the contradictions on which he must rely in order to sustain his argument – absolute certainty and total uncertainty. On the other hand, “Christians are able to know and follow God’s revelation and therefore produce a philosophy which is not according to independent human perspectives.” (p. 51)

Pratt admits that both the believer and non-believer are committed to circular arguments, but the Christian holds to an objective, eternal and limitless God outside himself as the center, while the non-believer holds to himself and his limited, subjective perceptions, as if the world around us would cease to be once that non-believer did. The “neutral” non-believer’s circular reasoning sets himself up as the explanation for, or at least the explainer of, the universe. The believer need not be so arrogant. And Pratt implores the believer to avoid arrogance by maintaining a consistent life, a careful approach and correct procedure. (Lesson 8)

When Pratt moves to the “basic structure of a Biblical defense,” he does his best, in relying on Proverbs 26:4-5, to construct a practical apologetic approach. The “two-fold justification” model includes two three-step methods – the “argument by truth” and “the argument by folly.” Understanding that Pratt meant this to be a study manual, not an exhaustive, answer-every-challenge guide, the structure he lays out is not quite as simple for the layperson as he intended.

The steps in the “argument by truth” has the apologist properly place faith in Christ first and at the center, then offer Christian evidence for belief in the existence of God, then expose the non-believer’s rejection of the first two steps as arising from the non-believer’s commitment to independence. Pratt instructs that to be prepared to make such a defense, the Christian must know Scripture and maintain Christ as the center. Fair enough, true enough and easy enough, conceptually anyway.

Overall, Every Thought Captive proved to be a useful and accessible primer on the proper approach to the defense of Biblical Christianity. As John Newton in A Review of Ecclesiastical History (1769) wrote, “So long as the gospel of Christ is maintained without adulteration, it is found sufficient for every valuable purpose; but when the wisdom of man is permitted to add to the perfect work of God, a wide door is opened for innumerable mischiefs.” Pratt relates this message well in encouraging Christians to rely on the unshakable foundation of God’s revealed Word in preparing our defense.”

Sample Pages:

Which Van Tillian have you found most helpful?

I thought this might be an interesting poll because Van Til influenced so many people, including the somewhat well known (at least in the “apologetics community”) Christian apologists (all with their own published works) in this poll.

I voted for Greg Bahnsen because the many lectures I purchased and listened to years ago helped me to better understand more than anything. In fact, I would recommend listening to Greg Bahnsen’s explanation of the Van Tillian apologetic, before reading Van Til. Although, I listened (in amazement) to a few of Dr. Van Til’s old recordings before listening to Dr. Bahnsen, it is because I listened to Dr. Van Til, that I wanted to better understand him, and heeded someone’s recommendation to learn from Dr. Bahnsen. I ended up spending a small fortune on old recordings (mostly poor quality) of Dr. Bahnsen’s lectures and sermons, and despite the lackluster quality of the recordings, I do not regret buying them for one second (though would have helped if they were cheaper). Anyway, enough about me, let’s hear about you!

Van Til Quotes: on Objectivism

Oddly enough, over the course of years, I have come into contact with people over the internet, whom seem to be of the opinion that Van Til held to subjectivism rather than objectivism, when the truth is that he affirmed the reality of both. For the benefit of those who might bump into people of similar opinion, I would like to offer a couple of short quotes, which are but a needle in a haystack, an extremely small sample from the whole of his works. This quote is from his work “Reformed Epistemology” Chapter 9, a few paragraphs down:

“Before we can discuss the manner of the activity of the Holy Spirit we must therefore first study the manner through which objective validity comes within the reach of man again. We have already said that it is through the work of Christ. The incarnation and all the acts in the drama of Christ’s work are historical acts. The prophets of old, the symbolism that preceded Him, in fine, all the convergent lines of deed and word through which the Christ was prefigured were historical phenomena. This historical manifestation of redemption necessitated the externalization of the avenues through which God would give knowledge to man. Consequently if man was to have valid knowledge of God he could receive it through these channels alone. The Holy Spirit gives him no knowledge of God except that which is taken from Christ as revealed in the Scriptures.” – Cornelius Van Til

It is clear from the one quote above that Van Til does not deny objectivism, that we can actually factually know reality outside of our minds. What he is mostly concerned with is the manner through which we can know objectively. And because his answer is unashamedly distinctly Christian and  resolute, it is too much even for many “Christians” to swallow. As I mentioned above he affirmed both objectivism and subjectivism,  the following quote is from “Reformed Epistemology” Chapter 5:

“Only on the basis of a genuine Theism is God, as personal, the ultimate interpreter of that reality of which He is Himself the basis, thus assuring validity. And this demand of making God the starting point becomes the more urgent because of the influence of sin. Sin has broken all validity. It has shattered existence and broken universality. Only God can reassure us of a new validity made objectively possible and actual in the incarnation and crucifixion and applied subjectively again by the divine agency of the Spirit.” – Cornelius Van Til

Collection of Articles From 1950 -1959 by Cornelius Van Til

The Following PDF is a collection of 21 articles and 1 funeral address from 1950-1959 by Cornelius Van Til, written for “The Presbyterian Guardian”, “Torch and Trumpet”, “Westminster Theological Journal”, etc. I spent some time creating the table of contents and added hyperlinks within the PDF for easy navigation between articles.

Download the complete PDF here:

Van Til, Collection of Articles From 1950-1959

Click on the following link to read an article from this collection of articles: