On Point of Contact

Michelangelo - Creation of Adam
Michelangelo – Creation of Adam

*Please note this page is a work in progress, and will take some time to complete, and my goal here is not exhaustive, but selective.*

Introduction to Systematic Theology [1974.E], in which I try to bring out that the point of contact with the unbeliever must not be sought, with Roman Catholicism and Arminianism, in the interpretation of reality that the unbeliever is supposed to have in common with the believer. There is, in the last analysis, not one point on which the unbeliever and the believer agree. They have different views of man. They have different views of the facts of the world. They have different views with respect to the function of the laws of logic. When Dr. Vollenhoven’s book on the Necessity of a Christian Logic appeared, I reviewed it for the Calvin Forum [1936.D] and expressed my basic agreement with it. Of course, Vollenhoven did not mean to suggest that a regenerate person has new laws of logic. He only uses them on the presupposition of the truth of what is revealed by God to man in Scripture. If man is taken to be autonomous and to have sprung from chance and if the facts are purely contingent, then the laws of logic would be like so many gyrations in a vacuum. The laws of logic as applied by an unbeliever would require the denial of the reality of creation out of nothing. Parmenides shows this to be true and Spinoza says that the order and connection of things is identical with the order and connection of ideas. This position results from the relentless application of the laws of logic, notably the law of contradiction on the assumption that reality is what the unbeliever assumes it to be. – Cornelius Van Til “The Development of My Thinking” a letter written to John Vander Stelt in 1968

Point of Contact Quotes from “An Introduction to Systematic Theology”

“Here again the importance of distinguishing a Christian from a non-Christian a priori is of basic importance. Suppose we took a non-Christian a priori such as that of Descartes. In such an a priori the human self takes itself to be an ultimate starting point. And suppose further that we should then seek to know the facts of nature in terms of man. The result would be anthropomorphism in the evil, sceptical sense of the term. Each man could and would, of necessity, wind the facts of ‘nature’ in a ball about himself as a core and the balls thus made would have as little contact with one another as we can observe between the particles of an exploded atom bomb. On the other hand, if we start, as Calvin started, by thinking of the mind of man and its a priori laws as created and controlled by God, then the facts of ‘nature’ have intelligence written in them. They are exclusively revelational of God and his plan. Then anthropomorphism, always unavoidably, leads to insight into greater truth instead of to the blind alley of scepticism.” – Cornelius Van Til “An Introduction to Systematic Theology” Chapter 6, Section C

“From this quotation, certain things are clear. Calvin never did start a chain of reasoning about man’s nature and destiny by taking man by himself. He did not start with man as with an ultimate starting point. Calvin did start with a general a priori position. His position is as radically opposed to that of Descartes as it is to that of Hume. Most apologetic writers who have come after Calvin have allowed themselves to be influenced unduly by Cartesian philosophy on this matter. Calvin recognized fully that if man is to have true knowledge of himself he must regard God as original and himself as derivative. He did not place God and man as correlatives next to one another, but he recognized from the outset two levels of existence and two levels of interpretation, on the one hand the divine and eternal, and on the other hand the human or temporal. To him it is perfectly obvious that the endowments that we possess are not of ourselves, but of God. Hence he says that” not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not flow from him: and of which he is not the cause … “ – Cornelius Van Til “An Introduction to Systematic Theology” Chapter 8 Section B

“On this view God was really morally obliged to give man a saving revelation of himself. Since man had fallen into the ravine of sin at least partly because God’s warning signals had not been clear it was naturally to be expected that he should later make good. On the other hand, if we include the original subjective condition of man in the very concept of revelation, we see that man was originally in possession of the truth and of a true reaction to the truth. It is this that is the basis for a proper concept of a point of contact for the gospel in the mind of the natural man. Man’s condition after the entrance of sin is, therefore, not that of a poor innocent man, but that of a criminal who has committed high treason. Thus the necessity for a special revelation lies primarily in the subjective rebellion of man. The special revelation that must be given to man, if he is to be saved, must consist not only of the “objective” work of Christ in his death and resurrection, but also result in a subjective change from this state of rebellion to a state of obedience. The work of the Holy Spirit in granting regeneration to God’s people is therefore implied in the work of Christ. The presentation of an objective revelation, that is, a revelation outside of man alone, would in itself be worse than useless. Arminianism again fails to realize this fact.” – Cornelius Van Til “An Introduction to Systematic Theology” Chapter 10 Section A

Point of Contact Quotes from “A Survey of Christian Epistemology”

“The answer is that then, as now, I was convinced that only if one begins with the self-identifying Christ of Reformation theology, can one bring the ’facts’ of the space-time world into intelligible relation to the ’laws’ of this world. Science, philosophy, and theology find their intelligible contact only on the presupposition of the self-revelation of God in Christ-through Scripture understood properly by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.” – Cornelius Van Til “A Survey of Christian Epistemology” Preface

Point of Contact Quotes from “Apologetics”

“It is of the utmost importance to stress the point just made. If a Protestant finds it necessary to dispute with the Roman Catholic on the nature of Christianity itself he will find it equally necessary to dispute with him on the problem of the point of contact. A Protestant theology requires a Protestant apologetic.” –  Cornelius Van Til “Apologetics” Chapter 3

“We conclude then that it is natural and consistent for Roman Catholic apologetics to seek its point of contact with the unbeliever in a “common area” of knowledge. Roman Catholic theology agrees with the essential contention of those it seeks to win to the Christian faith that man’s consciousness of himself and of the objects of the world is intelligible without reference to God.

But herein precisely lies the fundamental point of difference between Romanism and Protestantism. According to the principle of Protestantism, man’s consciousness of self and of objects presuppose for their intelligibility the consciousness of God. In asserting this we are not thinking of psychological and temporal priority. We are thinking only of the question as to what is the final reference point in interpretation. The Protestant principle finds this in the self-contained ontological Trinity. By his counsel the triune God controls whatsoever comes to pass. If then the human consciousness must, in the nature of the case, always be the proximate starting-point, it remains true that God is always the most basic and therefore the ultimate or final reference point in human interpretation.

This is, in the last analysis, the question as to what are one’s ultimate presuppositions. When man became a sinner he made of himself instead of God the ultimate or final reference point. And it is precisely this presupposition, as it controls without exception all forms of non-Christian philosophy, that must be brought into question. If this presupposition is left unquestioned in any field all the facts and arguments presented to the unbeliever will be made over by him according to his pattern. The sinner has cemented colored glasses to his eyes which he cannot remove. And all is yellow to the jaundiced eye. There can be no intelligible reasoning unless those who reason together understand what they mean by their words.

In not challenging this basic presupposition with respect to himself as the final reference point in predication the natural man may accept the “theistic proofs” as fully valid. He may construct such proofs. He has constructed such proofs. But the God whose existence he proves to himself in this way is always a God who is something other than the self-contained ontological Trinity of Scripture. But the Roman Catholic apologete does not want to prove the existence of this sort of God. He wants to prove the existence of such a God as will leave intact the autonomy of man to at least some extent. Rome’s theology does not want a God whose counsel controls whatsoever comes to pass.

It is natural then that Rome’s view of the point of contact with the unbeliever is what it is.” –  Cornelius Van Til “Apologetics” Chapter 3

“For our purposes then the point of importance is that Evangelicalism has retained something of Roman Catholicism both in its view of man and in its view of God. Like Romanism, Evangelicalism thinks of human self-consciousness and consciousness of objects as to some extent intelligible without the consciousness of God. It is to be expected that Evangelicalism will be in agreement with Rome on the question of the point of contact. Both forms of theology are colored by elements of an underlying naturalism. Both are therefore unwilling to challenge the natural man’s basic presupposition with respect to himself as the ultimate reference point in interpretation. Both are unwilling to prove the existence of such a God as controls whatsoever comes to pass.” –  Cornelius Van Til “Apologetics” Chapter 3

“What has been said up to this point may seem to be discouraging in the extreme. It would seem that the argument up to this point has driven us to a denial of any point of contact whatsoever with the unbeliever. Is it not true that men must have some contact with the truth if they are to receive further knowledge of it? If men are totally ignorant of the truth how can they even become interested in it? If men are totally blind why display before them the colors of the spectrum? If they are deaf why take them to the academy of music?

Moreover, is not reason itself a gift of God? And does not the scientist, though not a Christian, know much about the universe? Does one need to be a Christian to know that two times two are four? And besides all this, does Christianity, while telling us of much that is above reason, require of us to accept anything that is against reason? Our answer to this type of query is that it is precisely in the Reformed conception of the point of contact, and in it alone, that the historically so famous dilemma about the wholly ignorant, or the wholly omniscient, can be avoided. But before showing this positively it is necessary to indicate that in the Roman Catholic view this dilemma is insoluble.

If a man is wholly ignorant of the truth he cannot be interested in the truth. On the other hand if he is really interested in the truth it must be that he already possesses the main elements of the truth. It is in the interest of escaping the horns of this dilemma that Rome and evangelical Protestantism seek a point of contact in some area of “common knowledge” between believers and unbelievers. Their argument is that in teaching the total depravity of man in the way he does the Calvinist is in the unfortunate position of having to speak to deaf men when he preaches the gospel. We believe, on the contrary, that it is only the Calvinist who is not in this position.” –  Cornelius Van Til “Apologetics” Chapter 3

“We reply that though Aquinas does correct some of the conclusions of Aristotle, he accepts the method of Aristotle as essentially sound. But, ignoring this, and granting for the sake of the argument that according to Rome the natural man’s view of natural revelation is not fully correct, it should be noted that the only reason Rome can adduce for this fact is a defect in revelation itself. The prisoners of Plato’s cave are not to be blamed for the fact that they see shadows only. They are doing full justice by the position in which they find themselves. If their heads are bound so that they see shadows only, this is due to no fault of theirs. It is due to the constitution and course of nature. According to this view the human mind is not originally and naturally in contact with the truth. The idea of freedom, as entertained by Roman theology, is based upon man’s being metaphysically distinct from “god.” And this is tantamount to saying that man is free to the extent that he has no “being.” There is on this basis no genuine point of contact with the mind of the natural man at all.” Cornelius Van Til “Apologetics” Chapter 3

“The fully biblical conception of the point of contact, it ought now to be clear, is the only one that can escape the dilemma of absolute ignorance or absolute omniscience.

The one great defect of the Roman Catholic view and the Arminian view is, as noted, that it ascribes ultimacy or self-sufficiency to the mind of man. Romanism and Arminianism do this in their views of man as stated in their works on systematic theology. It is consistent for them, therefore, not to challenge the assumption of ultimacy as this is made by the non-believer. But Reformed theology, as worked out by Calvin and his recent exponents such as Hodge, Warfield, Kuyper and Bavinck, holds that man’s mind is derivative. As such it is naturally in contact with God’s revelation. It is surrounded by nothing but revelation. It is itself inherently revelational. It cannot naturally be conscious of itself without being conscious of its creatureliness. For man self-consciousness presupposes God-consciousness. Calvin speaks of this as man’s inescapable sense of deity.

For Adam in paradise God-consciousness could not come in at the end of a syllogistic process of reasoning. God-consciousness was for him the presupposition of the significance of his reasoning on anything.

To the doctrine of creation must be added the conception of the covenant. Man was created as a historical being. God placed upon him from the outset of history the responsibility and task of reinterpreting the counsel of God as expressed in creation to himself individually and collectively. Man’s creature-consciousness may therefore be more particularly signalized as covenant-consciousness. But the revelation of the covenant to man in paradise was supernaturally mediated. This was naturally the case inasmuch as it pertained to man’s historical task. Thus, the sense of obedience or disobedience was immediately involved in Adam’s consciousness of himself. Covenant consciousness envelopes creature-consciousness. In paradise Adam knew that as a creature of God it was natural and proper that he should keep the covenant that God had made with him. In this way it appears that man’s proper self-consciousness depended, even in paradise upon his being in contact with both supernatural and natural revelation. God’s natural revelation was within man as well as about him. Man’s very constitution as a rational and moral being is itself revelational to man as the ethically responsible reactor to revelation. And natural revelation is itself incomplete. It needed from the outset to be supplemented with supernatural revelation about man’s future. Thus the very idea of supernatural revelation is correlatively embodied in the idea of man’s proper self-consciousness.

It is in this way that man may be said to be by his original constitution in contact with the truth while yet not in possession of all the truth. Man is not in Plato’s cave. He is not in the anomalous position of having eyes with which to see while yet he dwells in darkness. He has not, as was the case with the cave-dwellers of Plato, some mere capacity for the truth that might never come to fruition. Man had originally not merely a capacity for receiving the truth; he was in actual possession of the truth. The world of truth was not found in some realm far distant from him; it was right before him. That which spoke to his senses no less than that which spoke to his intellect was the voice of God. Even when he closed his eyes upon the external world his internal sense would manifest God to him in his own constitution. The matter of his experience was in no sense a mere form with which he might organize the raw material. On the contrary, the matter of his experience was lit up through and through. Yet it was lit up for him by the voluntary activity of God whose counsel made things to be what they are.

Man could not be aware of himself without also being aware of objects about him and without also being aware of his responsibility to manage himself and all things for the glory of God. Man’s consciousness of objects and of self was not static. It was consciousness in time. Moreover, consciousness of objects and of self in time meant consciousness of history in relationship to the plan of God back of history. Man’s first sense of self-awareness implied the awareness of the presence of God as the one for whom he has a great task to accomplish.

It is only when we begin our approach to the question of the point of contact by thus analyzing the situation as it obtained in paradise before the fall of man that we can attain to a true conception of the natural man and his capacities with respect to the truth. The apostle Paul speaks of the natural man as actually possessing the knowledge of God (Rom 1:19–21). The greatness of his sin lies precisely in the fact that “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God.” No man can escape knowing God. It is indelibly involved in his awareness of anything whatsoever. Man ought, therefore, as Calvin puts it, to recognize God. There is no excuse for him if he does not. The reason for his failure to recognize God lies exclusively in him. It is due to his wilfull transgression of the very law of his being.

Neither Romanism nor Protestant evangelicalism can do full justice to this teaching of Paul. In effect both of them fail to surround man exclusively with God’s revelation. Not holding to the counsel of God as all-controlling they cannot teach that man’s self-awareness always pre-supposes awareness of God. According to both Rome and evangelicalism man may have some measure of awareness of objects about him and of himself in relation to them without being aware at the same time of his responsibility to manipulate both of them in relation to God. Thus man’s consciousness of objects, of self, of time and of history are not from the outset brought into an exclusive relationship of dependence upon God. Hinc illae lacrimae!

Of course, when we thus stress Paul’s teaching that all men do not merely have a capacity for but are in actual possession of the knowledge of God, we have at once to add Paul’s further instruction to the effect that all men, due to the sin within them, always and in all relationships seek to “suppress” this knowledge of God. Rom 1.18 American Standard Version The natural man is such an one as constantly throws water on a fire he cannot quench. He has yielded to the temptation of Satan, and has become his bondservant. When Satan tempted Adam and Eve in paradise he sought to make them believe that man’s self-consciousness was ultimate rather than derivative and God-dependent. He argued, as it were, that it was of the nature of self-consciousness to make itself the final reference point of all predication. He argued, as it were, that God had no control over all that might come forth in the process of time. That is to say, he argued, in effect, that as any form of self-consciousness must assume its own ultimacy, so it must also admit its own limitation in the fact that much that happens is under no control at all. Thus Satan argued, as it were, that man’s consciousness of time and of time’s products in history is, if intelligible at all, intelligible in some measure independently of God.

Romanism and evangelicalism, however, do not attribute this assumption of autonomy or ultimacy on the part of man as due to sin. They hold that man should quite properly think of himself and of his relation to objects in time in this way. Hence they do injustice to Paul’s teaching with respect to the effect of sin on the interpretative activity of man. As they virtually deny that originally man not merely had a capacity for the truth but was in actual possession of the truth, so also they virtually deny that the natural man suppresses the truth.

It is not to be wondered at then that neither Rome nor evangelicalism are little interested in challenging the “philosophers” when these, as Calvin says, interpret man’s consciousness without being aware of the tremendous difference in man’s attitude toward the truth before and after the fall. Accordingly they do not distinguish carefully between the natural man’s own conception of himself and the biblical conception of him. Yet for the question of the point of contact this is all-important. If we make our appeal to the natural man without being aware of this distinction we virtually admit that the natural man’s estimate of himself is correct. We may, to be sure, even then, maintain that he is in need of information. We may even admit that he is morally corrupt. But the one thing which, on this basis, we cannot admit, is that his claim to be able to interpret at least some area of experience in a way that is essentially correct, is mistaken. We cannot then challenge his most basic epistemological assumption to the effect that his self-consciousness and time-consciousness are self-explanatory. We cannot challenge his right to interpret all his experience in exclusively immanentistic categories. And on this everything hinges. For if we first allow the legitimacy of the natural man’s assumption of himself as the ultimate reference point in interpretation in any dimension we cannot deny his right to interpret Christianity itself in naturalistic terms.

The point of contact for the gospel, then, must be sought within the natural man. Deep down in his mind every man knows that he is the creature of God and responsible to God. Every man, at bottom, knows that he is a covenant-breaker. But every man acts and talks as though this were not so. It is the one point that cannot bear mentioning in his presence. A man may have internal cancer. Yet it may be the one point he will not have one speak of in his presence. He will grant that he is not feeling well. He will accept any sort of medication so long as it does not pretend to be given in answer to a cancer diagnosis. Will a good doctor cater to him on this matter? Certainly not. He will tell his patient that he has promise of life, but promise of life on one condition, that is, of an immediate internal operation. So it is with the sinner. He is alive but alive as a covenant-breaker. But his own interpretative activity with respect to all things proceeds on the assumption that such is not the case. Romanism and evangelicalism, by failing to appeal exclusively to that which is within man but is also suppressed by every man, virtually allow the legitimacy of the natural man’s view of himself. They do not seek to explode the last stronghold to which the natural man always flees and where he always makes his final stand. They cut off the weeds at the surface but do not dig up the roots of these weeds, for fear that crops will not grow.

The truly biblical view, on the other hand, applies atomic power and flame-throwers to the very presupposition of the natural man’s ideas with respect to himself. It does not fear to lose a point of contact by uprooting the weeds rather than by cutting them off at the very surface. It is assured of a point of contact in the fact that every man is made in the image of God and has impressed upon him the law of God. In that fact alone he may rest secure with respect to the point of contact problem. For that fact makes men always accessible to God. That fact assures us that every man, to be a man at all, must already be in contact with the truth. He is so much in contact with the truth that much of his energy is spent in the vain effort to hide this fact from himself. His efforts to hide this fact from himself are bound to be self-frustrative.

Only by thus finding the point of contact in man’s sense of deity that lies underneath his own conception of self-consciousness as ultimate can we be both true to Scripture and effective in reasoning with the natural man.” – Cornelius Van Til “Apologetics” Chapter 3

“It is no valid objection against this contention to say that certainly many Arminians do not hold to any naturalistic conception of Christianity. For the question is not so much now what individual Arminians believe. Their belief at best involves a compromise with naturalism. But the point we are making now is about the method of apologetics that fits in with Arminian theology. And on that score we must, in simple honesty, assert that this method is essentially the same as the method of Roman Catholicism and is essentially reductionistic and therefore self-frustrative. It appears then that the first enemy of Arminianism, namely Calvinism, is its best friend. Only in the Reformed Faith is there an uncompromising statement of the main tenets of Christianity. All other statements are deformations. It is but to be expected that only in the Reformed Faith will we find an uncompromising method of apologetics. Calvinism makes no compromise with the natural man either on his views of the autonomy of the human mind or on his views of the nature of existence as not controlled by the plan of God. Therefore Calvinism cannot find a direct point of contact in any of the accepted concepts of the natural man. He disagrees with every individual doctrine of the natural man because he disagrees with the outlook of the natural man as a whole. He disagrees with the basic immanentistic assumption of the natural man. For it is this basic assumption that colors all his statements about individual teachings. It is therefore this basic assumption of the natural man that meets its first major challenge when it is confronted by the statement of a full-fledged Christianity. “ –  Cornelius Van Til “Apologetics” Chapter 4

“Enough has now been said to indicate that the Roman Catholic and the Arminian methods, proceeding as they do by way of accepting the starting point and the method of the natural man with respect to a supposedly known area of experience, are self-refuting on the most important question of the Bible and its authority. We repeat that many Arminians are much better than their position. We also stress the fact that many of the things that they say about points of detail are indeed excellent. In other words our aim is not to depreciate the work that has been done by believing scholars in the Arminian camp. Our aim is rather to make better use of their materials than they have done by placing underneath it an epistemology and metaphysic which make these materials truly fruitful in discussion with non-believers.

Such a foundation it is that is furnished in the Reformed position. But it is furnished by the Reformed position simply because this position seeks to be consistently Christian in its starting-point and methodology. And here it must be confessed that those of us who hold this position are all too often worse than our position. Those who hold the Reformed position have no reason for boasting. What they have received they have received by grace.” – Cornelius Van Til “Apologetics” Chapter 5

 Point of Contact Quotes from “The Case for Calvinism”

“I have consistently tried to build on some useful point of contact between the gospel and culture. In An Introduction to Christian Apologetics the appeal was to the law of contradiction; in A Philosophy of the Christian Religion it was to values; and in Christian Commitment it was to the judicial sentiment. In this book I am appealing to the law of love.”

Underneath all these changes there has been, however, the desire to do the sort of things that St. Augustine did. What did Augustine do in his famous work on The City Of God? “First, he found a useful point of contact between the gospel and culture. He then went on to argue that if the Romans were consistent in their position, they would reverence the name of Christ, not blaspheme it; for Christ is the absolute embodiment of whatever relative virtues were celebrated in the national heroes of Rome. I think that Augustine went at things in the right way.”– Cornelius Van Til “The Case for Calvinism” Chapter 3 Section 1A

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